Road Trip: University of Oklahoma
At a Sooners football game, you never know what you're going to see when the wagon-rushing, shotgun-toting, paddle-wielding Ruf/Neks storm onto the field. Just ask coach Bob Stoops
By John Walters
... where the wins come sweeping down the plain. No football program has won as many games this decade as the Sooners. Four dozen wins and one national title in the last four seasons have inspired many fans -- and recruits -- from beyond red dirt country to clamber aboard the Oklahoma bandwagon.
In fact, the school's official mascot is a bandwagon. When Oklahoma scores, the Sooner Schooner, pulled by a pair of Shetland ponies named Boomer and Sooner, rambles onto the Memorial Stadium field for a quick lap around one third of the gridiron.
No group has ridden the Oklahoma bandwagon longer than the all-male spirit group known as the Ruf/Neks. Launched in 1915, when an elderly female spectator at an OU-Oklahoma A&M hoops game chided them for raising hell ("Sit down and be quiet, you roughnecks!"), the Ruf/Neks are the official caretakers of the Schooner, and they certainly live up to their name. What other spirit group is allowed to walk into a stadium with shotguns? Has been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct? Has had to apologize -- twice -- to its coach, Bob Stoops, once for unintentionally knocking him down during a postgame mob scene and again after a Ruf/Nek gave him a "love tap" on the butt with a paddle as Stoops ran onto the field before a game in 2000?
Understand, however, that the Ruf/Neks, whose members are selected roughly the same way as fraternity pledges, are an unruly, unrepentant bunch, a Delta House in crimson shirts and white jeans. "In the mid-'70s the girls sued us for discriminating against them in terms of our membership," says senior Sean (Gordy) Teague, the Ruf/Neks' pledge trainer, or, as he's dubbed, Keeper of the Neophytes. "Our defense was, So what?"
Each Ruf/Nek packs heat: a 12-gauge shotgun that fires harmless gunpowder into the air. "Only in Oklahoma," says Ruf/Neks vice president Ian Schaper, "could they screen 75,000 fans for security when they enter the stadium and allow 25 students in with shotguns."
The Ruf/Neks have been guilty of a quick trigger finger. In the 1985 Orange Bowl, the Schooner rolled onto the turf to celebrate Tim Lashar's 22-yard field goal, which gave Oklahoma a 17-14 lead against Washington -- but an illegal-procedure flag had been dropped. Unsportsmanlike conduct, Oklahoma, 15 yards. Lashar's subsequent 42-yarder was blocked, and the Sooners eventually lost 28-17.
Eight years after its penalty, the Schooner committed a turnover: After kicker Scott Blanton converted a field goal against Colorado in '93, the Schooner took a corner too sharply and tipped over, sending driver Scott Gibson, flag-waver Ryan Wray and the Ruf/Nek queen, Jean Connelly, who was riding shotgun, hurtling. "We made national news for that," Schaper admits ruefully, "because the queen wasn't wearing any underwear."
Connelly, the Sooner Schooner mooner, and Wray weren't seriously injured, but Gibson fractured his left arm. That was the first -- and last -- time that a Ruf/Nek fell off the Oklahoma bandwagon.
Issue date: September 9, 2004