Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I. Introduction
II. Cultural Backdrop—Sports and the Decade of the 1960’s
III. The Commerce Flash
IV. Big Red Machine
V. Before America’s Team
VI. A Modern Day Superman
VII. Feeding the Monster
VIII. Hurricane Alert in Tulsa
IX. Titans in our Midst
X. Tulsa Youth Sports
XI. Jewel in Chandler
XII. Heroes in the Heartland
XIII. Retrospective


Oklahomans have a rich history in sports dating back to arguably the greatest athlete of all time, Jim Thorpe, who excelled in multiple sports including baseball, football and the Olympics in the early years of the century. The Waner Brothers, Paul and Lloyd, “Big Poison and Little Poison,” were stellar baseball players in the early 20’s for the Pittsburgh Pirates and hailed from Harrah. McAlester’s “Wild Horse of the Osage” Pepper Martin teamed with the Dean brothers, Dizzy and Paul, to lead the St. Louis Cardinals “Gashouse Gang” to major league baseball championships in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Carl Hubbell, a Meeker farm boy, made All-Star history by striking out five future Hall-of-Famers in a row, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in the 1934 game. “Super Chief” Allie Reynolds hailed from Bethany and would star on six world championship teams with the New York Yankees in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. And, Hartshorne’s Warren Spahn was the winningest left-handed pitcher in Major League history from 1949 to 1963. In basketball, legendary coach Henry Iba won back-to-back National Championships at Oklahoma A & M in the mid-40’s. And, in football, Glenn Dobbs would have success at the University of Tulsa in the 1940’s as an athlete and would later return as a successful coach and athletic director in the 1960’s leading the Golden Hurricane to national prominence.

However, many Oklahomans will agree that the state’s modern-day sports history came of age shortly after World War II with the success of the University of Oklahoma Sooners football program in the 1950’s. This history was championed by University President George Lynn Cross’ mandate to field a successful football program to give the state and its citizens an identity and pride to erase the states’ dustbowl perceptions. And, it was created by Head Coach Bud Wilkinson’s phenomenal success in the 1950’s at OU. Sports has been a focal point of state pride for several generations of Oklahomans ever since.

The advent of sports television in the 1950’s led to an increase in exposure for the states’ sports heroes allowing them to shine on a national level before millions of Americans. Most Oklahomans recall the states’ first notable national sports hero in the new television age, Mickey Mantle, rising to meteoric success starring with the New York Yankees during New York’s Golden Age in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During Mantle’s 18-year career in New York, the Yankees appeared in 12 World Series during his first 14 seasons winning seven titles. Buttressed by the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, Cochrane, and Dimaggio, the Mantle-led Yankees became the most successful sports franchise in the world with the flash from Commerce, Oklahoma leading the way. Mantle would be named MVP three times and captured the Triple Crown in 1956. He was elected into the baseball hall of fame in 1973.

Although Mantle’s career began to wind down in the mid-1960’s, the torch had been passed by his retirement in 1969 to another Oklahoman who would have phenomenal success in the big leagues. Johnny Bench began his rookie season in 1968 with the Cincinnati Reds by capturing Rookie of the Year honors. Bench, a catcher from Binger, Oklahoma, would shortly become the foundation of one of baseball’s greatest dynasties—the Big Red Machine. Beginning in 1970, The Reds would appear in four World Series in seven years winning two world championships in back-to-back fashion in 1975 and 1976. Bench would be named league MVP in 1970 and 1972 and World Series MVP in 1976. At his retirement in 1983, Bench was without a doubt regarded as the greatest catcher in modern time. He was elected to the baseball hall of fame in 1989 with 96% of the vote which ranks in the top 10 of all hall of fame votes.

As great as ambassadors that Mantle and Bench would become for Oklahomans, another success story would play out at the end of the 1960’s. Steve Owens played running back at the University of Oklahoma from 1967 to 1969. A workhorse of untiring energy, Owens would lead the Sooners to the 1968 Big 8 Title and Orange Bowl Championship. However, his greatest accomplishment would come during his senior season in 1969. Owens would establish five Sooner rushing records as he led his team to a 6-4 season while capturing the 1969 Heisman Trophy. During a decade that began with much enthusiasm and hope for a new generation of Americans, Owens was a bright star amid a year that saw so much political turmoil and social unrest in 1969. He would continue his success in the NFL in 1971 becoming the first Detroit Lion to rush for 1,000 yards.

Although Bud Wilkinson created the foundation for football success at OU, it was Barry Switzer who ushered the Sooners into the memory banks of a new generation of Oklahoma sports fans. An assistant since 1966, Switzer was named head coach following the 1972 season and went on to compile a 32-1-1 record in his first three seasons and claimed back-to-back national championships in 1974 and 1975. Switzers’ Sooners were led by a who’s who of Oklahoma sports legends—Lucious, LeRoy and Dewey Selmon, Joe Washington, Rod Choate, Randy Hughes, Tinker Owens, Steve Davis and a supporting cast of solid role players. Switzer resigned under pressure following the 1988 season but his 17 year career restored the winning legacy at OU. He would go on to coach the Dallas Cowboys in the mid-1990’s and win a Super Bowl in 1995.

The Oklahoma Sooners are not the only football team interest in the state. The Dallas Cowboys were founded in 1960 by oil baron Clint Murchison, Jr. A hands-off owner, Murchison assembled the greatest team of any sports era when he hired a television executive and an assistant coach from New York to run his franchise. Over the next 20 years The Dallas Cowboys would become “America’s Team” and create one of the most successful sports franchises in the world. However, growing up in Oklahoma in the 1960’s without a hometown NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys would become “Oklahoma’s Team” as well and a symbol for frustration and heartache in the early years. In fact, the Cowboys would inherit the title of “Next Years’ Champions” in the late 1960’s after successive losses in NFL Championship games to the Green Bay Packers.

There were also Oklahoma angles on the team, too. Walt Garrison began his career in 1962 at Oklahoma State University. He spent his freshman year on defense as a linebacker, not even once carrying the ball. However, a change of coaches resulted in a move to running back. He led the Big 8 Conference in rushing in 1964 and then completed his senior year as OSU's leading rusher, led OSU to its’ first victory in 20 years over instate rival OU and was named to the All Big 8 team. However, it was in professional football that Garrison made a national name for himself with the Dallas Cowboys. After nine years, Walt retired as the third leading rusher and fourth leading receiver in Cowboys history. His pro career featured two appearances in the Pro Bowl plus Super Bowl V in 1971 and on the World Championship team in Super Bowl VI in 1972. Also, Ralph Neely was a three-time All-American football player at the University of Oklahoma in the 1960’s. A rookie in 1965, Neely joined the Cowboys just as they began their ascent. He played for 13-years, was named All-Pro four times and the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960’s. Ironically, it was Neely’s blocking skills that cleared the path for Garrison’s running success. Both players careers’ paralleled the early struggles and eventual success of “America’s Team” while putting an indelible Oklahoma stamp on this team of destiny.

Although not as prominently known nationally as the Sooners or Dallas Cowboys, Tulsa has a rich and storied sports history of its own. Beginning in the 1940’s, Glenn Dobbs starred as a player and then returned to lead the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team to prominence as head coach in the 1960’s. Quarterback Jerry Rhome and wide receiver Howard Twilley combined to lead Tulsa in 1964 as one of the top passer and receiver combinations in the country. Later, long before his “Hail Mary” days in Dallas, former Dallas Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson would razzle and dazzle Tulsa fans briefly as a quarterback and mostly as a wide receiver in the early 70’s. And finally, Steve Largent would set school and NCAA records as an All-American wide receiver in 1972 thru 1975. However, the Tulsa football team was not the only successful team at the small private school. The Golden Hurricane baseball team was one of the top teams in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Coach Gene Shell’s teams competed in the College World Series twice in three years finishing as the NCAA tournament runner up in 1969. Jerry Tabb, Steve Rogers, Steve Bowling and Mike Butcher are not household names to many people. However, in the late 60’s and early 70’s they were leaders on one of the most successful college baseball teams in the country.

And believe it or not, as successful as the Golden Hurricanes were, another cross-town college team would boast the longest winning streak of any Oklahoma team in any sport! The Oral Roberts University Titans began playing basketball in 1965. In their fourth season, ORU would begin one of the most remarkable five year records of any sports team in history: 118 wins vs. 23 losses for an 84% winning percentage. Led by coach Ken Trickey, the schools’ all-time winningest coach, ORU would win 22-consecutive games in the 1971 and 1972 seasons. However, that mark pales in comparison to another Titan record established under Trickey. ORU compiled an incredible 52 consecutive win home record between 1969 and 1973. Trickey-led teams would average over 100 points per game in 1971 and 1972 and establish the single game school scoring record in 1972—155 points. Despite playing a small-college NAIA schedule the first five years, this feat becomes even more astounding when you consider the three point shot would not come into play collegiately until the 1980’s. Trickey would lead ORU to two NIT berths and an incredible Final 8 appearance in the NCAA tournament in his magical final season in 1974 that put the ORU basketball program and university on the national map.

Mention a sports camp today and images of iPods, Xbox’s and in-line vert ramps pop into mind. However, in 1958 a jewel called the Chandler Baseball Camp was founded in the unexpected red-dirt locale of Chandler, Oklahoma. Bo Belcher, a struggling minor league player, purchased 60-acres of sprawling land in Chandler, Oklahoma. Belcher wanted to create a baseball camp for young boys to teach them the sport he so loved. However, he wanted a different sort of camp than those that existed at the time. Other national baseball camps featured baseball but also offered plush amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and other luxuries such as air conditioned dormitories. Belcher would have none of these extremes. He wanted his campers to live, eat and breathe baseball 24/7. His three-week July camps were legendary but simplistic.
The military-style schedule ensured the primary objective—focus on baseball. The word soon spread all over the country and world as over 20,000 youngsters from across the globe traveled to Chandler every summer for 42 years. Friendships and a life time of memories were created in addition to learning the fundamentals of baseball. All under clear Oklahoma summer skies and 100-degree heat! And, of course, non-air conditioned cabins. Remarkably, Tom Belcher would continue his father’s legacy until 2000. However, it was during four summers beginning in 1973 that these stories were born and memories created.

