Hat was Carol Stoops whispering to her husband? Was she wishing him luck? Reminding him to floss? Knowing she wouldn't speak to him for about 12 hours, she'd staked him out on Wednesday morning in the back of a banquet room at the Oklahoma team hotel in Miami Beach. When the meeting broke, Bob Stoops lagged behind to share an embrace with his wife. � "We're going to win," said Carol, her eyes welling with tears. "I know it."
"I know it too," said Bob, the Sooners' coach. "It's our destiny."
To other people, the only thing that seemed preordained going into the Orange Bowl, which pitted Oklahoma against heavily favored Florida State in a battle for the national championship, was that the game would be marked by a ton of offense. The 11-1 Seminoles had averaged 42.4 points and a nation's best 549.0 yards per game going into this season finale against the 12-0 Sooners, who had averaged 39.0 and 429.3. After practice four days before the game, Stoops had listened patiently to a litany of reasons his team would struggle against Florida State, then cut off a reporter and said, "Hey, we have some athletes too, you know."
Now the world knows. With an audacious, ingenious defensive game plan that utterly befuddled Chris Weinke, the Seminoles' Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Oklahoma held powerful Florida State to one measly safety in a 13-2 victory that earned the Sooners their seventh national title.
God bless the Sooners, for by winning they spared America an off-season of bickering over Miami and Florida State, who likely would have been co-national champions had Oklahoma lost.
Hurricanes fan: "We beat you in the regular season, so we're the real national champs."
Seminoles fan: "Yeah, but Washington beat you, so by your logic, the Huskies are Number 1!"
That debate, mercifully, is moot. The Sooners, who entered the Orange Bowl as 11-point underdogs, are the undisputed champions, having pulled off perhaps the most stunning postseason victory since Penn State picked off Vinny Testaverde five times to beat Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. That Florida State was listed as such a heavy favorite didn't offend the Oklahoma players as much as make them feel comfortable, for the Sooners hadn't been favored in most of their other big games this season. "If the oddsmakers decided who won," said Stoops two days before the Orange Bowl, "we'd be 7-4."
While Oklahoma sought merely to win the game, the Seminoles, who had won last year's championship, had grander ambitions. They spoke of a desire to make history, of becoming the first Florida State team to win back-to-back national titles. They craved recognition, in the words of linebacker Tommy Polley, as "one of the best teams in the history of college football." Instead, they ended up losers, a result that surprised Stoops less than anyone else on earth.
A quick story about the Sooners' coach. In order to goose attendance at the exhibition opener of the Sooners' softball team last February, Stoops was invited to take batting practice. He faced Jennifer Stewart, an All-America lefthander who would lead Oklahoma to the 2000 NCAA title. Stewart was throwing gas. To the crowd's amusement, Stoops couldn't do much with her first 10 pitches, whiffing on some, dribbling others toward the mound. Instead of leaving the batter's box when his turn was over, he turned to softball coach Patty Gasso and said, "I want 10 more cuts. Whereupon he started making solid contact. "I took her to the fence," Stoops says with a smile.