All stories pale compared with OSU crash

Saturday, December 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The biggest Oklahoma sports story of 2001 was also the worst sports story.

In the early evening of Jan. 27, a small plane carrying 10 members of Oklahoma State's basketball traveling party crashed in a field near Denver.

Killed were reserve players Nate Fleming and Daniel Lawson, broadcaster Bill Teegins, OSU media relations coordinator Will Hancock, director of basketball operations Pat Noyes, trainer Brian Luinstra, student assistant Jared Weiberg, radio producer Kendall Durfey, and pilots Denver Mills and Bjorn Fahlstrom.

``I don't think you could ever be prepared for what happened, how it had to be handled,'' coach Eddie Sutton said. ``I was really concerned when it first happened that we might not be able to finish out the season.

``But somehow they were able to gather themselves and pull together, and I thought they really displayed a lot of character and a lot of class by the way they were able to continue the season.''

The Cowboys wound up winning 20 games and getting an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the first round to Southern California. They have started this season 12-0 and ranked among the top 10 teams in the country.

The crash is never forgotten. Families of five victims have filed lawsuits against the owner of the plane and the pilot's estate. Sutton and his coaches wear lapel pins that honor the crash victims, and the players' shorts are adorned with a small No. 10 and orange ribbon.

``That's one of those experiences that you're not sure you're going to be able to handle it,'' Sutton said. ``I felt like I did an adequate job and I hope I don't have to go through anything like that again. It wasn't an easy task at all.''

The Oklahoma football team found it difficult to follow up on the national championship season of 2000. The Sooners lost at Nebraska in October, which ended their 20-game winning steak, then lost a chance to play for the Big 12 or perhaps the national title when they lost at home to Oklahoma State in the final game of the regular season.

Oklahoma used two quarterbacks, going with Nate Hybl to start the season but eventually turning the job over to Jason White. When White was lost with a season-ending knee injury, Hybl got the job back and kept it the rest of the way.

The 16-13 loss to Oklahoma State prevented the Sooners from winning the Big 12 South title. It also ended their chances of reaching the national title game, although coach Bob Stoops said a 10-2 season and a berth in the Cotton Bowl was nothing to scoff at.

``Are we satisfied? No. Is it good? Sure,'' Stoops said. ``Some people are satisfied with six wins, five wins. Some people are even satisfied with four wins. But not here.''

Oklahoma State won only four games under new coach Les Miles. The season included a home loss to a bad Missouri team and a six-game stretch in which the Cowboys gave up at least 400 yards per game.

But they salvaged their season with the victory over then-No. 4 Oklahoma. They came in as 27-point underdogs, but hung with Oklahoma all day and finally came up with a late touchdown to win.

``We just needed to show everybody we're a good football team,'' Miles said. ``We've been saying it. This team finally got the opportunity to prove it.''

The joy of that victory was tempered in December when Miles was diagnosed as having ``intracranial pressure'' caused by a buildup of fluid on the brain. He planned to undergo treatment and said doctors told him to expect a full recovery.

Later in December, OSU quarterback Aso Pogi was injured in an automobile accident in Lawton, his hometown. He had surgery to repair tendon injuries to three fingers on his left hand.

Other stories of note in 2001:

_ The Oklahoma men's basketball team began the 2001-2002 season by winning nine of its first 10 games, including a 72-56 victory over No. 2 Maryland. The Sooners won the Big 12 tournament in March before losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

_ The Oklahoma women's basketball team played host to the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in March, beating Oral Roberts and Stanford. The following weekend, they were eliminated by Washington. Stacey Dales became the first Sooner woman to be named an All-American.

_ Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, after being passed over twice, was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

_ Reteif Goosen won the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, beating Mark Brooks in a playoff one day after missing a short putt that would have given him the title. Also in Tulsa, Gloria Park won the Williams Championship for her first LPGA Tour victory. In October, Bob Gilder won the Senior Tour Championship at Gaillardia Golf & Country Club in Oklahoma City.