By John Shinn
EL PASO, Texas -- The 2009 football season will always be remembered more for what Oklahoma didn't have than what it did. The injuries began before the season opener and piled up all the way through Thursday's Sun Bowl.
Sooner coach Bob Stoops, who wrapped up his 11th season at OU with Thursday's 31-27 victory over No. 19 Stanford, has been around the college game for 30 years as a player and a coach.
He freely admitted the ailments his team suffered were one-of-a-kind. He'd never seen anything like it before and prays he never sees it again.
That why, Thursday, he looked like the captain of huge ship that hit an iceberg and ran into a "perfect storm," but still managed to make it back to port.
"They just never got dejected," Stoops said about his team, which finished 8-5. "Everyone kept positive and worked through it; and worked through it in a pretty good way."
Thursday's victory was the Sooners' second straight over a Top 25 team, dating back to a convincing 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State Nov. 28. It left the door open for the Sooners to get back in the polls. They won't be out until after the BCS title game.
But OU made a case it belongs in there with Saturday's performance. It was able to overcome obstacles that were too vast to cleanly dodge.
The Sooners started the season ranked No. 3. Some of the major reasons were players like quarterback Sam Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham, tight end/offensive lineman Brody Eldridge and defensive end Auston English. Those four and several others were in street clothes Thursday due to season-ending injuries.
"It's no one's fault, with all the different people that haven't been able to play," Stoops said. "It just breaks my heart seeing Jermaine Gresham, (Sam Bradford), Brody Eldridge in the locker room and can't ... they're dying to play. So, you just feel for them,"
But what didn't kill the Sooners made them stronger. Landry Jones had an up-and-down season replacing Bradford. But he went out on an upswing, throwing for 418 yards against the Cardinal. His confidence seemed to grow as the game went on.
Jones understood the importance of finishing well.
"I felt like ever since Oklahoma State we were headed in a great direction and just finishing this game off and finishing this season (wth) momentum is a great feeling," he said.
Offense was where the brunt of the injuries hit. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson likened it to starting over every Sunday after figuring who had been lost in the previous game. The Sooners figured out ways to score points despite struggling to run the ball and breaking in an inexperienced group of receivers.
"It would have been nice to have more things go our way," Wilson said, "but greatness is when it isn't going your way and you keep battling and you keep fighting and keep plugging."
Defense was OU's cornerstone. It figured out ways to stay in games while the offense limped. It gave up some points in El Paso, but came up with two huge stops late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory and did a better job than most against Stanford All-American running back Toby Gerhart.
"We were just inspired and playing with a lot of emotion," middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds said. "Everyone was doing their job. No one was trying to be Superman out there. It all worked out."
There haven't been many times this season when things have.
Make no mistake, no Sooner's satisfied with an 8-5 season. This season ended a string of three straight Big 12 championships and OU didn't play in a BCS bowl game for only the third time since 2000.
But there was an element of pride some of those teams missed.
"These guys just kept fighting through it and did the best they could ... It's pretty special," Stoops said.