The pro and collegiate teams and athletes were but one important part of the Oklahoma sports landscape. The local sports scene has always been the birthplace of great athletes and Tulsa was no exception. In the 1960’s and early 70’s sports heroes presented themselves on the local scene, as well. Ed Lacy’s powerhouse Booker T. Washington High School teams could match accolades and legends with any present day team. He started the school's wrestling program in 1962 and tennis program in 1963. However, it was football that created his legacy in Tulsa sports annals. During his nine seasons as head football coach, the Hornets won five state titles -- in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971 and 1973. Booker T. Washington’s storied rivalry with Tulsa Nathan Hale would captivate the city and establish future stars for decades to come. And the success was not contained just to Tulsa. Individual Tulsa schoolboy stars such as 1969 Oklahoma Player
of the Year John Winesberry and 1970 Tulsa World Player of the Year, Randy Hughes, would go on to even greater success at Stanford, OU and the Dallas Cowboys.
However, as great as the college and pro stars were, it was the foundation at the youth sports level that made Tulsa athletics excel. Organized sports teams flourished at every level. In an age before video games, computers and soccer, athletes of the time excelled in one of several youth leagues honing skills and developing character. It was by no accident that a generation of young boys were developed during this period. A solid group of men devoted tireless effort and endless time to ensure the success of these teams.

The modern sports era began in the late 1950’s with the advent of television and Oklahomans played pivotal roles in their respective sports for the next 20 years. Although certainly there are other stories and heroes that played out during this timeframe, none were more inspirational or moving than these stories to a generation of Oklahomans. As a young boy growing up in Tulsa in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I happened to be one such Oklahoman who was moved by these individual stories and heroes. They were role models and inspirations to thousands of Oklahomans. This is their story from one Oklahoman perspective.

Cultural Backdrop—Sports and the Decade of the 1960’s

The decade of the sixties began with great innocence, hope and enthusiasm. It was a simpler time. However more changes probably took place in American society during the 1960’s than any other decade of the 20th century.

The American public elected John F. Kennedy president in 1960. Kennedy won a close election over Vice President Richard Nixon becoming the youngest person ever elected president. He was also the first Catholic elected President and was the first American president born in the 20th century. The new President’s own words would ring true as indeed the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans. Kennedy’s 1,000 day presidency was full of important if not tumultuous events. Almost immediately his administration seemed to face crisis after crisis. First, a group of CIA-trained anti-Castro Cuban exiles invaded an area called the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961. The invasion was quickly countered by the Cuban armed forces and was a military disaster which resulted in 114 deaths and over one thousand prisoners captured. Secondly, symbolizing the growing Cold War rift between the Soviet Union and the United States, the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall in August of 1961 closing off the Soviet-controlled communist East Berlin from the U.S.-controlled West Berlin. Third, the U.S. was led to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile crisis in the fall of 1962. And, half-way around the world in Southeast Asia, 16,000 American “advisors” were involved in a war which was brewing in a small country called Vietnam.

Not all of the problems escaped American soil. Social unrest at home especially in the segregated Deep South created uprisings against the African-American community and resulted in a cultural divide killing innocent American citizens. Racial tensions were high and demonstrations swelled for voting rights and school integration. Beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, conflicts between members of the Civil Rights Movement and white segregationists would lead to violence and in some cases murder. Between 1948 and 1965 over 200 Black churches were bombed in the segregated south. In October of 1962, after a successful legal appeal to the United States Supreme Court, James Meridith became the first African-American ever admitted to the University of Mississippi. National Guard troops were called to campuses across the country and forcefully escorted African-American students to schools. In June of 1963, over the objections of Governor George Wallace who stood at the door blocking their entrance, two African-American students were admitted to the University of Alabama. Wallace had actually campaigned earlier that year in his inauguration speech, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” It was President Kennedy’s order of National Guard troops to escort the students into the school that put him in direct conflict with the Governor’s views. It was also a watershed event for President Kennedy, who in staring down the South's most defiant segregationist aligned himself solidly with the civil rights movement.

Culturally, the sixties represented an unprecedented renaissance in American society. The Eisenhower era was over. The first wave of “Baby Boomers” were coming of age. Suburbia was invented. There were only three television stations and no remote controls. We all watched the same television shows, newscasts and cheered for the same teams. The colors of the jerseys and the names of the players and coaches never changed. Mickey Mantle was a New York Yankee. Bob Lilly was a Dallas Cowboy. Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers and Tom Landry was the only coach for the Dallas Cowboys. And, Muhammad Ali was simply “the greatest.” American Bandstand debuted on Saturday afternoons in 1963. Prime Time television shows captivated the attention of millions and reflected the innocence of our society. Shows such as “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “My Three Sons,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Twilight Zone,”, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” and “The Flintstones.” Strong, parental role models were the storyline for three of the most popular shows including “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver” and “Bonanza,” among others.

It was certainly a different time in our society. The divorce rate was one-half of what it is today and the illegitimacy rate was only 3%. The only language was English and those who did not speak the language quickly learned so they could become part of the “melting pot” society. There were not any hyphenated-Americans. No drive-by shootings or gangs in schools either. Most U.S. homes and automobiles did not have air conditioning. The color television/stereo combo was a hit as were Princess telephones and television trays. Kids did not receive cars as graduation presents and credit cards were only used in case of emergencies. The cell phone was years away.

This was the cultural backdrop in America in the fall of 1963 when one single event changed the course of our country. On November 22, 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Our country’s innocence was shattered. Things began to change. Vice President Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency and soon declared his intentions to expand the Vietnam War. The American troop presence was soon increased to 200,000 by 1965. Although The Warren Commission established a single gunman killed our President, most Americans did not believe the report creating a suspicion and distrust of our government that continues to this day. Black leader Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 followed by Martin Luther King’s assassination in March of 1968. President Johnson, succumbing to mounting stress and pressure, surprisingly announced he would not seek reelection in March of 1968. Then, two weeks later he signed landmark legislation creating the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that ended housing discrimination (the Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively ended segregation in the U.S.) Another political assassination occurred in June of 1968 killing President Kennedy’s younger brother Bobby who was seeking the Democratic Party Presidential nomination. Protesters disrupted the Democratic Party nominating convention in Chicago and hundreds of students were arrested as the youth tried to make their voices heard.

A new president was elected in 1968. Richard Nixon campaigned by promising to end the Vietnam War. However, he was soon deeply embroiled in the social and political unrest, as well. College campuses exploded with peaceful protests and “civil disobedience,” “anti-establishment,” “anti-military,” and “sit-in” became the buzz words of the day. "The Smothers Brothers," and "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In", two new variety television shows, soon began paroding these causes each week before nationwide audiences. In addition, the following month saw the first draft lottery instituted since World War II. The hippie generation was in full bloom and American youth were encouraged to “turn on, tune-in and drop out.” Love-ins and drug experimentation were in vogue as the psychedelic-60’s had captured the attention of America’s youth. And, in what would become the seminal event of the hippie movement, over 500,000 young people attended a musical festival on a dairy farm in upstate New York in August of 1969. The event was called The Woodstock Music & Arts Festival and was billed as the Aquarian Exposition. The top names in pop music appeared including: Crosby, Stills and Nash; Neil Young; Jimi Hendrix; Janis Joplin; The Who; and Jefferson Airplane among others. In November 1969 the My Lai Massacre by U.S. troops on Vietnamese peasants was exposed, prompting widespread outrage around the world and leading to increased public opposition to the war. By the end of the decade, Americans had become more cynical, suspicious and less trusting of our elected officials. The Vietnam War had broken the will of the people. The last innocent generation was ending.

As much doom and gloom that happened on the political and social scenes in the 1960’s, the decade was full of heroes. Because the Vietnam War was so unpopular at home, the returning soldiers were the first in American history to be received unceremoniously. As a result, although the soldiers were more deserving of hero status, many of our heroes from this time period found their calling in the arena of sports. Thanks to the 1958 National Football League Championship game between Baltimore and New York, sports television was now in full bloom and the mainstream sports of football, basketball and baseball were seen weekly in millions of American homes. Overlapping sports dynasties in professional football, basketball and baseball were born
in Green Bay, Wisconsin; Boston, Massachusetts and New York City. Over a span of 14 years beginning with Mickey Mantle’s arrival in 1951, the New York Yankees would appear in 12 World Series winning seven. Beginning in 1960, the Boston Celtics would appear in and win nine NBA Championships led by legendary coach Red Auerbach and Hall of Fame center Bill Russell. And, Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers would win their first of five (5) NFL Championships in 1961 and last two in 1966 and 1967 culminating with the first two Super Bowls.

Team sports were not the only events that captivated the sports world in the 1960’s. An African-American boxer from Louisville, Kentucky captured the Olympic Gold medal in Rome in 1960. Four years later he would shock the world by defeating Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston becoming the youngest heavyweight champion. For the next two and a half years Cassius Clay (who would eventual change his name to Muhammad Ali) would forever change the world of sports. His cocky and brash manner caught many people by surprise. The sports world had never encountered someone with his larger than life personality, brash cockiness and supreme athletic skill. Ali was undefeated and was fighting all challengers. However, soon his encounters outside the ring would eventually stop his career. Citing religious reasons, Muhammad Ali refused enlistment to enter the U.S. military in 1967 after twice failing the selective service test in 1966 (the test score minimums for service were lowered and Ali was reclassified.) After refusing to be inducted in April of 1967, Ali was indicted and convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. His passport was confiscated, his boxing titles were stripped and his license to fight was revoked. However, Ali would fight this decision. Although Ali would lose his heavyweight title in 1967, he appealed his ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, the state of Georgia granted Ali a license and he resumed fighting in 1970 and he won his appeal and was eventually reinstated to fight for good in 1971. On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his court decision with a unanimous ruling after learning that the F.B.I. had illegally wire-tapped his telephone calls.

