When the University of Oklahoma’s football team scores, a covered wagon, pulled by two white ponies, comes thundering out near the end zone. The wagon is called the Sooner Schooner, the ponies go by Boomer and Sooner, and the story behind all three recalls the days before Oklahoma became a state.
The term “Sooner” comes from the Land Rush of 1889. “People lined up at the border of Oklahoma, and at a signal at noon, they rushed in to claim 160 acres,” explains David W. Levy, history department professor emeritus. “A ‘Sooner’ was somebody who dishonestly snuck across, usually when it was dark, and hid, and would claim a certain plot of land when they heard others coming and pretend that they’d just arrived.”
“The state of Oklahoma is named for these cheaters,” Levy says with a laugh. Boomer is no better—that refers to an earlier group, led by a David L. Payne, who wanted to settle Oklahoma land that wasn’t assigned to Native Americans in the Dawes Act of 1887. The Boomers, so called because they made such a loud fuss, would invade Oklahoma, authorities would remove them, and they’d invade again.
Somewhere along the way, these names—originally insults—came to represent the new state. “Between the land run and statehood, to be called a ‘Sooner’ was derogatory and could get you into a fight,” explains Levy. “But with statehood, it started to become a signal of pride.”
A student named Arthur Alden helped the phrase along—in 1905, he borrowed the tune of Yale’s “Boola, Boola,” and wrote the OU fight song, whose lyrics prominently feature “Boomer” and “Sooner.” The wagon and pony set made their first debut on the field in 1964, and today, fans on opposite sides of the stadium roar Boomer! and Sooner! back and forth during games. “People are emotionally attached to that song,” Levy says, “and to identify yourself to other fans, you say, ‘Go Sooners!’”
This article is part of a G&G series that decodes widely used but little understood phrases in college football.