Jamelle Holieway stretched out on the floor of the Orange Bowl and checked out the contents of his Yves St. Laurent purse, or what he calls "my little clutch bag." There were a wallet, two cassette tapes, some car keys and a gold nugget ring. He worked the ring onto his pinky finger and lay back on the soft bed of grass, then stared up through his Blues Brothers sunglasses at a brace of thunderheads filling up the space above the stadium.
"Oh, my," he said. "Clouds."
Jamelle Holieway, star quarterback of the Oklahoma football team, likes to think everyone should be his natural self. That way you can be relaxed, he said, the way he was growing up in southern California. He thinks it's fine, for example, that Brian Bosworth, one of his friends and teammates, put something like peroxide in his hair and turned it the color of brass. Bosworth, Holieway says, was just being his natural self.
Holieway's natural self includes a tattoo on his left arm that says "Jammin," a pierced ear filled with a diamond-studded earring, a gold chain and crucifix, a gold watch and a gold bracelet. He said if it were up to him -- if he were Coach Barry Switzer and preparing the Sooners to play top-ranked Penn State in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day -- he would make every member of the team wear Blues Brothers sunglasses just like his. It would be part of the uniform.
"I wouldn't even make it an option," he said.
On Oct. 19, during the third quarter of a game against the Miami Hurricanes, Switzer found himself faced with an option of almost mortal consequence. His starting quarterback, sophomore Troy Aikman, had just gone down with a severe ankle injury, and Switzer had to find a backup.
There were two inexperienced candidates, both freshmen. One, Eric Mitchel, had appeared to be a little uncomfortable running the offense; he was uptight making his reads off the wishbone option and needed time to learn the system. The other, Jamelle Holieway, had run a veer offense in high school and was so relaxed you wondered how he managed to stay awake.
After Switzer made his choice, some of the Oklahoma players all but dropped to a knee and offered a silent prayer of thanks for the youngster Switzer has since taken to calling "the little kid" and "my precious little toy." Although the team suffered its only loss of the season against Miami, 27-14, Holieway went on to demonstrate what he calls "my natural self in a difficult situation" by rushing for a total of 861 yards and leading the team to seven consecutive victories, a Big Eight title and an Orange Bowl berth as he won all-conference honors.
With apologies to Aikman, Bosworth said it didn't take long for him to see that the quarterback change was "nothing but a blessing in disguise." Offensive tackle Anthony Phillips said that not until Holieway took over did every facet of the offensive game come together. What the Sooners had with Aikman, Phillips said, was a passing quarterback trying to make sense of an offense designed primarily for the run.
Now that Aikman has recovered well enough to play again, the Sooners simply have more than their fair share of talent at quarterback. Off a straight dropback, Aikman perhaps is as threatening as any other quarterback in the country. Players and coaches marvel at the strength of his arm, which can let go a screaming spiral at 54 mph and has been compared to that of John Elway of the Denver Broncos.
However, Aikman appears gangly and unorthodox running the option off the wishbone, which requires the quarterback to read the corner of the defensive front and either pitch to a trailing back or tuck the ball and head for open pasture. Switzer tells everybody that Aikman will be a top National Football League quarterback, but the impression one gets is that as long as Oklahoma's so-called Kiddie Corps is around, Aikman's best shot at glory is throwing deep post patterns against the scout team in practice.
All season long, Switzer also has said that Mitchel could turn out to be "one of the greatest option quarterbacks to ever play." He said Mitchel "has got more talent and ability than any player on our team." Although he is bigger, stronger and faster than Holieway, Mitchel has had a more difficult time learning and adjusting to the Sooners' offense.
Mitchel grew up in Pine Bluff, Ark., was a consensus high school all-America and found an impossible number of college recruiters trying to obtain his services. But for all his natural gifts, Mitchel lacked the formal football education that allowed Holieway to come in so quickly and make a name for himself.
Said Switzer, "Sometimes you see a big old stud from high school go off to college at 6-2, 200 . . . and he's the best and people wonder, 'Why didn't he play in college? Why is somebody else always playing and he doesn't play?' Well, sometimes it's something else. It's not always physical."
Holieway played at Banning High School in Carson, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, and learned to operate a complicated system similar to the one he now runs at Oklahoma. Mitchel, on the other hand, went to a school that geared everything around his enormous running ability. Switzer said Mitchel basically spent his schoolboy days dropping straight back, looking for a break in the defense and scrambling for it.
"He didn't have to study perimeters of defenses or know the option game," Switzer said. "He didn't know (which defensive player) had the pitch man, who had the quarterback or who has who when the defense makes this or that adjustment. He never had to analyze it and study it and go out and execute it. Jamelle did."
At 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, Holieway is four inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Mitchel, who also can cover a stretch of 40 yards in 4.3 seconds. Holieway runs that piece in 4.6 seconds, not extraordinarily fast for an Oklahoma quarterback.
"You look at Jamelle," said running back Spencer Tillman, "and he doesn't look like the kind of guy who could have all those moves. But he does. He attributes it to the California lifestyle he's used to. He's so cool, it's almost funny. But it's him, it's Jamelle Holieway. And it's how he likes it."