In 1971, Ali finally had an opportunity to regain his title against the current heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier, in New York’s Madison Square Garden. A who’s who of celebrities, politicians and sports personalities packed the garden for the big fight. Frank Sinatra was so anxious to get close to the fighters that he obtained a photographer’s credential from Life magazine. The fighters did not disappoint the star-studded audience as Ali and Frazier gave the crowd their money’s worth for 15 grueling rounds. However, in the end it was obvious that Ali’s ring rust was no match for the younger, faster Frazier. A thunderous left hook would send Ali to the canvas for the first time in his career in the 15th round en route to losing a unanimous decision. Although, Ali and Frazier would fight two more times (Ali winning both,) the world was captivated by their first fight which punctuated Ali’s legal troubles and travails that began in the 1960’s with the social unrest and political turmoil as its backdrop.

In 1964, “The British Invasion” forever changed American music. The movement was led by the “The Beatles”—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, whose youthful looks, innocence and love-inspired songs soothed our collective pain in the months following President Kennedy’s assassination. Other groups soon followed including “The Animals,” “Dave Clark Five,” “The Rolling Stones,” and “Herman’s Hermits.” The 8-track tape player was invented in 1964 and soon a new generation of Americans had their own generation of music at their fingertips. Surfing exploded on the West Coast and spawned a new genre of music and movies. “The Beach Boys” had their first #1 album in 1964 and popularized the sport with songs such as “Surfin USA,” and “Surfer Girl.” Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello captured the hearts and attention of millions of teenagers with their hit movies “Beach Party,” and “Beach Blanket Bingo.” Fun and lighthearted themes soon followed on television. Shows such as “Gomer Pyle USMC,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Bewitched,” “Green Acres,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “I Dream of Jeanie,” “Get Smart,” and “Batman,” had significant runs and lightened the heavy social mood of the times.

And finally, the sports world was not the only arena where heroes were being born. In 1961, President Kennedy called for the United States to initiate a program to place a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Later that year, Alan Shepherd became the first American to enter space and John Glenn became the first man to orbit earth in 1962. Although Kennedy did not live to see his dream accomplished, Neil Armstrong fulfilled the President’s wish on July 8, 1969. His famous “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” pronouncement from the lunar surface reverberated around the world. It seemed that all the political turmoil, social unrest and killings had not prevented the fulfillment of President Kennedy’s mission to place a man on the moon. Our country was rejuvenated. For a brief moment the protests were forgotten and the unpopular war was pushed aside. America was on top of the world—literally.

So this was the backdrop as the country moved into a new decade with a sense of renewal, hope and optimism. A generation of American youth was reaching the age of awareness where their upbringings, interests and character were being shaped. Sports would play a great role in creating our generation of heroes. And Oklahomans would play a major role on the national sports stage as well as locally. After all, all stories in effect are local. So this is the spot in history that this particular story picks up. A period of time unrivaled in our sports history takes front and center in Oklahoma. How fitting that as our state celebrates our Centennial Celebration in 2007 that these stories are being told now from a new perspective for the very first time for a new generation of Oklahomans to enjoy and share.

Storytelling has long been association with civilizations as a means of saving their cultural heritage. My native Cherokee ancestry, including my maternal grandmother’s clan the Chickalaite’s, settled in Oklahoma in the late 19th century and had a sense of storytelling as did most Indian tribes. One story would be passed from one generation to the next. Grandparents would tell their children and grandchildren of famous battles and exploits of their relatives. This storytelling was important to maintaining the tribe’s historical origins as well as their culture. This story is just as important in telling a part of Oklahoma history that many shared but few today may know about. One person who knows little about this history is my own four year old daughter Lucy Louise Sihui Hail. We adopted her from her native China in 2003. As she grows older, she will be more curious about her family background and fathers’ interest in sports. Although living in Dallas, Texas, she has been exposed to the rich sports history of the Sooner state as she attended her first University of Oklahoma basketball and football games at ages three and four, an Oklahoma State Cowboys Pep Rally at the 2004 Cotton Bowl at 19 months, an OSU basketball game as a two year old and Texas Rangers baseball games in between. Fortunately, for Lucy, she came to us during a two year National Championship run by her daddies alma mater the University of Oklahoma Sooners football team. She probably does not remember her mommy and daddy leaving her with her grandparents at 19 months of age to attend the Sugar Bowl in 2004. She also probably does not remember her daddy attending the 2005 Orange Bowl, either.

However, the past four years have created many wonderful memories with Lucy watching Oklahoma Sooners games on television every Saturday in the fall. As she has grown older and more aware, she repeatedly asks me why I am screaming at the television during my “ball games.” The following story should explain her dad’s love affair with sports and passionate behavior better than any other reference I can think of.

The Commerce Flash

Any kid growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s in Oklahoma was aware of Mickey Mantle. Although Mantle played his most important baseball before many of us were even born, his legend grew as the years passed by. Mantle officially retired in 1969 just prior to the start of the season but the physical toll the game took on his body had rendered him a shell of his former self by the time 1965 rolled around. In fact, of the 537 home runs Mantle would hit during his career, 85% were hit before 1965.

Mantle’s story is legendary and has been written about and portrayed on television many times. However, his story is an important part of our states sports history and deserves to be repeated in abbreviated form. Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma in 1931 but grew up in nearby Commerce. The son of a lead miner, Mickey was blessed with supreme athletic skill and excelled in both football as well as baseball. His football career was abruptly halted in high school when a leg injury revealed an underlying bone marrow disease called osteomyelitis. The disease was quickly treated and stayed in remission the rest of his life. However, it was baseball that his dad, Mutt, pushed him to excel. In fact, Mantle was named after New York Yankees catcher Mickey Cochrane who was popular when he was born. The Mantle legend grew with stories of his dad and grandfather teaching a young Mickey to switch hit at an early age in his back yard. The actual house and yard where his dad and grandfather would pitch to the young Mantle still exists and plans are underway to create a historical designation.

Mantle would be drafted at age of 18 by the New York Yankees. After a brief stint in the minors in Kansas City, Mantle went straight to the pros in the spring of 1951. Although he would be sent back to the minors for a brief period of time that first year, he would go on to become the American League Rookie of the Year and lead the Yankees to a World Series win. That first World Series would be impactful. Mantle would step on a sprinkler drain while playing right field for the Yankees in Game Two. In fact, his untimely accident occurred while trying to catch a fly ball hit by another Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Mantle was called off by center fielder Joe Dimaggio at the last minute. Mantle went down immediately and the snap could be heard around Yankee Stadium. Mantle suffered badly torn cartilage in his right knee and would require reconstructive surgery. He spent weeks in the hospital and his knee was never the same. Keep in mind this was 1951 and sports medicine was not as advanced as popular techniques today for similar injuries. Speed was one of Mantle’s main attributes and this injury surely curtailed his nimbleness. Pre-injury Mantle wowed scouts in 1951 by running to first base in a record 2.9 seconds. Any time around 4 seconds is considered average for major leaguers. Just how fast was Mickey Mantle? Over 54 years later, ESPN.com wrote in 2005 that the fastest first base time in the American League was compiled that year by Detroit's Nook Logan at 3.74 seconds from the left-hand side. Willy Taveras of Houston turned in a 3.56 second sprint to first base from the right-hand side.

However, although his knee injury slowed him down, Mantle possessed all of the other five main qualities desired by professional scouts: he could hit for both average and power, throw and field. Although he entered the league with spotty fielding skills as a shortstop, he would switch positions and develop into one of baseball’s best center fielders. One story has it that legendary Yankees Manager Casey Stengel's spring training method for his rookie outfielder consisted of telling Mantle to "just watch Dimaggio” in center field to learn his craft. It's bitterly ironic that Mantle would become seriously injured because he followed his manager's advice in the World Series. But irregardless of the knee injury, the fact he would continue to play for 17 more seasons is a testament to his talent and courage but most experts would agree that he was never the same afterwards. His post-injury time to first base dropped to a disappointing 3.1 seconds!

Although the statistics are impressive, Mantle was larger than life because of his moon rocket home run blasts, chiseled body, boyish good looks, World Series exploits and off-the-field pursuits. HBO produced a hit documentary a few years ago that chronicled his night life activities and heavy drinking. In fact the Mick himself would famously quote, “If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” Mantle was consumed by fears of an early death. He had lost his father and two uncles prematurely to a rare hereditary form of cancer. Mickey was convinced he would die before his time. Once, when asked what his life’s ambition was he replied, “To make it to 40.” This scenario and living among the bright lights of New York City may have contributed to his harsh off-the-field living. Regardless of his injuries and personal problems the record speaks for itself:

537 home runs—highest for any switch-hitter.
Three time MVP.
Triple Crown winner in 1956.
12 World Series in 14 years—won seven.
World Series record 18 home runs.
Hall of Fame in 1973.

Although I was born too late to ever see the Mick play in his prime, I do recall a special visit Mantle made to Tulsa in the early 1970’s. I was around 9 or 10 years old and already into my Little League baseball career. Mantle made a special public relations visit to Tulsa to visit youth baseball players on behalf of one of his corporate sponsors. We met the Mick at the old Oiler Park on 15th and Yale (current location of Driller Stadium.) Mantle came out casually dressed in a knit shirt and slacks. His sculpted forearms and cut physical build were a few years removed from retirement but indicated he could still play if not for his career-ending injuries. Never known for being much of a public speaker, the soft-spoken Mantle briefly addressed the group of school-age kids and signed autographs. I was fortunate enough to be in the crowd and was in awe. Here was my first brush with a true legend. The photograph from the Tulsa World is featured in this book. I am in the front with the “R” on my hat but my face is obscured by another kid. However, I have kept this clipping for over 30 years as proof of my brush with greatness. Mickey Mantle was a hero to every kid in Oklahoma who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and had any athletic aspirations however small. He lived up to those expectations on that spring day. I am glad he was so courteous and generous.

