Safety Jack Damuni blew kisses to the crowd. Quarterback John Walsh, not exactly a fan of the media after all the speculation this week about his future, was cordial to reporters. Teammates in blue, white and grass-stained uniforms hugged.
And LaVell Edwards smiled.
It was that kind of night for the BYU football team.
For all their success over the past 20 years or so, the Cougars have never really put together the complete package of solid offense, defense and special teams in the same bowl game.
Until Thursday night.
The No. 22 Cougars ended five years of bowl disappointment by out-playing Oklahoma — or the impostors dressed in Sooner jerseys — in every respect Thursday. The 31-6 victory in front of the second-largest crowd (45,122) in the six-year Copper Bowl history was BYU's first postseason win since 1988.
"We got clocked," said departing Sooner coach Gary Gibbs. "BYU totally dominated us. Every time they needed a big play, they made the play."
The game certainly wasn't as dramatic as several BYU bowl victories in years' past — the 1980 Jim McMahon-to-Clay Brown "Hail Mary" win over SMU and the '84 victory to clinch the national title over Michigan, for instance. But it was by far the most dominating the Cougs have ever been in 19 bowl appearances. Previously, the largest margin of victory for the Cougars in a bowl game was seven points.
At the same time, the 25-point loss tied the worst ever setback in a bowl by Oklahoma in 32 outings. Ironically, the Sooners lost by the exact same score, 31-6, against Arkansas in the '78 Orange Bowl.
"We executed about as well as we ever have," Cougar coach LaVell Edwards said. "We had some good practices this week and the guys worked hard. I thought going in we'd play well."
Walsh agreed. "This is the best this team has played all year, both offensively and defensively."
The win gives BYU a 10-3 record for the year — its first 10-win season since 1990. Oklahoma dropped to 6-6.
The entire BYU team played well, but Walsh, BYU's junior quarterback, was outstanding. He completed a Copper Bowl record 31 passes in 45 attempts (68.9 percent) for 454 yards and four touchdowns to take home MVP hardware.
"He was flawless," Edwards said. "No question, that was as good as we've ever had a quarterback execute in a bowl game. He was patient. He didn't throw any bad passes, and he made the big plays when he had to."
Walsh's passing yardage was the second-best for a Cougar quarterback in a bowl, behind only Ty Detmer's 576-yard night in the '89 Holiday Bowl loss to Penn State.
Walsh did his magic against a solid pass defense. Texas A&M, with 191 yards passing, posted the previous season-high game through the air against the Sooners — and Walsh had more passing yards than that early in the second quarter. In fact, Walsh's night was the all-time best passing performance against Oklahoma in any game — the previous-best was 410 yards by Colorado in '82.
Walsh has spent the week denying media speculation that he has made up his mind to forego his senior year in Provo for the NFL. Walsh hasn't said he will or will not enter the draft, stating only that the final decision hasn't been made yet.
"I've said from the beginning that I wasn't going to think about the decision until after the bowl game," he said. "The only time I think about it is when reporters ask me about it."
Walsh's play had to impress the numerous NFL scouts in attendance, even if it wasn't a pro audition. The rest of the Cougars weren't shabby either. The Sooners appeared to be a beaten group of players from the onset, however.
"I thought they might be playing for their coach and would leave their hearts out on the field, but they didn't," said Mike Johnston, who was on the receiving end of a pair of Walsh touchdown passes.
"They were a little flat," Cougar defensive end Randy Brock said. "Their starting quarterback being out and the instability from the coaching change probably had a lot to do with it."
"They didn't seem to have much fire in their eyes," wide receiver Bryce Doman said.
Gibbs, who resigned last month under pressure, didn't like the effort his team gave in his final game at Oklahoma. New coach Howard Schnellenberger, who was watching the game, couldn't have like what he saw either.
The Sooner offense gained just three first downs and 61 yards of total offense in the first half, while their defense surrendered 290 yards and 17 points. Oklahoma didn't cross midfield for the first time until there was less than a minute to play in the third quarter.
"I'm disappointed we didn't play better," Gibbs said. "We probably had a handful of guys who didn't compete the way they have the last couple of years. They've got to live with themselves."
The Cougar offense scored three of the first four times it touched the ball, while the defense forced five first-half Sooner punts. BYU led 17-0 at intermission.
"When we got behind early, 17-0, some of the guys started to hang their heads," said Sooner linebacker Broderick Simpson, who was one of the few bright spots for OU with a game-high 13 tackles. "We just couldn't stop them. BYU was the best passing offense we faced this year."
The Cougars put the game away with a 13-play, 75-yard drive — culminating on a four-yard TD pass to Johnston - with 3:55 to play in the third quarter, giving them a 24-0 lead. Oklahoma was able to avoid its first shutout since 1983 on a two-yard Jerarld Moore touchdown run with nine minutes remaining in the game.
Walsh's last play of the year — and perhaps of his BYU career — was a 28-yard TD toss to Doman, his second scoring catch of the game, with 5:19 to play. BYU got the ball back one more time, but backup QB Steve Clements entered the game and ran out the clock while Walsh and company celebrated the victory on the sideline.
The Cougars finished the game with 556 yards of total offense to Oklahoma's 235. Sooner QB Terence Brown had been a wide receiver most of the year, but was forced into action because regular starter Garrick McGee couldn't play due to a viral infection. Brown, who had thrown just three passes this season entering the game, looked rusty. He completed 13-30 for 163 yards and an interception.
Doman is one of only three Cougar players who was around the previous time the Cougars won a bowl game, a 20-17 Freedom Bowl victory over Colorado in '88.
"It's nice that I was able to start my career with a bowl victory and end with one," said Doman.
For the rest of the Cougars it was nice to just get a bowl victory, period.