We're desperate for some ‘Rhett Bomar' photos for an upcoming piece in Inside OU Sports, and someone needs to go to Grand Prairie and finish the job. James Hale schedules a birthday just as the Red Sox wrap-up a playoff spot. (James, who normally quits after maybe a few ounces of libation, was drunk over the possibilities of ANY Red Sox playoff victory and is rendered ‘worthless' for this assignment). However, he is coherent enough to tell me to arrive an hour early, (if kickoff is at 7:30 you need to be there at 6:30. Coach Bomar wants to say ‘hi' before the game. Then he reminds me to ‘get as much as I can.' (Thanks buddy). Then, in all of five and a half seconds, he gives me three reasons why the Red Sox will beat Oakland. (Gee, somehow I thought the Yankees were the opponent).
So, on this splendid Friday afternoon — I resign myself to go to Texas, grab the new digital camera, (Canon G3, complete with a 472 page instruction booklet), a DFW map and head south.
This should be a piece of cake!
An unnamed chauffeur, complete with a new Cadillac sedan, (835 miles on the odometer), volunteers to assist me. Life is good. James has sobered up long enough to have made arrangements with Coach Jerry Bomar for a sideline pass, and we have consulted the Grand Prairie website for directions to the stadium. Looks like the ‘stadium renovation craze' has hit Grand Prairie too, and tonight's game (according to the website) will be at Irving ISD Stadium. Check.
After a trip down Nursery Street in Irving, (past the cemetery), we pull up to what we believe is Irving ISD Stadium just as the digital clock imbedded in an inch of taupe leather flashes ‘6:25,' (James would be proud). The digital readouts also confirm that it's 90 degrees outside with humidity at 58%, (or was that from bank sign?).
We're greeted by a security guard blocking the entrance to the only parking lot within a mile of the stadium where our chrome wheels have a chance to be attached to the car when we return after the game.
"Excuse me sir, is this the Grand Prairie – Carrollton game," I asked, hoping he speaks English, (always risky in Texas).
"Grand Prairie? No, this is (inaudible and inaudible). Grand Prairie is playing over at UTA stadium tonight."
Then in the ‘first act of kindness' shown to us on this Friday night, the guard offers to get on his walkie-talkie and ask someone ‘inside' where Grand Prairie is playing. After a few moments we hear a guy that claims to know, respond back.
"OK, Standridge Stadium," the guard repeats. "Go back on Nursery, take 30 like you're going back to Oklahoma," (how did he know that?), "Hit 35 — go north past 635 and exit Valwood to the West."
The clock, which has now become our enemy, reads ‘6:28'.
As we slide past muffler shops and stores with posters and windows all printed in Spanish — I can hear the ‘don't be late' words of James echoing in my mind as the sun drops to the horizon. We hit 30, (just like we're going back to Oklahoma), and Dallas traffic becomes a blur. Now we're rollin! This Caddy can scoot when put in ‘emergency mode.'
We spy the lights of the stadium from I-35 and the digital green monster spits out ‘6:50' as we pull into the parking lot behind someone looking for their band kid. Finally we spot a security guard standing in front of what appears to be premium parking. The guard eyes the Caddy heading straight for him and opens the eight foot gate without a word. Impressive — (doesn't Stoops have a car like that looks just like this I wonder). The chauffeur engages the widow to drop just enough to allow us to ask, "Is this the Grand Prairie game?" The officer says yes, and to make sure we ask, "The Gophers, right?" Another affirmative confirmation and at 6:54 we're home!
We're halfway to the filed when the same officer reappears with bad news, "Sorry, this isn't the Gopher game. This is South Grand Prairie Warriors playing Carrollton Newman Smith, the Gophers are at home tonight." And just where is home we ask.
"Uhh, over in Grand Prairie at the Gopher Bowl." Well OK then — makes sense to us — of course the Gopher Bowl! (The same place the website instructed was not going to be ready for tonight).
Back to the Caddy as it reminds us that it's ‘7:01,' (sorry James). We are determined to find the Gopher Bowl and deduct that it has to be right off I-30. The clock reads ‘7:20' as we again reach 30 West. At 7:25 we see lights, bright lights at ‘ten o'clock.' That digital clock shows no mercy and advances to 7:29 as we approach. We are forced to park in a field with some grand canyon like ruts, (looks like ‘rodeo parking only'), but hey, we're late, what da ya expect?
As we approach the Gopher Bowl, the familiar sounds of high school football replace James' ‘don't be late admonishments. The young kids laughing and yelling, the PA announcer, the bands, is this real or Memorex?
I turn my attention to my instructions from Coach Bomar, (via James), which read, "Main gate, through tunnel and onto field." As we approach the ‘Gopher tunnel,' an official looking security guard, (there are a lot of security guards in Texas), stops us as and asks who we might be. When I tell him he knowing nods and says, ‘your passes are waiting right over there at will call," (way to go James, thanks coach Bomar!).
The guy in front of us at will call is negotiating a military discount, so I ask an unoccupied ticket lady in the next widow about the sideline passes. "She has those," she said, as she pointed to her partner sitting 12 inches away. Meanwhile, GI Joe is trying to figure if he wants general admission or reserved for his party of seven. In the background we hear that GP has picked up another first down on a pass by Bomar to (inaudible). Swell.
