Early this week, a newspaperman called the Oklahoma University sports publicity office and asked to be put in touch with Dean Blevins, who'd been the Sooners' starting quarterback the first two games. "You don't want him," somebody said. "He's never going to play again."
Had the man been right, Ohio State would have beaten Oklahoma today. But Blevins came off the bench, came from exile really, to direct two faultless drives that produced a touchdown and a field goal in the last 89 seconds. So Oklahoma won, 29-28. And the winning coach, Barry Switzer, noticed Blevins talking to a newspaperman.
"Super job," Switzer said to the quarterback. The coach looked to see if the newspaperman wrote down his words. Then he said, "Super, super job. You did what you do best. Under pressure. Think about it. And you got stuck the time before, down there at the goal line. Super job."
That done, the coach moved on. The coach used a freshman quarterback today before he used Blevins, three years a letterman, the first-string quarterback in this season's first two games. Somebody asked Blevins how many games he'd started for Oklahoma, and the quarterback looked toward the coach's office. "I'm 6 and 0," he said, meaning Oklahoma has never lost a game Blevins started.
There were a lot of reasons for the Oklahoma publicity people to say Blevins was a nonperson. For one, the team's best quarterback, Thomas Lott, was fully recovered from a leg injury. The freshman, Jay Jimerson, seems an inevitable star. And Blevins, in Oklahoma's 25-23 escape from Vanderbilt two weeks ago, was a walking calamity.
Of the 12 Oklahoma fumbles that day, Blevins was responsible for - well, the Oklahoma fans deemed him responsible for everything except the dust storms of the Depression. They booed his every move. "It was a nightmare," he said today.
It started simply. On Oklahoma's first series of plays of the season, the Sooners came to third and two. Blevins, running the intricate wishbone offense, had the ball, moving laterally, when he recognized what he called "a hammer stunt, with the safety blitzing." That means he's supposed to pitch the ball to a trailing back. The pitch was wild. A fumble. Vandy's ball.
"If it'd been a good pitch, it was a touchdown," Blevins said today.
More than 70,000 Oklahoma fans were there.
"And they booed me every time I went onto the field," Blevins said. "How should I say this? Let's say we have a lot of fans who are vocal. Fair-weather fans. We have some of the greatest fans in the world - and few of the worst."
For a 21-year-old hometown boy, a local high school hero recruited by all the big schools, the rude treatment produced "a semi-traumatic week." He said he received 350 letters from people urging him to ignore the crazies. State legislators wrote him letters. Blevins said, and television stations did editorials deploring the fans' behavior.
"Nine or 10 of my teammates came by my room during the week to tell me they were on my side," Blevins said. "It makes you think. Football isn't everything. That experience at Oklahoma - I learned more about life from that than anything that's ever happened to me."
With Lott still injured, with the freshman not ready, Switzer started Blevins last week, too, and that time he threw for a touchdown and scored twice in a 62-24 rout of Utah.
Did the fans cheer him that day?
Blevins said, "I don't know. I ignore them now."
A time comes for all athletes in the mass spectator games when they realize the crowd is fickle. A year ago, desperate for a season-ending victory over hated Nebraska that would win the Big Eight championship, Switzer called on Blevins when all seemed lost. And he completed a third-and-19 pass that carried to the two-yard line, setting up the winning touchdown with only 38 seconds left.
"They quickly forgot that," Blevins said.
For the first 37 minutes of today's game, Switzer seemed to have forgotten about Blevins, too. Lott worked wonders today, building a 20-0 lead, but then he was put out of the game with a knee injury.
On the sidelines, Blevins began to trot onto the field, thinking he would replace Lott.
"And I see the other kid going in," Blevins said.
Blevins' eyes turned angry.
"I have no comment on being the No. 3 quarterback today. And you can quote me word for word on that."
Midway through the third quarter, when Ohio State had moved ahead, 21-20, Switzer called for Blevins. On third and seven, he threw Oklahoma's first pass of the game - and it was intercepted, the theft leading to another Ohio State touchdown. Most likely, the kindly folks back in Norman threw empty bottles at the book tube, and surely they wanted to stuff Blevins down an oil well when, on the next series, he threw another interception.
"They weren't had throws," Blevins said, but Switzer replaced him with the freshman the next series, and Blevins came back with only 6:24 to play. Make us another miracle, boo-boy.
And he did. Without a botched pitchout, without a fumble, completing theee straight passes, Blevins led Oklahoma to a touchdown and the winning field goal.
"I've been a quarterback since the second grade," Blevins said in the winner's madhouse locker room. "And I don't want to just fade out in my last year. You know, 'Where is that guy who was so good in high school, the player of the year?' 'Oh, he's gone, he never did amount to anything.'
"Maybe a few more performances like this will help them remember me."
Then, looking handsome, his black hair shining, all decked out in his red "O" letter sweater, Blevins stood in front of a television camera from a Norman station and said, "I don't lead a very dull life, I'm right in the middle of everything. I have my ups and downs, and I'm sure the downs are right around the corner. But maybe this up will sustain me a while."