In 1923, the students at Oklahoma A&M had a problem. Their school’s athletic teams were often referred to by newspaper writers as the “Tigers.” The nickname was unpopular, to say the least. However, inspiration touched down in Stillwater during the annual Armistice Day parade when a pack of fans noticed a real-deal cowboy, Frank Eaton, leading the charge. After receiving Eaton’s blessing, work began on turning the man known as “Pistol Pete” into a symbol. While it wouldn’t be officially adopted as the university’s moniker for another several decades, these days, it’s hard to imagine theOklahoma State Cowboys competing under any other name.
As a member of the Big 12 Conference, the Pokes have staked their claim as contenders simply by winning. The university has won more than 50 NCAA national championships and occupies a special place in college basketball history as the first school to win back-to-back titles. Not content to reign over the hardwood, OSU has captured more than 30 wrestling crowns, while the golf team’s top honors also spill into the double digits. However, with this being the Sooner State, it all comes back to what’s happened on the gridiron.
Toward the end of the ‘80s, fans across the country began referring to Oklahoma State as “Tailback U” due to the incredible accomplishments of running backs Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. A Wichita, Kansas native, Sanders shattered record books in 1988 as he sped his way to 2,628 rushing yards, 37 touchdowns, and the Heisman Trophy. It’s hard to say where the jaw-dropping numbers came from, but it’s possible that #21 was just trying to keep up with the guy he was replacing. Over the course of his four-year career with the Cowboys, Thomas galloped for 4,847 yards and 43 touchdowns while earning Big 8 Conference Player of the Year honors twice. Fittingly, the pair went on to celebrated careers in the NFL, and both have been inducted into the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The only thing more legendary than the exploits of this dynamic duo is, of course, the rivalry with cross-state Oklahoma University. Each year, the two schools put all their cards on the table and tally victories earned in each of the varsity sports in which they compete to find the winner of the Bedlam Series. While some years have been better than others, there’s nothing that can diminish what took place during the 2001 football contest. The Cowboys had won just three games headed into the matchup, and the Sooners seemed destined for a title. Sixty minutes later, OSU had a 16-13 victory in hand, while OU scrambled to understand how it all had gone so wrong.
If that tilt had been held in Stillwater, then Cowboys fans would have given their rivals the ol’ one-armed wave, as is their custom. Dating back to 1908, “The Waving Song” has long been the soundtrack for OSU wins, and chances are, it’ll still be their parting shot 100 years from now.