After nearly canceling their game, OSU and TU face off late
BY MIKE BROWN World Sports Writer
Monday, September 19, 2011
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Bubba Cunningham was racing the clock late Saturday night.
The University of Tulsa athletic director said he was within seven minutes of canceling his most important and lucrative home football game of the 2011 season.
That's how much time he had between the final lightning strike at Chapman Stadium and his 11:30 p.m. deadline for the latest he could reset the countdown for the nationally televised, in-state battle between Tulsa and Oklahoma State's seventh-ranked Cowboys.
He and OSU athletic director Mike Holder set the drop-dead time and then crossed their fingers, until the game finally kicked off at 12:16 a.m.
Had the game been canceled, the Hurricane likely would have refunded admissions to an announced crowd of 24,563 - many or most of whom paid $95 per head.
"Finishing at (3:35 a.m.) is not great, but it's what we talked about if we hadn't started playing," Cunningham said as the teams met at midfield for postgame handshakes.
With a thunderstorm pushing the scheduled 9:10 p.m. kickoff later and later, and 30-minute delays built in each time lightning struck near the stadium, the two ADs were at an impasse.
Said Holder: "It seemed like you were resetting the clock every minute or so, and finally you had to say we've gotta set a time because we can't go on like this indefinitely. There has to be some finality to it, and that's when we decided 11:30 as the drop-dead time."
Along with the 30-minute window suggested by the NCAA and National Severe Storms Laboratory after each lightning strike, the teams also agreed to 22 minutes of warmup time before taking the field.
That odd total resulted from a compromise between OSU head coach Mike Gundy, who wanted 25 warmup minutes, and Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, "who said he was OK with 20 minutes," Holder said.
So, Cunningham and Holder weathered another 52 minutes after the final lightning strike at 11:23 p.m. Had it struck again after 11:30, everyone would have gone home and the game probably couldn't have been rescheduled because the teams do not have corresponding open dates for the rest of the season.
The teams re-entered the stadium around 11:54 p.m. to an amazing sight - an estimated 15,000 spectators.
"I was excited. I didn't know what to expect," said TU running back Trey Watts, who went on to gain a career-high 159 yards in the Cowboys' 59-33 win. "They told us the stands had cleared in the rain, so you weren't really sure how many fans you were gonna get."
Over in the OSU locker room, guesses were being made about how many spectators would return.
"We did take an over and under ... and I was guessing a couple thousand," Gundy said. "I thought the people were great, Tulsa fans, Oklahoma State fans, to stick around."
Gundy said he wasn't excited about playing that early in the morning.
"I just don't think it's the best thing for the students. I'm not sure why we had TV timeouts at 3 o'clock in the morning. I mean you have to wonder who's watching at that point," he said.
The best news was that the Cowboys stayed undefeated in their quest for a BCS Bowl.
Blankenship said his biggest concern was the time between the pre-game meal at 5 p.m. and kickoff some seven hours later.
"We got some fruit and energy bars and those kinds of things into (the players) as best we could. And peanut better. We gave them peanut butter sandwiches at halftime. It's a physically tough deal and it's a tough deal on both sides," Blankenship said.
Original Print Headline: One long night
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OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young (left) greets TU athletic director Bubba Cunningham as OSU athletic director Mike Holder watches Saturday at Chapman Stadium. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World