In my later life, I have been fortunate to meet two influential people who knew Mickey Mantle up close and personal. I moved to Dallas from Oklahoma in 1996. One of the first things I did was get a recommendation from a friend for a personal physician. Dr. Paul Greenberg is a fine doctor and outstanding citizen. He is also one of the most accomplished large lens photographers in the country. I have enjoyed my doctor-patient relationship with Dr. Greenberg but it was a little known fact that I discovered shortly after my first visit that would capture my attention. One day I was sitting in his office waiting for Dr. Greenberg to come in and review the results of my annual physical. As I sat there gazing at his many diplomas and certificates I noticed his collection of antique cameras. However, soon I noticed a black and white photograph on the wall that captured my attention. It was a photograph of Dr. Greenberg with Mickey Mantle and fellow Yankee Whitey Ford. An inscription from the Mick accompanied the photograph. I soon asked Dr. Greenberg the obvious question: “Was Mickey Mantle your patient?” Dr. Greenberg answered in the affirmative and you could tell by the smile on his face that he too admired the greatness of Mickey Mantle.

Just this past year I was blessed to meet and become friends with Murphy Martin. Murphy was a network anchor for ABC News in 1963 in New York. His news team consisted of a young Canadian named Peter Jennings and his sports anchor was a brash New York former lawyer named Howard Cosell. He had previously worked in Dallas and it was this background that caused his boss to send him to Dallas to cover President Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. The Mantle connection began in 1958 when Murphy approached Mickey about appearing at a grand opening for a bowling center that Murphy and partners were holding in his hometown of Lufkin, Texas. The relationship later grew during Murphy’s years as the main news anchor on the ABC affiliate in New York, WABC-TV in the 1960’s. Mickey trusted Murphy and they became fast-friends. In fact, Murphy has an autographed black and white photo while interviewing the Mick in 1967 after he hit his 500th home run. It turned out the Mick held up the post-game interview until his friend Murphy arrived to conduct the interview.

Murphy has an “I Love Me” room in his current home in north Dallas. I was fortunate enough to visit his home this past summer and get a personal tour and explanation of his memorabilia. Included on his walls were signed photographs with some of the most important people of the 20th century: Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush all are featured. More photographs featured John Wayne, Bob Hope, John Glenn and others. However, it was his personal collection of Mickey Mantle memorabilia that made a special impact. He had an autographed baseball (Mickey’s #515 home run hit later in 1967 in Minnesota) as well as an actual glove Mantle had used during his playing career. Murphy had the glove inside a custom-made plastic display case. Murphy shared his stories from New York about the Mick in his book “Front Row Seat—A Veteran Reporter Relives The Four Decades That Reshaped America.” One of the funniest stories that described Mantle’s humorous side occurred later in his life just before he fell terminally ill in 1996. Murphy asked Mantle how much he thought he would make in today’s multi-million dollar game if he were still playing. Mickey thought for a moment and then looked at Murphy with a straight face and said, “Oh, probably about $500,000.” Murphy, surprised by the small amount, said “That’s all you think you’d make? Just $500,000?” Mickey responded, “Yeah, but hell, I’m sixty-five years old.”

The old saying goes something like, “God brings people into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” I certainly am blessed to have met Mickey Mantle, Dr. Paul Greenberg and Murphy Martin. I would never have guessed in a million years that I would end up meeting two people that personally knew the Mick. The Mickey Mantle legend continues.

Big Red Machine
Most kids growing up in Tulsa in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans. St. Louis was just a short drive away and the Cardinals farm team, the Tulsa Oilers, had played in Tulsa for years grooming future prospects. Hall of Fame Pitcher Warren Spahn coached the Oilers for five years lending instant major-league bona fides to the minor league team. And, legendary pitchers Satchel Paige and Bob Feller made many promotional visits, as well. Besides, the Oilers were the only big-time sports team in town.
Tulsa did not have any professional teams then or now, and cable television was a decade away so there was no SportsCenter to provide nightly highlights. If you wanted instant results you could listen to their games on the radio with legendary Tulsa broadcaster Mack Creager calling the play by play. Also, the Cardinals would actually play in Tulsa during the spring (on May 5, 1966 the Cardinals edged the Oilers 5-4 in a make-shift Skelly Stadium before the largest crowd to ever see a baseball game in Oklahoma—18,904.) So, Tulsans would actually get to see Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Ted Simmons, Dal Maxvill and Mike Shannon in person along with other Cardinal greats of the time. The Cardinals beat the Mantle-led Yankees in the 1964 Series’ and would make back-to-back World Series appearances in 1967 and 1968 (winning a second World Series in 67’) further solidifying their greatness to Tulsa fans.

So it was a bit unusual for my “home team” to be located over 500 miles away--the Cincinnati Reds! However a closer look reveals it was not really that unusual. First, my dad was transferred to Tampa, Florida in the spring of 1970. And, spring time in Florida meant spring baseball training since most teams called Florida home (Arizona was not yet discovered!) It is ironic that the spring training home of the Reds was in Tampa. My dad went to most all Reds home games that spring training. I would receive weekly updates in the mail. Black and white Polaroid photographs would arrive with his hand-written notes on the back. “Pete Rose. Outfielder. Just signed richest contract ever for $100,000!” Another photograph, “Sparky Anderson, Rookie Reds Manager.” However, it was one black and white Polaroid that caught my attention more than the others. “Johnny Bench. 1968 Rookie of the Year. Catcher from Binger, Oklahoma.”
At the time, I was only eight years old. However, sports was already big on my radar screen. Although I had yet to play in my first organized Little League game, I played countless imaginary games by throwing a tennis ball against my house in those long, hot Oklahoma summers. I also began my baseball card collection that was heavy Cincinnati. I would redeem empty soda pop bottles at the neighborhood convenience store and use that money to buy baseball cards. The imaginary games moved inside during inclement weather and the baseball cards strategically placed on the floor and a supply of pennies replaced the tennis ball as props.

Based upon this background, it is not surprising that my favorite baseball player was native Oklahoman Johnny Bench. Later in the spring of 1970, I began my first year of Little League baseball. Our team was called the Robertson Rockets, named after the Apollo space flights that had placed a man on the moon in 1969. We were not that different than every other team in Tulsa but for one exception: we had female coaches! Carol Davis and Judy Jones, two parents of our team, volunteered to coach us. They knew little about baseball but were devoted enough to sacrifice their time and energy so we could field a team. I played every position just like every other player who was trying to define themselves athletically at age eight. The only position I was not very good was pitcher (this was years before parent pitch leagues came into fashion.) To say I had control problems was an understatement. I don’t think many batters actually hit me because I either hit them or threw the ball over the backstop down the street and into the storm drain.

The next season my dad had returned from Tampa and was our full-time coach. Not surprisingly, I switched to catcher, a position I would play for the next 12 years. At the same time, the Cincinnati Reds were beginning a remarkable stretch run that they have never rivaled. Beginning in 1970, over a seven year period, the Reds won five (5) National League West Division Championships, four (4) National League Pennants, appeared in four (4) World Series and captured two (2) back-to-back World Championships (the first time a national league team had accomplished this feat since 1922.) The team was loaded with future Hall of Famers: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Manager Sparky Anderson and one disgraced bona fide Hall of Famer, Pete Rose. Only seven players have had their number retired by the Reds including the four Hall of Famers’ from this team. Sadly, hometown hero Pete Rose will probably never receive such accolades due his performance on the field due to his off-field problems as manager in the 1990’s. However strong the team and manager, there was not any question that the team leader was Johnny Bench.

Bench came out of Binger, Oklahoma being drafted by the Reds in 1965. After spending two years in the minor leagues, Bench made the team in 1968. He never looked back capturing National League Rookie of the Year honors. Bench was beginning a remarkable run that would include 10-consecutive Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star appearances and the highest home run total by a catcher 389 (a mark that was later broken by Carlton Fisk of the Boston Red Sox.) In 1970, the Reds hired a rookie manager named Sparky Anderson and moved into the new Riverfront Stadium featuring the newest fad in baseball—artificial turf! And what a coming out year it would become. The Reds would win 102 games and Bench would be named National League Most Valuable Player while leading Cincinnati to their first World Series appearance in nine years. It would also be the first World Series ever played on artificial turf. Although the Reds would lose a five game series 4 games to 1 to the Baltimore Orioles (led by another Reds Hall of Famer Frank Robinson,) Bench had the Reds poised for more championship runs. In his first four seasons, Bench had hit 114 home runs, second all-time to only Ted Williams who hit 127 by age 23.

After missing the Series in 1971, Bench and Cincinnati were back the next year. In 1972, Bench would capture his second MVP award in three years and the Reds were pitted against an unknown Oakland A’s team. However, the mustachioed players from the West Coast would stun the heavily favored Reds winning one of the closest World Series in seven games (six of the seven games were decided by one run.) In fact, the A’s were not that unknown after that first World Series win. They would go on to win three straight World Championships before the team was dismantled by owner Charley Finley under the league’s new free agency rules. The A’s three-peat was the only such accomplish in baseball history other than the venerable New York Yankees.

After a two year playoff absence (not coincidentally Bench would have off-season lung surgery in 1972,) Bench had the Reds back in their third World Series in six years in 1975. This time the opponent was the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918. However, the series was tight and many experts have called the dramatic Game 6, 12-inning Red Sox win the greatest game in World Series history. You can still catch clips on SportsCenter of Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk waving fair his ultimate extra inning walk-off home run blast. The series would go down to the seventh game with the Reds eventually winning 4-3 and the Series four games to three, as well. Pete Rose would be named World Series MVP and the Reds had won their first World Championship since 1940. The next year saw Cincinnati return to the World Series against the New York Yankees with basically the same team. The Yankees were making their first World Series appearance since Mantles’ last trip in 1964. Under new owner George Steinbrenner, the Yankees had assembled a who’s who of talent under the leagues new free agency policy.

