Behold, the hibernation is finally over for this football season. The bear which had been yawning and stretching has finally fully awakened. Yes, I speak of the Baylor Bear, the animal so long admired, adored and followed for so many years, and actually feared by many when fully aroused.
On the star-filled evening of Sept. 23, 2017, in his own beautiful football stadium built right there alongside the rolling waters of the Brazos River, he was fully aroused. And that was the bear the Baylor Nation has so long wanted to see, to cheer, to celebrate.
To be sure, the Bears lost the football game to visiting Oklahoma, 49-41. But that was not the bear that Liberty University or UTSA or the Duke Blue Devils saw and conquered. That bear was just trying to fully wake up.
Last Saturday evening the Bears were fully awake, angry, and antagonistic. They were ready to take on THE Oklahoma Sooners, the team that had just been stamped the No. 3 college football powerhouse in the land, ranked behind only Alabama and Clemson.
And against that Oklahoma Sooner team the Bears gave tit for tat until the Sooners, with more experience, with more manpower, with more of what all powerhouses fully have, finally prevailed. But it was 28-28 with about eight minutes left in the third quarter and it was Baylor ahead, 31-28, after sophomore Connor Martin had kicked a 46-yard field goal with less than three minutes to go in that same period.
But after falling behind and leaving all those Sooner fans in the stands aghast and anxious, rookie Sooner coach Lincoln Riley’s team found its footing and its rhythm and steadily pulled ahead, to 35-31, then 42-31, then 49-31. With seven minutes left the Bears drove into position for Martin to kick another field goal (a 36-yarder) and with 1:41 left in the game the Bears used the lethal combination of soph QB Zach Smith passing to swift and elusive receiver Denzel Mims for a touchdown that climaxed an 11-play, 85-yard thrust that scored Baylor’s final TD, making the scoreboard read the final 49-41.
Even then the Bears, refusing to quit, still full of fight, tried an onside kick and made it work thanks mainly by Mims and Taylor Young (Mims swatted the bouncing ball and linebacker Young recovered it) at the Baylor 48-yard line.
But the Bears could do nothing with the final opportunity. I thought it was fitting that the Sooners simply snapped the ball into the QB’s hands as the clocked off the final seconds. Both teams by then had had enough.
So the powerful Sooners won by eight points. The popular betting line had Oklahoma winning by 27 1/2 points.
“We got a true championship attitude from our guys tonight,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “It was great the way our guys kept fighting back. They were able to make the small plays but they helped to open ways for our guys to make big plays. We (coaches) challenged them and they responded.
“I’ll tell you, this team has been a lot easier to coach this week than earlier. We tried to scale back a little from what we had been doing. The lessons they’ve been learning, but we have been learning from them. These are such great kids.
“This team was more ready to play for this game. Now they’re more mature, more experienced. But now they have to realize tonight was not good enough. Now we have to get better.”
Rhule called the crowd of 43,575 a “passionate crowd tonight.” And I’m guessing that what Bear fans saw in that game will bring them back for more and more.
In other words, they made a lot of believers with that performance, and even there will more defeats before this season ends, Bear enthusiasts now have the solid evidence that these guys can REALLY coach.