Saturday, October 25, 2008

Showdown at the Shoe

I am really surprised ESPN hasn't come up with a catchy name for this game. Ever since the "Collision at the Coliseum" proved to be more of a collapse, I think ESPN has gotten away from really over hyping a game like this.

Not that it hasn't gotten plenty of run with constant updates on the bottom line all week and Gameday showing up in Columbus, I am glad ESPN has sort of gone away from over-hyping a game.

It is No. 3 Penn State at No. 9 Ohio State, but is really has the feel of a top-5 matchup. For Penn State, this game is huge. Maybe the biggest game for this school since 2005 Michigan. Three years ago, the Lions stumbled once, and finished the year No. 3.

That same year, Texas went on to face an unbeaten USC team for the national championship. The Nittany Lions did work their way back to No. 3 in the BCS. As devastating as the Michigan loss was at the time, I was able to look back at the end of the year and see Penn State might not have played for the national championship even had they gone undefeated.

I don't think that is the case this year. Sitting at No. 3 in the BCS and facing the toughest team left on the schedule, I think Penn State can get into the National Championship with an undefeated season.

Once again Texas sits above them in the polls ahead of No. 2 Alabama this time around. I just don't see both of them going the rest of the way unbeaten. I thin one will fall before the end of the regular season potentially opening the door for Penn State if the Lions can take care of business.

It is not going to be an easy task. Ohio State is not the same team they were a month ago. Early in the year they looked vulnerable. Bennie Wells was hurt and a true freshman was stepping in at quarterback.

People were already telling me the door was open for the Nittany Lions. I knew better. The game was a long way away and a lot of time for Ohio State to right the ship. They have played in the last two national championship games so I knew they Buckeyes were not going to just lay down.

I have avoided talking much about Penn State's chances of winning the title. I have been saying I'm not going to really start getting excited until after this game. I Penn State is undefeated at the end of the night, then I will start thinking about the possibilities.

Until then. I will just sit and wait.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bomar is officially a Bearkat

I should have seen this coming, but I didn't. It never dawned on me this would come up this week. And that just goes to show how accustomed we have become to having Rhett Bomar at Sam Houston State.

Two years ago and even last season, I was on edge the week of the Texas-OU game, and not because of its annual national title implications. But because it would bring the national media out of the woodwork, clamoring to the "Piney Woods" to talk to the quarterback who was supposed to be playing in that game.

Oklahoma is in Rhett's past. He has said it on numerous occasions, and I believe him. I have come to believe it myself. That is why when I set up an interview this week with Rhett and Austin Murphy at Sports Illustrated, it never dawned on me he would want to talk about the Texas-OU game.

Rhett has moved past it. I guess I assumed everyone had too. I sat in the office and listened to Rhett talk to Murphy. The conversation started innocent enough. He was asked a little bit about the conference and the opponents he has faced.

It sounded like a question about the Kansas game came up and now he had Rhett talking about a Big 12 team. That is when he started asking about the game this weekend, and not the Bearkats' game against Central Arkansas. The Horns and the Sooners were the topic of the next few questions.

Rhett's posture changed. He was no longer sitting up in the chair but instead slumped over with his head on the desk. He had been here before with this line of questioning, but it had been a while. Rhett gave an answer to just about every question, giving Murphy just enough of a quote to tease him, before stopping short.

From there the questions moved to Rhett's situation at Oklahoma. While visibly put out by line of questions, Rhett kept talking. He answered the questions just like he always has, refusing to give out any information about anyone but himself.

Just as he has done time and time again, he took responsibility for his part of what happened at Oklahoma, and on more than one occasion, reminded Murphy he has moved on and is happy. Murphy is a pro. He could see he was not going to get any farther with those questions, so he changed topics.

That is when I realized Rhett truly is a Bearkat now and not a "former Oklahoma quarterback." Murphy started asking Rhett questions about the prisons. Anyone who has been in Huntsville for any amount of time has been asked about the prisons.

It is the favorite topic, and often a punch line by the national media, when talking about Sam Houston State. For people like me, who have been associated with this school as a student, alum, writer and now employee, we have heard the questions over and over. They are our "Oklahoma" questions if you will.

If a writer has nothing else to write, he writes about the prisons, and just like when Rhett gets asked about Oklahoma, it get old fast. But Rhett has handled everything better than could be imagined. I know he has to get frustrated. I do.

Nervously I have waited for the article to hit the web on It could have been written any one of several directions, but I had a good idea of which way it would go. With everyone talking about Texas-OU, Rhett's past was bound to be more of a focus rather than his bright future at SHSU and later in the NFL.

The story was released Thursday, and it was pretty much what I expected. But the lead is what confirmed Rhett is now truly a Bearkat.

"One of the first things people told Rhett Bomar when he got to Huntsville,
Texas: Don't pick up hitchhikers. Situated in the Piney Woods, 70 miles north of
Houston, Huntsville is the location of Sam Houston State, Bomar's second
college. It's also home to eight prisons, including what was for many years the
nation's busiest execution chamber."

No mention of Oklahoma. This might be the first story about Rhett not written by the Huntsville Item to do this. A good chunk of the story was about the "Red River Rivalry" and about Rhett's past at Oklahoma. Murphy attempts to read between the lines to try to gain more of an understanding about what might have happened at that car dealership in Norman three years ago.

I have started to realized that no matter how much I or Rhett or his family or anyone else has moved on, Rhett's ties to Oklahoma will always be there. 20 years from now there will be people who remember Rhett for what happened at Oklahoma and nothing else. That is pretty much a given.

Just like people who worked at SMU in the 80's are still asked about the "Death Penalty" and Hall of Famer George Brett is still asked about the pine tar incident, Rhett will be asked about Oklahoma. It will always be a footnote to his career and life.

There are not many 19, 20 or 21-year olds who have had to go through what Rhett has endured the last three years of his life. He has handled it better than ever could have been expected.

Everyone does things in college that they regret and 10 years later sit around the poker table with friends and talk about how stupid they were and how lucky they are that nothing serious ever happened to them. They can laugh about it now. Difference is, 99 percent of those people never had a story written about what they did. ESPN wasn't looking for an interview to talk about. Sports Illustrated didn't call three years later still looking for more to the story.

While I thought this was just about over, I am starting to see that over the course of Rhett's life, this story may still be in the early stages.

In the three years I have gotten to know Rhett, one thing I have come to realize about him is his strength, and I am not talking about in the weight room. While he will always carry this around with him, I am confident it will become merely a footnote in his life and not the incident that defines him.