The Reds pitching nemesis in the ’72 Series, Jim ‘Catfish Hunter, had been signed in 1975 from Oakland and base-stealing sensation Mickey Rivers had been signed from California in 1976. These recent acquisitions joined other key Yankee players including catcher Thurman Munson, first baseman Chris Chambliss and third baseman Craig Nettles to create a formidable opponent in the 1976 World Series. However, Bench turned in a World Series MVP effort hitting .533 and the Reds swept the upstart Yankees 4 games to 0 (the Yankees would only attempt one stolen base the entire Series and speedster Mickey Rivers was promptly thrown out by Bench in Game #1.) Although the Yankees would validate their claim to fame in the next two World Series defeating Los Angeles in 1977 and 1978, it was Cincinnati’s time to shine in 1976 becoming the first National League team since the 1922 Giants to win back-to-back World Series titles.

The Reds were a team that was built for speed to compete on the new artificial fields that were popping up in National League ballparks including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco and Houston. However, instant comparisons were being made to the all-time greatest baseball teams: the 1927 Yankees, 1932 Yankees, 1955 Dodgers, etc. People were trying to compare players and eras. Bench, who had a career World Series in 1976 which put him back in the spotlight after three sub-par hitting performances in World Series play, was being called the greatest catcher ever. Traditionalists would throw out names such as Cochrane, Dickey and Campanella. Some even mentioned Yankees catcher Thurman Munson as Bench’s equivalent when it came to talent. However, the Reds Manager Sparky Anderson would have none of this nonsense. Immediately following Game 4 of the surprisingly easy sweep of the Yankees, the Bench legacy questions soon popped up in the post-game press conference. Anderson quickly ended the debate that evening by saying, “Please don’t embarrass anyone by comparing them to Johnny Bench.” End of story.

As you can imagine, growing up in Oklahoma and having your first major sports hero vault to the national sports scene with such overwhelming success was indeed a badge of honor. Number five jerseys became fashionable. Sports Illustrated covers and posters adorned my bedroom walls. Johnny Bench had become an inspiration to millions of Americans. An Oklahoma born, good guy had won it all. I would continue to play organized baseball through my freshman year in college. I played in most all the relevant leagues growing up: Little League; Tulsa Prep Minor; Babe Ruth; Mickey Mantle; American Legion and Stan Musial. I was on mostly successful teams. In fact, coincidentally, I was on back-to-back Oklahoma State Championship teams in Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle leagues in 1977 and 1978 shortly after the Reds World Series titles. However, there was never any greater joy than watching Johnny Bench lead the Cincinnati Reds to baseballs’ pinnacle of success.

As with my fleating flash with greatness I encountered with Mantle, I also have first-hand knowledge of Bench. The year was 1988 and Oklahoma City was celebrating the upcoming U.S. Olympic Festival the following year. To raise awareness and funds to support the upcoming festival, local organizers held a fundraising party in the Myriad Convention Center. The event was billed as a fundraiser featuring Oklahoma’s greatest athletes. Bobby Murcer, Allie Reynolds, Wayman Tisdale, Barry Switzer and a slew of other notable Oklahoma athletes attended including Johnny Bench.
After a cocktail hour where attendees mingled with the athletes collecting autographs, every one was seated for dinner. At the last minute, I noticed Bench had been seated just a few tables over. So I grabbed one of the black and white Polaroids from Tampa in 1970, a couple of baseball cards and my courage and headed over to his table. I approached just as he was finishing signing an autograph and quickly tried to explain my story--the Polaroids taken by my dad at spring training in 1970, my baseball cards, etc. However, he was not in any mood to sign any more autographs. He quickly grabbed my photograph and signed it. I asked him to sign one of the baseball cards I had collected at the local convenience store in 1970 with the soda pop money and he looked at me like “you are pushing it pal.” Then I left but as I was turning away I noticed two kids ages 9 or 10 years old approaching the table. I stopped and watched to see what kind of reception these two were going to get from the greatest catcher ever. To no surprise, Bench was abrupt and told them he would sign their stuff but that “this was the last one.” I realize he was eating dinner and we should not have bothered him. However, this was after all a public celebration of Oklahoma sports. He had agreed to appear. So why the fuss? The two kids walked away dejectedly having received Bench’s scorn along with autographs.

In contrast, another Oklahoma great, Bobby Murcer, was seated right behind me. On the way past my table, these same two kids approached Murcer and asked for his autograph. Apparently, Bench’s gruffness had not deterred their spirit. He was most gracious and signed his autograph. He even asked them their names and personalized their memorabilia asking them how old they were and what positions they played. I have never forgotten the memory of the smiles on those kids faces and the juxtaposition of the two athletes. Here was Bench begrudgingly signing autographs and barking at kids contrasted against Murcer magnanimously signing and friendly. The episode did not ruin my opinion or memories of Bench (I recently had a watercolor painting of Bench done from an old Sports Illustrated poster I had as a child;) however, it did cause me to pause before ever approaching any other sports celebrities. Especially when they were eating!

We recently added an addition onto our house in Dallas. In addition to the master bath and bedroom, we built a study just for me. We had recently added our baby girl Lucy to our family and I knew our small house was not big enough. The room is great and is full of my sports memorabilia. Included in this memorabilia, is the original watercolor painting I commissioned of a 1970 Johnny Bench Sports Illustrated poster. The poster was full length and color of Bench in his famous home run swing. The poster had hung in my room as a child and brought back many warm memories of my childhood. Although the poster was rather worn after 33 years of being rolled up and stored in my garage, it was still in fairly good shape. So I approached Debbie Reid, an artist friend of mine, who agreed to produce and interpretation of the poster in her unique style. She had done many water colors of horses at Lone Star Park and was very accomplished. The painting is great and offers a dramatic presence as it hangs in my entryway to my new room. Coincidentally, Debbies’ husband Ray Reid had actually known Johnny Bench growing up in Oklahoma. They were teammates in a summer baseball league in High School. Ray was a pitcher and of course Bench was the catcher. I enjoyed visiting with Ray following the painting’s completion and hearing of his stories all those years ago of playing baseball with my childhood legend. Another coincidence? Small world indeed.

Before America’s Team

Baseball was not the only sport capturing the sports fan’s attention in Oklahoma in the 1960’s. The Dallas Cowboys had been formed in 1960 by oil baron Clint Murchison, Jr., when he put up $600,000 to purchase the franchise. Murchison has been described as a soft-spoken, hands-off, behind-the-scenes owner. All that is true. However, his first encounter with the press showed his humorous side. After 11-days of political infighting at the NFL meetings in Miami Beach, Murchison had run up quite a tab for his party of 10 at a posh hotel in anticipation of winning the Dallas franchise. After agreeing to the NFL’s terms, $600,000 all up front, Murchison was approached by a New York sports writer who asked “Sir, are you prepared to come up with $600,000 cash?” Murchison replied, “I better be or I won’t be able to get out of the hotel.” It was the first expansion team since the NFL merged with the All–American Football Conference in 1950.

Murchison hired a CBS television executive and former NFL General Manager Texas Schramm, and a rookie head coach and former NFL assistant, Tom Landry, to form one of the most successful sports franchises in history. Gil Brandt was hired by Schramm and implemented many innovations in player personnel and scouting that created the foundation of the teams’ success for the next 29 years. Not many people recall that the original name of the franchise was the Dallas Rangers. At least that is how they introduced new coach Tom Landry and his five year contract at his inaugural press conference in 1959 (the team name was changed weeks later to Cowboys due to a conflict with a defunct minor league baseball team also called the Rangers.) Landry was not the only hire before the team was officially awarded the NFL franchise. They traded with the Chicago Bears for the rights to local college star Don Meredith from nearby SMU. They signed Meredith and halfback Don Perkins to personal services contracts prior to receiving the franchise. The Cowboys drafted TCU All-American Bob Lilly as their first “official” player and would not win their first game until 1961. They won their first playoff game in 1966 and would go on to win five Super Bowls and earn the nickname “America’s Team.” Incredibly, they would have 20-consecutive winning seasons from 1966 to 1985 earning playoff spots in 18 of those 20 years. And, their string of consecutive playoff appearances from 1975 to 1983 is still an NFL record.

After several years of mediocrity in the mid-to-late 1980’s, Arkansas oil man Jerry Jones purchased the club in 1989 and immediately fired Tom Landry. Schramm and Brandt would soon exit, as well. The famous Triplets, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, would solidify the Cowboys legacy in the 1990’s capturing three more Super Bowls. However, for all this success, not many people realize today that the Cowboys struggled mightily in their infancy. In fact, long before America’s Team became their common moniker, “Next Years' Champions” was the rallying cry in the 1960’s.

Former The Dallas Morning News sports columnist Blackie Sherrod called the period from 1960 to 1969, the Cowboys “Formative Years.” And that would be a very accurate description. The Cowboys were an expansion team in 1960, would not win their first game until the second season and would take another five years for its first winning record in 1966. However, as remarkable as the overall successful record reflects, it was the Cowboys early history of heartache and disappointments that would earn the empathy and compassion of a generation of fans. This was at a time when the Cowboys were not very good. However, they kept the games interesting by playing a “variety show” offense featuring a “socko mix of big bombs, fancy reverses and halfback passes.” In 1966, Tulsa was a very small television market without any professional teams. Tulsa sports fans were at the mercy of network television executives on any given Sunday regarding what NFL games would be shown. Fortunately, the old CBS executive Schramm shrewdly negotiated Oklahoma as Cowboys territory meaning all Cowboys games would essentially be “home games” in the Tulsa market. So growing up in Oklahoma meant one thing in the fall on Sunday afternoons: Dallas Cowboys football games on the CBS affiliate, KOTV.

