'As long as he's able to run': OSU football gameday star Bullet nearly stayed home but will ride again amid changes
STILLWATER — For the past few weeks, Harley Huff held out hope.
She crossed her fingers. She could have said a prayer or gone superstitious and nobody would have blamed her.
A member of Oklahoma State’s equestrian team, Huff was set to ride Bullet for a second straight season at every football game inside Boone Pickens Stadium.
It’s a rare honor to do it twice.
Except, there were no plans for the Cowboys’ famous American quarter horse to be inside the stadium this season.
Huff and Bullet had filmed the normal stadium runs a few weeks ago. But she still held onto the belief things would change.
Last week, her faith paid off.
Bullet is back.
“As long as he’s able to run, that’s all that matters,” Huff said.
In a time of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities have changed traditions. Crowd capacity is greatly reduced. Spirit squads are no longer on the field. Bands cannot march.
For Saturday’s season opener against Tulsa, OSU nearly took away one of the fan base’s most passionate traditions, only to reverse course in another sign of the ever-changing policies due to uncertainty around the coronavirus.
“I’m super pumped that he’s able to be back,” Huff said. “Hopefully that there’s fewer people on the field he’ll get more screen time.”
For many OSU fans and alumni, Bullet can be the highlight of the day. He’s the starting point of gameday as he exits the tunnel to a huge applause.
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“As a former pom girl, I remember that emotion better than I remember anything else of my pom career of standing on the football field and hearing them yell, ‘Here comes Bullet,’” said OSU pom coach and spirit coordinator Beki Jackson. “The tears that swell up in the corner of your eyes. Even coaching I get that way.
“There’s something about being an alumni and hearing that and feeling that.”
Jackson said this week she did not know what changed to allow Bullet back into gameday.
“They just told him to come back,” she said in a text message.
At OU, the Sooner Schooner and RUF/NEKS ran like normal on Saturday. At Texas Tech, the Masked Rider and horse Fearless Champion also led the team onto the field like normal.
So, another horse couldn’t hurt.
“He’s not gonna get corona,” Huff said.
Huff said she and Bullet won’t do the usual meet-and-greets before each game. She’ll lead Bullet straight to the stadium tunnel. She also believes she’ll do the pregame run as usual, except the band won’t be on the field.
But whatever it takes to bring some normalcy, because there will be other big changes.
The Walk, the football team's walk from the student union down Hester Street into the stadium, is no longer a public event and spirit squads will not participate.
Pistol Pete won’t be wandering the stadium. There will be no BB, the miniature horse fans of all ages adored last season.
There will be no pep rallies. The band won’t march, but will perform with reduced numbers.
“We won’t be able to be at our full function,” Jackson said. “You know what, that’s OK. To be real honest, we had zero expectations going into even this month. So, anything that we are given the chance to do we are excited to be a part of.”
Jackson said the spirit squads and Pistol Pete will be located on the platform behind the end zone underneath the giant videoboard on Gallagher-Iba Arena. There will be no public access to the platform this season.
And the spirit squads will be reduced and spread out. Jackson even taped Xs on the platform to aid social distancing.
“We just are trying to make sure their experience — no matter what it is — is something positive,” Jackson said, “and that we can move forward and just hope for next year to be somewhat back to what we remember.”
But there is hope that some things will appear normal.
Pistol Pete and the spirit squads pre-recorded several gameday traditions that will air throughout the game.
The entire pregame show was filmed with the band in the stands. Pistol Pete even rode the Gator onto the field and fired his shotgun.
Bullet was there for filming, too. But Bullet in real life will be more meaningful.
“I heard so many stories last year when people would come take pictures with him,” Huff said. “They would just say, ‘Oh, we love Bullet. Our family adores him.’
“And just they came for Bullet, basically.”