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 SI.com. 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.