BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
7/31/09 at 8:23 AM
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Big 12 Media Days: Oklahoma Sooners.
IRVING, Texas — Sam Bradford finally understood.
Last December, when Bradford became the 74th Heisman Trophy winner, dozens of past Heisman recipients tried to explain to Bradford how the trophy would change his life.
But the University of Oklahoma's junior quarterback didn't quite grasp what they meant until someone asked him to autograph their baby.
"Couple months old," Bradford said. "It was a little odd."
Indeed, where does one sign a baby?
"That's what I thought," he said.
Out to dinner in Norman last spring with a couple of friends and teammates, Sam Bradford signed his first baby. For the record, he signed it across the tummy.
The happy couple didn't expect to meet a celebrity at dinner, so they had nothing to sign with. So, with the baby plopped down on the table next to a half-eaten salad and some cold cheese fries, a server scampered about to find a Sharpie.
"They actually placed the baby on the table," he said.
On Tuesday, Bradford formally began the 2009 football season as the sitting Heisman winner, sharing 3 1/2 hours with about 350 print, radio, television and Internet reporters, photographers, etc., at the Westin-DFW North on Day Two of the Big 12 Conference's Media Days.
Although Bradford was consistently smooth, cool and even outgoing in front of the cameras and microphones, he still wasn't completely comfortable being OU's resident rock star.
"It's been different," he said. "It's something I've really had to get used to. It's something I wasn't prepared for. When I first got here, I thought I was prepared to play football, but I didn't know all the things that came along with it. If it was up to me, I'd be able to go in somewhere and sit in the corner with a hat on and no one would notice me."
OU's travel party — head coach Bob Stoops, senior tight end Jermaine Gresham, junior defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Bradford — was delayed by bad weather and arrived at the hotel nearly 20 minutes after its scheduled interview time. But that did little to thin the crowd flocked around Bradford everywhere he went.
Bradford first sat for CBS, then Fox Sports Net Southwest. Then came Sirius XM Satellite Radio, ESPN, Versus and ESPNU's Big 12 Showcase (produced by Tulsa's Winnercom).
He then talked with print reporters for nine minutes before the Big 12 called him away for a 10-minute sitdown with the league's Web site insider. He returned to print for 28 more minutes, then did 40 minutes with a few dozen local television stations from the Big 12 area.
Bradford finished his day with 20 minutes of live radio in Oklahoma City and another 20 recording interviews with radio stations from the Big 12 area and around the nation.
"You look worn out," one radio questioner remarked toward the end.
Even though it was just after 1:30 p.m., the observation was spot-on. Bradford and his teammates boarded a plane in Norman only after enduring a 5:30 a.m. workout. Bradford laughed, wiped his face with both hands and said simply, "Yep. Long day."
Playing sports was always easy to Bradford. Growing up in Oklahoma City as the son of a Sooner offensive lineman, Bradford excelled in football, basketball, golf and even hockey. He's popular with his teammates — they elected him co-captain before his sophomore season — and he's fiercely loyal to friends, family, teammates and university.
But even as his world grew larger during the past two football seasons, Bradford tried his best to stay out of the spotlight.
Just 18 minutes into Tuesday's odyssey, before going one-on-one with ESPN's Joe Schad, Bradford looked to the nearest familiar face and asked, "How much longer do we got?" Thirty-four minutes later, walking down a corridor in transit from TV to newspaper, Bradford asked again, "How long do we go? And when we get food? Ever?"
After his final round of TV questions had ended — 1 hour, 40 minutes later — Bradford smiled when someone told him he would get to pass through the buffet line. "Oh, all right!" he said.
And yet, with a Styrofoam container of pasta salad and chicken breast, Bradford got but two bites before he put on a radio headset. Later, he skimmed a couple handfuls of chips and salsa before finally retiring to the players' lounge with his chicken and pasta.
With a throng of nearly 50 print reporters in front of Bradford, Gresham and McCoy — each a preseason consensus All-American — entertained questions from just a handful.
"Sam's the man," McCoy said. "If it was me, I'd be doing the same thing. If I wasn't on the team, I'd probably want to meet Sam as much as everybody else. It's pretty funny, because to us he's just Sam. You see Sam when he comes in from workouts and you're just like, 'Sam won the Heisman? He looks like a bum.' You won
the Heisman Trophy. But you wouldn't be able to tell it because to us he's just Sam. To everybody else, he's 'Saaaaam!' "
Gresham declined interview requests during spring practice, and he almost always avoids crowds. That's why he likes hanging around with Bradford.
"It takes the attention away from me," Gresham said. "Sam handles it perfectly. He's a nice guy. He's never rude to anybody. He always handled people with care. It's fun to see."
Bradford said when he goes out in Norman now, he simply accepts the fact that he will at some point be interrupted. He embraces the idea that he can brighten someone's day just by shaking their hand or smiling for a picture, even though he'd prefer to remain anonymous.
"I think when it first happened, I really struggled with it. I really wasn't prepared for it," he said. "I guess I'm becoming more comfortable with it."
John E. Hoover 581-8384
University of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford speaks with the media Tuesday during the Big 12 Conference Football Media Days in Irving, Texas. BRYAN TERRY/The Oklahoman
OU quarterback Sam Bradford talks during an interview Tuesday for the Big 12 Conference Football Media Days in Irving, Texas.