The Cowboys would compile an 18-38-4 record during the franchises first four seasons. Many fans called for Landry’s head early on following the 1963 season. Team owner Murchison responded by calling a rare press conference to announce he had just signed Landry to a new 10-year contract effective at the end of his current contract set to expire in 1965 (Murchison would not call his next press conference until 1984 when he announced the sale of the team to Bum Bright.) Landry responded to Murchison’s generosity with a 5-8-1 record in 1964. Finally, in 1965 the Cowboys, aided by a defense which led the league with the lowest completion percentage allowed and by rookie additions Bob Hayes, Dan Reeves, Ralph Neely and Jethro Pugh, turned the corner and avoided their first losing season in compiling a 7-7 record. Although the season began 2-5, Landry made one of his earliest major personnel decisions when he named quarterback Don Meredith his starter in the middle of the season. Meredith responded by leading the Cowboys to a 5-2 record the rest of the way. However, perhaps because he played high school, collegiately and professionally in Dallas and was familiar to the locals, Merediths’ tenure was marked by criticism from the local fandom as well as sportswriters. The most pungent words came from The Dallas Morning News columnist Gary Cartright. After throwing an interception on first and goal from the one yard line late in the 1965 game against Cleveland, Cartrights’ lead began,
“Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. You know them—Death, Famine, Pestilence and Meredith.”

My earliest recollection of Dallas Cowboys games begins somewhere toward the end of the 1966 season. It probably helped me identify with the team by having several Oklahoma connections. Ralph Neely was an All-American guard from the University of Oklahoma who was drafted in 1965. Neely would play for the Cowboys for 13 seasons, capture four All-Pro honors and was named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960’s. Walt Garrison was drafted in 1966 out of Oklahoma State. Garrison would play nine seasons in Dallas and retired as the third leading rusher and fourth leading receiver in Cowboys history. And, Lance Rentzel, a wide receiver from the University of Oklahoma, would join the team in 1967 from Minnesota and play in some of the most memorable games in the early years. There were also several University of Tulsa connections in quarterback Jerry Rhome, defensive end Willie Townes and guard Tony Liscio, as well.
Landry’s decision to go with Meredith at quarterback in 1965 paid off as the Cowboys experienced their first winning season in 1966. Dallas compiled a franchise record 10-3-1 season and made it all the way to the NFL Championship game. Ironically, the Cowboys began their season playing an exhibition game in Tulsa. On August 27, 1966 the Cowboys played the Detroit Lions at the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricanes’ Skelly Stadium. The locals were in full-throng in anticipation of seeing a couple of local college stars. Former Oklahoma State star Walt Garrison was a rookie on that team and former TU quarterback Jerry Rhome was in his second year. Landry did not disappoint the home town crowd when both Garrison and Rhome started the second half. And they did not disappoint the locals either. On his first carry, Garrison rambled 65 yards and rushed for 117 years on twelve carries while leading the Cowboys to a 20-10 victory. It’s funny that those two would team up in the NFL playing for the Dallas Cowboys when it was just two years earlier that Rhome led the Tulsa Golden Hurricane to a 62-14 thrashing of the Garrison-led OSU Cowboys on the very same Skelly Stadium field.

The 1966 team was an impressive bunch. The Cowboys averaged 31.8 points per game and led the NFL in total yards while scoring a league-best 445 points. Meredith quickly jelled with Olympic Gold medalist-turned wide receiver Bob Hayes and enjoyed his best season while tossing a career high 24 touchdown passes. One pass is still in the history books. Meredith and Hayes hooked up for a 95-yard touchdown pass in 1966 which is still the longest touchdown pass in franchise history. For his efforts, Meredith was named the NFL Player of the Year. The defense did its part too as it led the league against the run. And, rookie Walt Garrison made an immediate impact on special teams with jaw-breaking, wedge-busting tackles while averaging 22.3 yards returning 20 kick-offs for 445 yards. The Cowboys made it through the regular season and hosted the veteran, three-time NFL Champion Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship game in the Cotton Bowl on New Years Day in 1967.

The game was billed as the Cowboys speed versus the power running game of the Packers. In fact, NFL Films would label the 1966 Cowboys “Speed Incorporated” and the “Fastest Team in Football.” Ironically, the day after Christmas Vince Lombardi took the Packers to Tulsa, Oklahoma of all places the week before the game to escape the cold weather in Green Bay (Bud Grant would copy Lombardi’s tactic a few years later with the playoff bound Minnesota Vikings of the 1970’s.) However, the temperatures in the low twenties in Tulsa had turned the rain-soaked field at The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricanes’ Skelly Stadium into a sheet of ice. The weather was not the only foul thing associated with the Packers. Notorious for his crabbiness with reporters, Lombardi did not spare the Tulsa press from his famous reputation. After one encounter with Lombardi, a Tulsa newspaper reporter would write,
“The intelligence which Lombardi exhibits with his maneuvering on the field is not evident in his rapport with the media and public.”
Although Dallas trailed 14-0 early, they would rally to within one touchdown in the final minutes and were moving toward the tying touchdown to send the game into overtime on the final drive. The Cowboys would have four opportunities to score from the Packers two yard line in the final seconds. After two unsuccessful plays and an off-sides penalty, facing a third and goal from the Packers six yard line, Quarterback Don Meredith spotted a wide open Pettis Norman at the two yard line. However, the ball was thrown low and behind, causing Norman to slide to the ground after making an incredible catch. So the Cowboys first opportunity to win the big game the franchise had been built to win, came down to the Cowboys final play. Facing fourth down and two, Meredith rolled right and was immediately wrapped up by Packer defender Dave Robinson causing him to throw an errant last gasp interception into the end zone. The fastest team in football would earn a new nickname: “Next Years' Champions.”
Although I seem to recall the Cowboys that first playoff year, the first game I really remember watching on television was the next seasons NFL Championship rematch in Green Bay. Maybe the memory has been refreshed over the years because it has been replayed time after time on television. The game had historic proportions because it was one of the coldest NFL playoff games ever played. The game time temperature was 13-degrees below zero but the wind chill factor was 48 degrees below zero. The weather had been a concern all week because the speedy Cowboys required firm footing to execute their multiple-set offense, screen passes and reverses featuring Olympic Gold Medal-sprinter Bob Hayes. The Cowboys were greeted with clear and sunny skies on game day but the anticipated cold weather presented itself as expected. In fact, despite Green Bay’s heated coil system that had been installed beneath Lambeau Field earlier in 1966, the severe cold weather conked out the system and resulted in a frozen field. Thus, the term “frozen tundra” was coined years before Chris Berman would popularize the phrase on SportsCenter.

Obviously the field conditions affected both teams equally and you never heard any excuses from Landry or any of the Cowboys players. The officials could not use their whistles after the games very first play—the opening kickoff. The whistles had frozen to the referee’s lips. They had to resort to stopping plays by yelling at the players. The officials were not the only casualties of the day. The Wisconsin State University Marching Chiefs band never made it to the field. Although the band was scheduled to perform during the pre-game and half time shows, the woodwinds froze and the mouthpieces of the brass instruments got stuck to players’ lips. Seven members of the band were transported to a local hospital for hypothermia. Not surprisingly, their performances were cancelled. Several players would be treated after the game. Most notably Don Meredith was treated at a local hospital for pneumonia and Jethro Pugh still suffers the effects of frostbite.

Although both teams had to face the unpleasant weather, the frozen field was a major disadvantage for the speed-oriented Cowboys and perfectly suited for the Packers power running game. For the second straight year in the NFL Championship game, the Packers again jumped ahead by a 14-0 score. However, the Cowboys would rally to close the score to 14-10 at halftime. Two uncharacteristic Packers turnovers aided the Cowboys rally. Veteran end George Andrie would scoop up a rare Bart Starr fumble and return it for one touchdown. And, a fumbled punt was converted into a field goal. The Cowboys would take their first lead of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter. Running back Dan Reeves tossed a halfback pass to Lance Rentzel for a 50-yard touchdown. Other than that one offensive score, the high-powered Cowboys offense was held in check. Bob Hayes was done in by his own natural response to the weather. Unbeknownst to Hayes and the Cowboys, the Packers defense had noticed early on that Hayes would come up to the line and put his hands in his pants whenever he was not going to get the ball. Every other time, Hayes would keep his hands out of his pants. Thus, the Packers watched Hayes before every play and ignored him whenever he came to the line with his hands in his pants. So much for the Olympic-speed decoy plan.

The Packers offense had been stymied by the “Doomsday” defense the entire second half. However, when it counted, the Packers responded like a veteran team that had won four NFL titles. The Packers received the ball one final time with 4:54 remaining. After the first two touchdowns, Starr had been bruised and battered by the Cowboys defense resulting in eight quarterback sacks. However, the future Hall of Famer delivered when the game was on the line. He directed the final 68-yard scoring drive to the Cowboys three yard line with a succession of short passes to running backs Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein. After two straight unsuccessful runs into the line, the last of which running back Donny Anderson slipped and nearly missed the handoff, Starr called timeout to consult with Lombardi with 16-seconds remaining. Although a field goal would tie the game and send it to overtime, Lombardi would have none of that and told Starr to end the game. This decision would be one of the biggest gambles in NFL playoff history. It was only third down but the Packers did not have any time outs remaining so if they did not score, it was doubtful they would have enough time to rush the kicking team on the icy field in time to kick the tying field goal. The Cowboys were expecting a run into the middle. However, Starr surprised everyone. The last play has been burned into the memory of every Dallas Cowboys fan. Bob Lilly and Jethro Pugh scraped at the frozen field with their cleats attempting to gain traction. Although a running play had been called in the huddle, Starr decided against another risky handoff due to the slick field conditions and kept the ball himself on a quarterback sneak. Packers Center Ken Bowman cleared a path and Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer just got below Jethro Pugh’s shoulder pads and Starr scored the winning touchdown to cement the Green Bay victory 21 to 17. The game was quickly dubbed the “Ice Bowl” and is ranked as one of the greatest games in NFL history, unless you bleed silver and blue.

