When Sam Bradford returned to Norman to join his Oklahoma teammates a few days after winning the coveted Heisman Trophy, it was almost like he had never left. He spent five days in New York City, getting interviewed on national television shows and being the center of attention at banquets. But when he got back home, his teammates made sure he hadn't forgotten what was most important: his role as the Sooners' starting quarterback and their BCS title game against Florida tonight.
"We gave him a round of applause and a pat on the back, but other than that we tried to just go on about business," senior offensive lineman Jon Cooper said.
And that's exactly the way Bradford wanted it.
For the soft-spoken Oklahoma City native, getting back to normal — and back to football — was the most important thing.
"As soon as I got back to Norman, within an hour, I was up at the stadium watching practice and going through stuff," said Bradford, a redshirt sophomore. "New York was kind of a whirlwind, but as soon as I got back home, it was back to my normal life. Nothing has really changed."
How long that will last remains to be seen. During his trip to New York, Bradford heard stories from Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and UF's Tim Tebow about their loss of anonymity. Bradford insists he can still walk the streets relatively unnoticed. But if he wins a Heisman and a national championship? OU coach Bob Stoops said if anybody can handle it, it's Bradford.
"He's the best, meaning he's just calm," Stoops said. "The guy is humble. He doesn't let it bother him. We did have a talk because I know it's funny to think as a young person — and I experienced it even in 2000 — that all of a sudden people treat you different when you win the national championship. And I'm sure the same has happened for him now that he's a Heisman Trophy winner. People treat you different, and you're sitting here thinking: 'Hey, I'm the same guy. Nothing has changed.' It takes a while to get used to."
Bradford, 21, is well aware of the attention that accompanies Heisman winners — and the trouble that has plagued many. In the 10 years of the BCS national title games, only one Heisman winner — Matt Leinart of Southern Cal (2004 season) — has won the national championship.
But if Bradford plays the way he has all season, the Sooners most likely won't have to worry. He started all 13 games and threw for 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns. He led an offense that scored 60 or more points in its last five games.
All of that has earned him the trust and respect of his teammates — even if his style took some adjusting to.
"When he first came in, each guy had the same opportunity," offensive lineman Duke Robinson said. "But he rose to the occasion and stepped up. He's so easygoing, when he yells, it's not even like a real aggressive yell. That makes me laugh. When we talk to him in the huddle, we look back at him and he's never frowning or under pressure. That's why we call him 'Big Easy.' He's a very easygoing person."
And yet, they say, very businesslike.
"His approach to the game is what makes him so good," tight end Jermaine Gresham said. "He approaches the game very seriously. He practices hard, and he gets everybody else around him ready and that's how he leads the team."
Interestingly, Bradford nearly turned his attention away from football. After his eighth-grade year, Bradford discussed his sports future with his parents. He loved hockey, and as an only child his parents offered their full support even though to play junior-league hockey the family most likely would have to move from Oklahoma City to Dallas.
"At the end of the day, I still wanted to play all my other sports," Bradford said. "I wanted to play football, basketball, golf, baseball. I knew if I played hockey, I wasn't going to be able to do that."
When Florida and Oklahoma meet tonight, one of the Gators' greatest concerns will be putting pressure on Big Easy.
"He's hardly ever dirty; that's what you notice most (on film)," UF linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "We have to make sure we can get pressure on him and get him out of rhythm."
That may be easier said than done.
"The thing that makes him good is his poise in the pocket," OU receiver Juaquin Iglesias said. "The reads he makes, he just knows where to go with the ball. He knows his offense so well. He's evolved as a leader tremendously. Coming from last year, he was one of those guys who didn't really say much. But now he's vocal on the field, and he's a great part of this offense. Wherever Sam goes, we go."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
. 4,464 passing yds . 48 touchdowns