As a society we tend to hyperbolically shove events to whichever end of the spectrum best satiates our emotional well-being in the given moment.
We tell our friends “that was literally the best play I’ve ever seen” – as if it could have “figuratively” been such. We tweet things like “OH MY GOSH, best game EVER” and “he’s the greatest of all time” about people like Blake Griffin and/or Kevin Durant, neither of whom can legally rent a car. Don’t worry we all do it, trust me I’m as guilty as the next guy.
Unfortunately we do the same with tragedies too. We slide down the slippery slope of blame and regret and look for the ultimate scapegoat. We look for the bad when it seems like things can’t get any worse.
It’s probably a natural thing to do, one that I’m sure everyone associated with the plane crash did. We assume the events that unfold weren’t meant to be a part of history, as if some sort of mistake was made. Fred Jonzen summed this up in the Tulsa World when he was asked what he learned: “I don’t really know what to say. What is there to learn really? Ten people were killed way before their time and there’s absolutely nothing good to take away from that.”
But then as time passes we counterbalance our irrational perspective by looking for any sign of something good that might present itself. That’s what this list is, not a happy-go-lucky barrage of pixie dust sprinkled on the worst day in school history, but rather a few moments that we surrender to the greatness of the human spirit.
1. The Missouri game – Eddie summed it up best when he called that game “…one of the most important games I’ve ever coached in. It would have been devastating not to win.” He’s probably right too. For all the Big 12 titles OSU has played for and massive tournament games it has played in, that one 40-minute escape from reality meant as much to the program as anything else ever has.
2. The Desmond interview – I once wrote that we “want our heroes to fall in love with history.” My affinity for #34 is well-documented on this site to the point that it wouldn’t behoove me to dive into it again. But that interview he did with Craig Sager after leaping Rashard Lewis to win the 2001 Slam Dunk contest WAS a seminal moment for the program. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen anyone display the depth of emotion Desmond did as his eyes filled with tears on national television when Sager asked him about the crash. OSU meant something to him beyond trading the university his physical ability for a four-year scholarship.
3. The fill-ins – Not a lot of people remember this, but the seat at the media table where Bill Teegins called games was occupied by every announcer in the Big 12 for the remainder of the year. Well except for one. Dave South, A&M’s play-by-play guy wouldn’t (or, to be fair to the story, couldn’t) participate, so Bob Barry did double-duty filling in for him. Draw your own conclusions there. Anyway, John Morris of Baylor write a pretty poignant piece about the experience.
4. Safety precautions – From the tone in this article in the Tulsa World, the policies and regulations pre-plane crash were more lax than a Bobby Reid deep ball. However, with the help of Zane Fleming, OSU revamped the way it scheduled and traveled. In addition, it helped change the way the NCAA as a whole functioned. Juanita Sheely, associate director for travel and insurance with the NCAA, said, “after the crash, the NCAA put together a publication on transportation safety and best practices and sent it to all the member institutions.”
5. Eddie softened – In his interview with Outside the Lines Gottlieb talked about how, before the plane crash, “you didn’t cross Eddie Sutton.” The implication was that he was worse for the wear and the softening of his persona somehow detached him from the program. I would argue the exact opposite. He was more mild, yes, but more deeply connected with the next wave of players. Think about what he did with Tony Allen, JamesOn, and even Lucas. He found a balance between rigorous commandeer and loving father figure. It was a good place for him (and the team) to be in.
So as we reflect on all that’s happened in the last 3,652 days, let’s not forget that sometimes great moments come from tragic happenstances. Nobody wishes for any of this to ever happen again to anyone, but if it has to, we can only hope it will be handled with as much grace and dignity as it has in Stillwater.