I hear ticket lady number one tell GI Joe that "it looks like rows six and seven are available." Joe wants to know how far they are from the 50! Ticket lady tries to thinks about how wide a section is and how many feet are in a yard, (Can I get back to you later on that?).
‘First down Gophers at the 40' — the PA blares. Joe thinks rows eight and nine might be better in section three. Ticket lady ‘number two' stares at us and tries to figure where she may have see us before, (she hasn't). Finally Joe gets the seats he wants when the Gopher bands erupts with a cacophony of noise resembling a fight song accompanied by the PA announcement; "Touchdown Gophers on a run by Bomar." (Now I SEE James telling me to be an hour early).
We're next as the extra point is apparently good. When we disclose our names, ticket lady number ones asks number two if she has the packet. "Yes, they're right here," as she pointed to an envelope exactly four inches away. (Insert frustration with a load moan).
We proceed with our sideline passes through the Gopher Hole for our first look at the venue. Impressive for a high school stadium. We notice that the Gopher side is full, contrasted with a few hundred on the Carrollton side.
Suddenly the strong smell of sweat and uniforms slaps me senseless and causes me to reel as we tightrope around the Gopher bench and make our way toward the north end where Grand Prairie once again takes the ball. My first ‘live' sighting of Rhett Bomar is a blue flash. Wow. Someone, (I think it was number seven), just took the ball and darted twelve yards up the middle before anyone in white could lay a hand on him. First down around the 20. Boom, perfect pass, touchdown Gophers, 14 – 0, first quarter.
There is nothing slow and methodical about Rhett Bomar. Pay attention or miss it. I'm trying to adjust the light setting on the camera, and I've got maybe two minutes before the offense takes over. I ask a trainer to let me get her photo so I can make the settings. She says ‘sure' and just as I get ready to push the shutter she moves directly in front of the light source. Never mind.
Bomar's back with foot speed and pinpoint passing, and touch unseen in high school. How do you stop this guy? Couple of runs, couple of passes and ‘zap', a 36-yard spiral to Cisneros for a 21- 0 first quarter lead. Bomar comes off the field. He's smiling but at the same time is all business. In a show of unusual class for any high school super star, Rhett makes an effort to congratulate, thank and encourage every offensive teammate coming off the field before his foot touches the sideline.
Rhett takes a moment for a Gatorade break and spies Chuck Long on row 2. No words are exchanged, only a slight smile and a half nod. Bomar's attention returns to the field. Horn fans sitting in the stands decked out in their burnt orange gameday gear are now alerted to Longs' location. Half of the ‘Eyes of Texas' are focused on number 7, the other half are shooting darts tighter than any Bomar spiral at the tall blond coach sitting alone in a crimson OU shirt on row 2.
Second quarter. The Bomar blitzkrieg continues. But there are periods of comic relief inserted between the phenomenal on field display by Rhett, (i.e. "we have an injured Gopher on the field"). Frequent holding penalties and other mistakes by young Gophers don't matter. Bomar leads the royal blue jerseys down the field with ease and finds Dee Straughter on a 24-yard TD pass. Four possessions, four scores, no punts. At the half, Gophers 28 R.L Turner 0.
We find Chuck Long in the popcorn line under the press box. When our conversation is completed we glance up to see more burnt orange darts heading our way, lots of ‘em. (Good thing we don't carry firearms anymore, legally anyway, or we'd be laid out on some undertaker slab by the start of the third quarter). After intermission we take our seats next to Chuck – (front row center).
Bomar continues to impress in the third. We try to remember any bad plays he has made tonight. My chauffeur remembers one throw that was not perfect, maybe one other that was off a bit, maybe 2-3 inches at 20 yards. For the record, I have one locked somewhere in memory, but it's avalanched under almost flawless play. The Gophers are close to scoring but backed up by another penalty. No matter, Bomar takes it 18 yards down the west sideline and now it's what, 35-7?
A Turner opportunity to mount a threat is squelched by a chip shot field goal, (RLT coach attended Mack Browns' clinic), and it's 35-10 with time running out in the third. No problem, Bomar comes back with two quick scores and the Gophers are 7 for 7 and lead 49-10 as the reserves began to find their way into the game. In all, Bomar passed for four touchdowns, ran for three TD's and finished 12 of 16 passing for 224 yards, and another 65 yards on six carries.
At the games end, Chuck Long stood off from players and coaches as NCAA rules would not allow him to converse with the recruit or his family. But from a distance they acknowledged his presence with a wave and a smile, as a small army of Longhorn fans waited behind dark shadows to see if Long would violate any rule. And we were allowed on the field where Rhett was surrounded by media members 20 minutes after the game ended. As the impromptu press conference broke up, we fired up the camera for a one final shot, this time of Rhett and his proud mom.
Driving back to Norman, we were most amazed at Rhett's speed, his accuracy, touch and leadership. But, by far, the most impressive thing was that this superstar and his family were grounded in manners, and genuine graciousness uncommon in today's culture of spoiled brats vying for the spotlight with their every action waxing in self consumed glory.