NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he’s going to be teaching some history to his players this week.
Just a bit, though. Not too much.
“These kids are 18, 19, 20, 21, 22,” Stoops said. “I can try to engage them all I want on what happened way back when. I don’t think it matters.”
He’s right. It doesn’t. “Remember when” works best at the bar, told between shots and toasts. Past that, it’s a game that doesn’t play well, and never really resonates with the youth.
Just because Notre Dame is football nostalgia to you and to me and to everyone over, say, 30 years old, doesn’t mean it makes a bit of difference to the guys wearing crimson helmets.
“I’m not aware of much of it,” quarterback Landry Jones said. “I’m sure there are a lot of great names. I should read up on my history.”
Saturday’s game is history. It’s Grantland Rice and Rudy. Holtz and the Horsemen. But for the players it’s not.
Consider this: It’s a good thing Notre Dame is 7-0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation as well as the BCS, because if the Irish are anything less than that, anything less than perfect, all that history and tradition would be an afterthought to the Oklahoma players. They’re used to playing big games in big spots. Notre Dame would be no different and just another on the list.
Bob Stoops says he’s been giving the players a history lesson on what Notre Dame means, but let’s face it, none of them care. They were pre-teens the last time Notre Dame was in a BCS Bowl.
The Irish won their last championship in 1988 and last played OU in 1999. They only have been relevant recently because of tragedy (Declan Smith) and turmoil (Charlie Weis, Ty Willingham, George O’Leary, etc.).
Maybe that’s why Stoops is distancing himself from making sure his players are familiar with the history of Notre Dame football, and why showing them black and white film reels of the 1956 win or calling for revenge for the 1957 loss that ended the great Sooner winning streak would be a waste of time.
“My mom wasn’t even born then,” defensive end David King said. “The hype will be more for the fans. Yeah, guys will be jacked up for the game, but all that excitement doesn’t do anything for you on the field.”
On the field, the Sooners are used to playing big games.
“Play ’em all the time,” King said. “We play one in Dallas every year.”
However, it’s Notre Dame’s ranking, not its track record that makes this one bigger.
Hard to imagine, but this will be only the fifth non-conference game in Norman in which both teams are ranked in the top 10. Not that the Sooners haven’t tried.
They’ve lived up to their end of the deal, bringing in Florida State, Miami, Oregon and Alabama in the past 10 years. Yet Alabama was way down, Florida State was overrated, Miami was a non-factor and Oregon wasn’t at the level it is now.
This year, Oklahoma got lucky. Notre Dame is off to its best start since 2002, making Saturday an exception to 100 years of scheduling and making the game BCS relevant to the present while at the same time a blast from the past.
The loser is out of the national title picture. The winner is in the discussion. The history is saved for the yearbooks.
So when OU’s Jones says, “I am now,” when asked if he was aware of his Sooners’ 1-8 all-time record against the Irish, don’t be surprised.
“I don’t think it’s relevant,” Stoops said. “I’ve always wanted them to know who the former great players and teams and coaches are, but that isn’t what wins for you.”
So while one might be disappointed the players’ history goes about as far as what they see from the newest video games, one can also understand why Stoops doesn’t spend time with a history lecture.
We might care, but they don’t.
“I was born in 1991, so I wasn’t paying attention to 1988,” said defensive back Demontre Hurst of what he recalls from the last Notre Dame title. “It’s big for the fans. I don’t know much about Notre Dame and the history, but coach has filled us in some. Our fans and alumni know.”
To be fair, it’s unlikely many Notre Dame players know their George “Buster” Rhymes from Brian Bosworth. And no one is picking on the Oklahoma players.
What gets their attention isn’t the same thing that turns our head.
“It is great for college football and the community and the fans,” Stoops said. “They ought to enjoy it. But the following week will be exciting for us too because you got to keep winning.”
No need for history. The present is too important.