A few days ago I came back to Oklahoma for the first time in a couple of months. I felt at home before my truck tires even touched the driveway of my parents’ house. A comfortable feeling washed over me as soon as I crossed over the state line and saw that big “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign. It was a sense of familiarity, belonging, and identity. My license plate no longer says “Native America” but my head and my heart say I’ll always be an Okie.
Sports is part of that identity. It was so good to stop at a Loves’ station outside Sallisaw and see the t-shirts for sale. Two choices, orange or crimson. Back on the highway, the car in front of me showcased an upside down Longhorn sticker in its rear window. A few miles more and another driver had his OSU car flags furiously flapping on both sides of the car. Then the best of both worlds, when a car on the exit ramp displayed a “House Divided” license plate frame. After shuffling through radio stations for hundreds of miles, the scanning stopped when I heard the familiar voices of my favorite sports talk hosts. These are the little things I took for granted when I lived here for so many years. People ask, “what do you miss about Oklahoma?” The usual answers always come out first, family and friends, my house, my church, blah, blah, blah. Crossing the state line the other day made me realize, it’s so much more than that, it’s the sports culture in this state I miss. (I miss you too Mom, no need to get offended here.)
If you’re from this state, you likely have a fierce allegiance to OU or OSU. Pick a side and don’t turn back. So many states are watered down with loyalty divided between several major universities and multiple professional franchises. In Oklahoma, its simpler. Our way of life is simple, our sports landscape is simple.
Even though we may be divided along college lines, we can be united behind the Thunder. I used to think pro sports wasn’t a good idea for Oklahoma. We’ve got the great college atmosphere, we don’t need the NBA to enhance our status. Let’s just say I’ve digested large quantities of crow. This whole state has Thunder fever. Even though I’ve never been a huge NBA fan, I miss the sense of pride that comes from proving the rest of the country wrong. There’s room here for more than just college football. Not only is Oklahoma worthy of the a team, it is quickly becoming one of the most respected franchises in the NBA. The fan base is energized and unified by a team with players and coaches that represent our values and want to be part of this community. Maybe this is silly or over the top, but in my mind, Thunder fans see the success of their team as a big slap in the face to the East Coast, West Coast, big cities, and so-called elites. That’s the mentality of Oklahoma sports fans. I love that mentality. I miss that mentality.
The teams here are the major parts of Oklahoma sports culture, but again, it’s the little things I miss the most. I miss reading the fishing report in the paper, seeing that largemouth are good on crankbaits at McGee Creek, then thinking about which one of my lures I’d use. I miss Thursday night high school football. Every week, a handful of games played before the rest where the schools get showcased and the kids feel that much more special. I miss the public golf courses here. You’re never far from a teebox in Oklahoma, and you can usually get in a round all the way into November.
I miss the subtle jabs exchanged by Sooners and Cowboys over the airwaves. I miss living and experiencing Bedlam every single day. It’s not limited to the football field or the basketball court, Bedlam is alive and well at Wal-mart, at the bank, at the grocery store, and yes, even in the church sanctuaries.
I miss the sports personalities here. Like them or not, guys like Bob Barry Jr., Jim Traber, Al Eshbach, John Holcomb, and Al Jerkens are practically institutions in this state. We come to expect those voices and those faces delivering our sports news, telling our sports stories, and asking questions on our behalf. Why are guys like that popular? Because they’re loyal to this state and can’t possibly see themselves living or working anywhere else.
I miss hearing Bob Stoops say “in a good way” in every other sentence. I miss Pistol Pete’s freakishly large head. I miss hearing Bob Barry say “Touchdown Oklahoma!” and a high-pitched “pistols firing!” coming from the pipes of Dave Hunziker.
One day maybe I’ll once again be a full-time resident of this great state. I hope so. No matter where I might lay my head, I will love Oklahoma and consider it home. I will always know that there’s a bass to be caught in a farm pond, a Bedlam debate to be had, and a simple sports culture that suits me just fine. The little things will stick with me.
Don’t worry Mom, I’ll miss you too.