Darren Hellwege, sports commentator
A man with a big, plastic head came and shook my hand Saturday afternoon, and it filled my heart with joy.
People may think Pistol Pete’s just some cowboy, generic, another mascot from another school.
But Pistol Pete means a lot more to me. As the final seconds ticked away on Oklahoma State’s 45-24 win over the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium Saturday, maybe Pete saw the sadness in my face. Maybe he knew somehow that for me, a whole lot more than one football game ended Saturday. Could he see through those fierce plastic eyes that something that’s been a part of my life since I was born was, if not ending, moving much further away?
I’ve given up fighting. Missouri is moving to the Southeastern Conference. And I understand why. My arguments against the move are entirely emotional. Brady Deaton and Mike Alden aren’t charged with making me happy, with keeping my childhood memories within reach. They’re given the task of doing what’s best for this school and its athletic program, and that means games where Mizzou’s “Fight, Tigers” competes with “Rocky Top” and “My Old Kentucky Home,” not “Ride ‘em Cowboys” and “Proud and Immortal.” So, off to the Deep South we go, y’all.
But I was able to get one last day with those who share my Orange Blood Syndrome. If Saturday’s meeting between the Cowboys and Tigers, the 51st time the schools have played, was the final time, I’m grateful I had this one last game.
See, I was born in Stillwater. My mom left her English classes to raise babies, and my dad was a freshly minted PhD from the OSU chemistry program. Even though we moved down the road to Edmond just days later, where I would grow up, we never really left Stillwater or OSU.
My grandparents were all in Stillwater, so weekend trips there once or twice a month were my favorite days. I’ve been blessed with the best family a guy could ever have and because they were all in Stillwater, the images can be a little blurry. When I hear the OSU band play “Proud and Immortal,” I might smell the beans and cornbread my MeMa used to cook, or see OSU’s Theta Pond where we’d go feed the ducks. As the Cowboys take the field, I remember the first time I went with family to see the Cowboys (OSU 59- Wichita State 0, Sept. 14, 1974.)
The sight of Pistol Pete is almost like seeing the greatest man I ever knew, my PaPa, one more time. We used to shoot baskets in the church parking lot and he’d tell me about the great players he’d seen in Gallagher Hall, playing for and against Henry Iba’s Aggies. MeMa’s arthritis left her unable to attend the games, but she listened to every Cowboy game on KSPI radio there in her bedroom. Loving OSU and the Cowboys was about as deeply ingrained in my family as can be.
I know I’m far from the only person in Missouri with emotional ties to other Big 12 schools, especially those in the old Big 8. Somewhere in town there are people who, as they hear of MU heading to the SEC, realize they’ll never see their beloved Cyclones, or Sooners, or even Jayhawks, again. But I hope that all of us who care about the University of Missouri will come to embrace the Tigers’ future in the SEC, will come to be optimistic and hopeful and excited about the future. And I am. I look forward to seeing a basketball game in Rupp Arena, or football in Tuscaloosa or Knoxville. And I have family ties in the Arkansas Ozarks, so a trip to Fayetteville may take a little of the sting out of a schedule that has no more trips back home to Stillwater.
But the sting is still there. Maybe Pistol Pete felt it. He came over and shook my hand. A colleague snapped a picture of us together. My guess is that whatever college student inside that big plastic head is used to people he’s never seen before greeting him like an old friend.
But to me, on this last Saturday with my Cowboys, Pistol Pete wasn’t just a friend. He’s family. So forgive me if I cracked a little smile as the Cowboys continued their dream season by beating the Tiger team I cover professionally. Don’t be angry for shaking hands with an “enemy” mascot. Don’t yank my credentials for joining the Cowboys on the sidelines for one last verse of the alma mater.
It’s a family thing.
Bright and immortal, Bright shines your name
Oklahoma State, we herald your fame
Ever you’ll find us, loyal and true
To our alma mater…O…S…U.
SATURDAY SPECIAL FOR ANOTHER OKIE, FOR ANOTHER REASON
Another Oklahoman, in fact a friend from the town where I grew up, will remember Saturday for a different reason. While Tiger defensive back Randy Ponder went to a rival high school (he Santa Fe, while I attended Memorial) the two of us share our Edmond ties, as does another Mizzou player, Xavier Smith (he went to North High)
Ironically enough, on what appears to be Oklahoma State’s final visit to Memorial Stadium, Ponder got his first Tiger start. “It was a great opportunity to help the team out,” Ponder said.
He knew all week he’d be starting Saturday, but still, it had to be an exciting time, especially since it was OSU he’d be playing against. While he was aware of the Cowboys growing up, he said he wasn’t really an OSU fan growing up. He also said he wasn’t recruited much by either OSU or Oklahoma and the one OSU coach who was interested in him at State left the school during his senior year.
But Missouri was interested and playing in the Big 12 where he’d get the chance to play against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State was a part of his decision to sign with the Tigers.
“I play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder against those teams,” Ponder admitted. “Yeah,” Ponder told me, “I would have enjoyed a victory today.”
Randy’s family would have, too. Randy’s family’s a close bunch, and good people. His mom and dad, his sister, they were here Saturday. But not to cheer for the Cowboys. Even his grandfather, Jack, wanted to see Randy do well and get a victory Saturday. I would have been special for Jack Reynolds to see his grandson beat the Cowboys. In those years my parents were leaving Stillwater to start their family in Edmond in the mid-60s, Jack Reynolds was at OSU, playing football for the Cowboys. He was a heck of a running back in his day.
Randy’s family is behind him now as like myself he’s left Oklahoma to be part of the University of Missouri. And while I’m sure Ponder, Xavier Smith, and Guthrie, Okla., native Kentrell Brothers will miss the chance to play against teams from Oklahoma in the future, all are ready to move forward with Mizzou into new challenges in the Southeastern Conference. And whether they’re playing against Cowboys and Sooners or Volunteers and Gators, their families will be right behind them, cheering them on.
Even an old Cowboy named Jack Reynolds.