Nov. 18, 2011

November 18, 2011, is a day Oklahoma State will never forget. It was a day where OSU fans, players and coaches awoke to the news of tragedy and went to bed with the bitter taste of defeat.

The details of what happened in between are a blur of tears and anger, sorrow and disbelief.

It had been 355 days since the Cowboys last fell on the gridiron but it had been more than 10 years since this close-knit community has had to deal with a far greater loss.

The tragic deaths of Oklahoma State women's basketball coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, as well as two other OSU alums, shook the OSU fan base to its core. Then a 37-31 loss to Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium poured salt in a much deeper wound.

OSU has suffered more than any school should and Friday just didn't seem fair.

I typically travel to road games but, for whatever reason, I skipped the trip to Iowa.

Instead I found myself in Gallagher-Iba at a press conference that can only be described as surreal. It felt like a bad case of déjà vu as it was announced, yet again, that OSU had lost members of its basketball family in a plane crash.

No matter how trivial it might seem it the wake of tragedy, I found solace in the notion that the football team could provide some sort of quick relief, a minor painkiller for an ache felt throughout Cowboy nation.

Then the unimaginable unfolded in the Iowa plains.

OSU's offense faltered. The defense stumbled. The special teams failed. And for the first time in nearly a year, a loss was marked on the schedule on the most painful of days for it to occur.

As I sat at my computer struggling to find the words to describe the indescribable events, I decided I needed to see something first hand before it would be possible.

I got in my truck and headed down the road to Stillwater Regional Airport. I needed to see the team land. I needed to see something positive, something important.

What awaited me at the airport was a touching scene that reminded me just how special the people of Oklahoma State truly are.

At 2:45 Saturday morning, the cold wind aimlessly ripped through the gathering of nearly 150 orange-clad faithful who were already frozen from the events of the previous day.

But then in the distance, a noise grew louder. It was the sound of the jet carrying the Cowboys safely back home. It is something we all too often take for granted but will be challenged to overlook again.

As the team exited the plane and approached a gate ill-fitting of the gathering on hand, the singing began.

"Proud and immortal

Bright Shines Your Name

Oklahoma State

We Herald Your Fame

Ever You'll Find Us

Loyal and True

To Our Alma Mater

O-S-U."

Coach Mike Gundy smiled as he appeared to fight back tears. Todd Monken doled out a few hugs. Several players gave high fives and, amid the overwhelming despair, signs of happiness could be found.

The sound that overtook the howling winds and the insufferable hum of desolation was the sound of cheering, providing a soundtrack to recovery from the loss of a team and the loss of lives before it.

The words of the alma mater took on an entirely new meaning. Loyal and true, indeed.

Sure, the national title hopes were lost amid the throngs of cardinal and gold who stormed the field to celebrate the biggest win in Iowa State football history. But the cold dose of reality from the morning helped to put things in perspective.

Monken described the loss as, "… a hard one to take for a long time."

Brandon Weeden expressed his regret that they couldn't deliver a win to assist in the healing process from the crash in the Arkansas hills and called it, "one of the hardest days in Oklahoma State history."

Monken then added, "It's one thing to lose early in the year, but it's another to get to this point and see the light at the end of the tunnel. We're 10-1, and I don't know if I've ever been 10-1 and felt so empty."

But that empty feeling preceded the warm arrival that awaited them in the early morning hours. That emptiness found some relief.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it's not a title this season, but it was a light nonetheless.

That light was provided by the Cowboy fans at the airport and by those who were there in spirit.

The football team might not have won Friday night but you, dear Cowboy fans, are already winners.

This university, this athletic department and this community will overcome tragedy once again and the reason is you. There was undeniable proof that Oklahoma State will again rise above.

I know I will remember Nov. 18, 2011.

I will remember the pain of losing cherished members of the Cowboy family. I will remember watching OSU's football championship dreams fade away. But most of all, I will remember how lucky I am to be a Cowboy and to be associated with people like you.

One sign at the airport terminal struck me in particular.

"KB and MS would be proud."

There is no doubt.


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