The “Formative Years” were indeed painful for Cowboys fans in Oklahoma and around the nation. The painful memories of those two losses to Green Bay, knowing that if not for two crucial plays the Cowboys could have won the first two Super Bowls, still haunt every Cowboys fan over 45 years of age. The fact that those Green Bay teams were 103-20-3 from 1960 to 1966, won five NFL titles in seven years, were ending one of the NFL’s most successful dynasties and had nine players plus head coach Vince Lombardi inducted into the Hall of Fame, offer little solace to Cowboys fans. The next few seasons also saw more frustration, heartache and losing. Even though Dallas was credited with many innovations including the use of multiple offensive sets, shifts and motions, drafting a former Olympic sprinter (Bob Hayes) who changed the way defenses played resulting in the zone and the confusing flex-Defense, destiny was not on their side (the Cowboys were also the first NFL team to wear white jerseys at home. Up until that time, all NFL teams wore dark jerseys at home.)

Although they seemed poise to overtake their playoff demons, Dallas would lose in the NFL Eastern Conference Championship game to the Cleveland Browns in both 1968 and 1969 ending the most successful seasons in franchise history (12-2 in 1968 and 11-2-1 in 1969.) After enduring another physical pounding and more biting words from the local press, Meredith finally had enough and prematurely retired at age 32 before the 1969 season. Meredith was bitterly disappointed after having been replaced in the third quarter of the 1968 Eastern Conference Championship loss to the Browns in Cleveland. He and teammate Pete Gent, of “North Dallas Forty” movie fame, actually departed the official charter at Cleveland Municipal Airport and flew instead to visit longtime friend Frank Gifford in New York. This loss was indeed a bitter pill for the Cowboys to swallow. This was the same Browns team the Cowboys had humiliated in the 1967 playoffs 52-14 and who they had beaten earlier in the season.

Meredith’s replacement, Craig Morton, would captain the Cowboys during the 1969 season to another Eastern Conference Championship game and growing confidence. This time the game was in Dallas where the Cowboys had not lost all season. However, another season of optimism ended with frustration and heartache. Cleveland got off to a 14-0 lead and never trailed (what was it with these slow starts?) The Cowboys would lose 38-14 and blew another chance to win a World Championship. Morton threw an 88-yard interception which was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter. However, there was a subtle change late in the game that would lead to greatness the next two seasons. A little used rookie quarterback made an appearance in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys trailing 38-7. A 14-yard pass from Roger Staubach to Lance Rentzel would be the Cowboys only offensive touchdown of the day.

So it was no surprise that in 1970, the long-suffering Cowboys fans were ready for another run for their elusive NFL Championship. That year the NFL and rival American Football League, who merged in 1966 creating the Super Bowl, implemented a planned re-alignment and split into two conferences. The NFL would now consist of the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm, who was a leading proponent behind the original merger in 1966 (using his influence with Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to work behind the scenes to form the new alliance,) had also worked out the conference re-alignment scheduled to begin in 1970.

It was rather ironic that the first Super Bowl ever played in the new NFL/AFL conference realignment featured a rather new team, the 1960 expansion Dallas Cowboys representing the NFC. The opponent was a veteran and established NFL franchise in the Baltimore Colts. Many current NFL fans today probably don’t recall the early Baltimore success. They probably think of the current Super Bowl champions Indianapolis Colts who moved from Baltimore in 1984 and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. However, in 1970, Baltimore was a legendary NFL team owning the winningest record in the NFL the past three years. The veteran team featured future Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, back-up quarterback Earl Morrall and a stifling defense led by future Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks, Pro Bowlers Bubba Smith and Billy Ray Smith and a bruising, rookie middle linebacker Mike Curtis. Virtually the same Colts team (minus head coach Don Shula who had bolted in 1969 to lead the expansion Miami Dolphins) had represented the old NFL in Super Bowl III, a surprising upset by the upstart AFL New York Jets led by quarterback Joe Namath. The Colts, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, had agreed to switch to the AFC to form a new 13-team conference. The fact it took Dallas five Super Bowls to make the World Championship game had not eluded Dallas fans and they sensed the Cowboys were on the brink of greatness.

The 1970 season began with the new league conference system in place, players names on the back of their jerseys for the first time in NFL history and a new television show debuting on ABC called “Monday Night Football.” On the field the Cowboys were excited with the rookie class that featured the number one pick in running back Duane Thomas and defensive backs Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris. Although the front seven of Lilly, Pugh, Andrie, Cole, Jordan, Howley and Edwards was the main reason behind the “Doomsday” nickname, the defensive secondary had long been a major weakness for the Cowboys. Fifteen-time Pro Bowlers Mel Renfro and Cornell Green were superb but the other two positions were inconsistent and the Cowboys were not content to remain status quo in this area. Back-to-back playoff losses to Cleveland had exposed this weakness and they knew it needed to be shored up if the Cowboys were to take the next step. So, they acquired five-time All Pro and future Hall of Famer defensive back Herb Adderley from Green Bay. Adderley was a key component of the great Packer defenses having played on all five NFL Championships of the 1960’s. He also was a Cowboys killer in both the 1966 and 1967 Championship Games coming up with key plays that stopped Cowboys drives. Adderley was inserted as a starting cornerback along with Renfro who moved from safety. Green would move from corner to strong safety and rookie Waters was the free safety. All the pieces seemed set for a new season and another run at a championship.

However, it would take time for these new players to assimilate with the old guard. The franchise-record success of the past two seasons soon faded. The Cowboys got off to a slow start. Morton was not entirely healed from off-season shoulder surgery. So Staubach started the first two games. And, although the Cowboys won both games easily, Staubach had not played that spectacularly. In the third game, Landry replaced Staubach with Morton. In game five, the Cowboys would suffer the worst loss in franchise history to Minnesota 53-14 and also lost running back Calvin Hill for the season with an injury. The Cowboys struggled to a 5-3 record. Finally, a dramatic 38-0 loss to St. Louis on the Cowboys first appearance on “Monday Night Football” dropped the Cowboys to 5-4 and was the catalyst Landry needed to push the Cowboys in a new direction the rest of the season. The Cowboys faithful began motioning to the retired Meredith, who was now in the ABC “Monday Night Football” booth with iconic Howard Cosell and friend Frank Gifford, to put on his uniform and save the Cowboys. Chants of “We want Meredith. We want Meredith.” rang throughout the Cotton Bowl. Sensing the team had to win the remaining five games to get into the playoffs, Landry did not need the crowd to tell him there was a problem. He immediately simplified his pass-oriented offense and implemented a two-tight end platoon system to shuttle plays. No longer satisfied to confuse and finesse opposing teams with their score-from-anywhere on the field big-play offense, Landry took over the play calling and the road to victory the rest of the way would be a conservative one featuring the run.

The heart of the running game featured the free-flowing strides of rookie Duane Thomas and the muscle and determination of stalwart veteran Walt Garrison. Although the new system was ideally suited for the grind it out punishing style of Garrison, Thomas would respond by running for the highest rushing average per carry in the NFL. Morton, sore shoulder in tow, would be called upon to execute Landry’s new run-heavy play-calling system. He responded by leading the Cowboys the rest of the season winning the final five regular season games and two playoff games on the strength of its rejuvenated defense. The new and improved Cowboys would go twenty-three straight quarters without giving up a touchdown.

In the playoffs, the Cowboys would meet the Detroit Lions in the Cotton Bowl. The Lions were an old NFL franchise which featured a second year running back from Oklahoma named Steve Owens. However, the game was a defensive battle. The games only scores would come on Jethro Pugh’s safety of Lions quarterback Greg Landry and a Cowboys field goal. After all the disappointing years of losing early on and sense of frustration of never winning the big game the past four seasons, the game would come down to the final play. Led by Walt Garrisons’ encouragement from the sidelines urging the defense to, “Please, please,” stop the Lions, Mel Renfro would intercept a pass on the Cowboys ten yard line to secure the victory. Finally, in one dramatic play the Dallas Cowboys were now one game from their first Super Bowl. The cold and unemotional Landry was giddy on the sidelines jumping up and down smiling with his hands joined together in a prayer salute (Walt Garrison was once asked if he had ever seen Landry smile and answered, “Well, no…but I’ve only played for him nine years.” )
The NFC Championship Game would be played in San Francisco. Again, another defensive struggle would play out. And, for the second straight game, Mel Renfro intercepted a pass late in the game. Quarterback Craig Morton quickly capitalized and hit Walt Garrison for a touchdown pass that sealed the victory 17-10. Eleven years of frustration were best summed up by an obviously relieved Landry who barely seemed to get the words out:
“Boy it feels…you can’t imagine how it feels…cause’ you never suffered with us like we’ve suffered, you know, in those losses the last four years. It’s a great reward for these fellows who worked so hard to get there.”
The long-suffering Cowboys victorious locker room was best depicted by a beaming Bob Lilly side-by-side with teammates Ralph Neely and John Niland puffing on a big victory cigar.
However, the Cowboys euphoria was short-lived. Super Bowl V would be the first time the two new conferences would meet and the first Super Bowl played on artificial turf. However, the game was a dud offensively and was one of the poorest played games in Super Bowl history. The Colts and Cowboys combined for 11 turnovers. Although Dallas led 13-6 at halftime, the only bright spot for the Cowboys was the defense. The “Doomsday” unit was at its’ peak and sacked legendary Colt quarterback Johnny Unitas numerous times forcing his premature exit with a second quarter injury. However, before he left the game, Unitas would account for the only Colts touchdown of the first half. In one of the most bizarre plays in Super Bowl history, a Unitas pass caromed off of receiver Eddie Hinton’s fingertips. Cowboys rookie safety Charlie Waters left coverage on Colts tight end John Mackey to catch the errant ball. Unfortunately, Mel Renfro deflected the pass and redirected the ball into the arms of Mackey who turned the play into a 75 yard touchdown and the Colts were on the scoreboard. Waters wildly complained that the play was illegal because at the time two offensive players could not tip a pass to one another without a defensive player first touching the ball. However, replays later showed that Renfro had redirected the ball and the play was legal.

Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley had two interceptions and was named Most Valuable Player setting two Super Bowl records: the first time in Super Bowl history a defensive player would win the award; and the first time the MVP would come from a losing team. The game was tied 13-13 late, and headed to the first overtime in Super Bowl history, when Landry abandoned his conservative run-oriented system and refused to play it safe from his own end of the field. Craig Morton’s pass was intercepted with only 1:09 remaining. Mike Curtis returned the ball thirteen yards to the Cowboys 28-yard line. And, a few plays later rookie Jim O’Brien kicked a 32-yard field goal with only :05-seconds remaining ending the fifth consecutive Cowboys season in heartache. Bob Lilly responded to 11 years of frustration by wildly throwing his helmet halfway across the Orange Bowl turf. The Cowboys would spend another off-season in post-season purgatory.

The 1971 season would be the year the Cowboys finally struck Super Bowl gold. However, Landry could not decide upon a starter and began the year with alternating quarterbacks. Morton started game one and Staubach started game two. Landry continued his alternating tight ends play calling system. The early season disappointment was highlighted by a 24-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints which were led by a rookie quarterback named Archie Manning (better known as Peyton’s dad in the SportsCenter commercials.) Finally, in the seventh game versus Chicago, the Cowboys actually alternated quarterbacks on every other play! The system racked up 480 yards but the Cowboys lost. The team was 4-3 and seemingly headed nowhere. Soon, there was very little reason to believe the teams five year championship drought would end. Meredith, who commanded a nationwide television audience from his “Monday Night Football” bully pulpit, was calling Landry’s two-platoon quarterback system “wishy-washy” and said Landry should resign if he could not make a decision.

Finally, Landry announced on the following Tuesday that Staubach was his starter. The Cowboys responded by winning their final seven games finishing 11-3 including scoring 125 points in the final three games. The heart of the offense was the running game as the Cowboys totaled 406 points. Two defensive battles resulted in playoff wins over Minnesota 20-12 and 14-3 over San Francisco returning the Cowboys to their second straight Super Bowl. This time it was a role reversal. The battle-tested and veteran Dallas Cowboys versus the upstart expansion Miami Dolphins led by Don Shula. The young Dolphins featured three powerful weapons. The offense had charisma featuring two punishing running backs in Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick, who had dubbed themselves “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Quarterback Bob Griese led a high-powered, two-pronged passing game featuring an old Cowboys-killer in one corner (the Dolphins gave up their first round draft pick in 1970 to acquire former Cleveland Browns receiver Paul Warfield,) and a former Tulsa Golden Hurricane All-American in the other (Howard Twilley.) And, defense. The Miami “No Name” defense had shutout the defending Super Bowl Champion Colts 21-0 in the AFC Championship Game. Thus, the stage was set for a Super showdown in New Orleans.

The actual Super Bowl VI game was never close with the Cowboys prevailing 24-3. The sure-handed Csonka, who had not fumbled all season, lost the ball on the Dolphins first possession. Super Bowl V MVP Chuck Howley recovered resulting in a Mike Clark field goal and the Cowboys led 3-0. The Cowboys “Doomsday” defense dominated the Dolphins high-powered offense holding them to 185 total yards. The Dallas defense held Miami without a touchdown—the first time that had ever happened in Super Bowl history. Lilly would turn in one of his finest games by sacking Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese for a 29-yard sack—the longest in Super Bowl history. Third year quarterback Staubach, who assumed the starters’ role in mid-season, was voted Super Bowl MVP after he completed 63% of his passes while connecting on 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t go to Disneyworld afterwards but was rewarded with an electronic “Monday Night Football” game which was soon released complete with a custom-designed blue box featuring Staubach’s photograph and autograph. The Cowboys backfield trio of Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas and Walt Garrison combined for a Super Bowl record 250 years rushing behind the Cowboys powerful offensive line featuring Rayfield Wright, John Niland, Tony Liscio, Dave Manders and Blaine Nye. Unfortunately, longtime Cowboy Ralph Neely broke his ankle riding a dirt bike two weeks before the game and did not play. He was replaced by former University of Tulsa star Liscio who had retired prior to the season. For his effort, Liscio was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year. In the victorious locker room, team owner Clint Murchison, Jr., grinned as he announced “This is a very successful culmination of our twelve-year plan.” Next years’ champion had finally won the big one.

Although the Cowboys have won four Super Bowls since, that first one in 1972 was the most special for die-hard Cowboys fans. After suffering defeat and heartache for the previous five seasons, the 1971 Cowboys fulfilled a franchises’ destiny and won a spot in the hearts of millions of fans. In fact, in the age of television, over 51 million television households saw the Cowboys first two Super Bowls establishing records for a single game telecast each game. Being from Oklahoma, we felt like the Cowboys were our home team as we exhaled in relief after defeating the Dolphins. The perseverance, leadership, teamwork, faith and stability Tom Landry brought to the Cowboys served as characteristics for a generation of kids to follow and emulate. As the Detroit playoff victory demonstrated, his stoic sideline presence undermined a deep determination and passion for winning that was masked by his business-like attire of fedora hat, coat and tie.

Players also mirrored his qualities. Bob Lilly, the first player ever drafted by the Cowboys, was a heroic player with unquestionable character who would become the first Cowboy ever inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Roger Staubach was dubbed “Captain Comeback” for his dramatic come-from-behind fourth quarter finishes. However, it was Staubachs’ strong character traits off-the-field that endeared him to his countless fans.

In an age of steroid-abusing baseball players, foul-mouthed football players and rioting NBA players, the 1971 Dallas Cowboys are a team for the ages. It is hard to imagine Roger Staubach flashing an obscenity at the crowd or Bob Hayes falling asleep in team meetings as some current day NFL players have notoriously done this past season. Oh sure, the Cowboys had their headaches. Duane Thomas sat-out most of the 1971 season and refused to talk to anyone, including Landry. However, his competitiveness, spirit and teamwork with Walt Garrison and Calvin Hill were a major reason the Cowboys would win their first Super Bowl.

The Cowboys finished those final six seasons leading up to Super Bowl VI by compiling a 63-19-2 record for a 75% winning percentage while erasing the “Next Year’s Champions” moniker. You can thank Tom Landry for creating the system that would allow a virtual “melting pot” of players to mesh into champions. Key NFL Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Lance Alworth and former Packers nemesis Herb Adderley joined Cowboys legends Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, Jethro Pugh, Lee Roy Jordan, Cornell Green, Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes, Dan Reeves, Walt Garrison and Ralph Neely. Add in NFL newbies Rayfield Wright, Larry Cole, Roger Staubach, Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris and you had the foundation of a new NFL dynasty. The mantle had been passed from the 60’s power team Green Bay to Dallas. In fact, the Cowboys would be the only NFC team to win Super Bowls in the decade of the 1970’s. And, you can thank owner Clint Murchison, Jr. for having the deep pockets to be able to cough up the $600,000 in Miami--twice.

Although I would never meet Tom Landry, I was fortunate enough to meet Roger Staubach recently. He was attending an SMU Athletic Forum luncheon in Dallas. He was chatting with legendary broadcaster Pat Summerall when I persuaded my friend and former Cowboys wide receiver, Mike Renfro, to break up the conversation and introduce me. Staubach was very cordial and friendly but was more interested in asking Renfro about his son Clint’s success at Southlake Carroll High School than visiting with a stranger. Certainly this encounter was more pleasant than the Bench meeting 18-years earlier. And, although I never met Tex Schramm, I do have some books from his personal collection. He passed away several years ago and his family held an estate sale at his home in north Dallas. I went on day two and most everything was already gone. However, a small table contained some old books—mostly sport fishing and a few football books. I purchased some old Cowboys window decals and four football books including arch nemesis Bart Starr’s autobiography—“Bart Starr: A Perspective on Victory.” I thought it was ironic that Schramm would have Starr’s book after all those years of competing against him while he played for the Green Bay Packers. Over the past ten years of living in Dallas, I have been fortunate to meet many former Cowboys who played on those early Dallas teams during the “Formative Years.” Players such as Jethro Pugh, Pettis Norman, John Niland, Cliff Harris, Charlie Waters, Walt Garrison, Calvin Hill, Mel Renfro and of course Roger Staubach. All of these guys are really great men who contributed to a lifetime of football memories as a kid growing up in Tulsa. They certainly earned the “America’s Team” title.

A Modern Day Superman

While the Dallas Cowboys legacy was being cemented, another story was unfolding in Norman, Oklahoma in 1969. Steve Owens was a 6’2” 215-pound powerhouse from Miami, Oklahoma who ravaged defenses from 1967 to 1969. During his collegiate career, Owens established four conference and five school records. He was selected All-American running back for two years; All-Big Eight conference in 1968 and 1969; Big-Eight Player of the Year in 1968 and 1969; the Walter Camp Player of the Year Trophy and the 35th Heisman Trophy Award in 1969.

Owens carried the ball 358 times (an OU record) in 1969 for 1,523 yards while scoring 23 touchdowns (another school record.) Playing on a 1969 squad that had been badly hurt by graduation in 1968, Owens carried the load for the Sooner offense. He had two 200-yard plus games while leading the Sooners to a 6-4 season. Spurred by Owens’ effort, OU averaged 28.5 points a game in 1969. Owens’ career left its mark on the OU record book, as well. He holds five Sooner records: all-time leading scorer with 56 touchdowns; most carries in one game (55); and career (905.) He finished his career with 3,867 yards rushing, the second most in school history. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Over two seasons in 1968 and 1969, Owens established an NCAA record by rushing for 100 yards in 17-consecutive games.
Looking back at Owens career, one might be tempted to question why it was so extraordinary. After all, Oklahoma had cemented its legacy in the college football world in the 1950’s. Bud Wilkinsons’ teams had won three National Titles and established the all-time consecutive win record of 47-games. Billy Vessels had won the school’s first Heisman Trophy in 1956. However, upon further reflection, Owens stood for more than records and on the field exploits. As we discussed in the introduction, the decade of the 1960’s was one that began with much innocence and hope for the nations’ future. It was a turbulent decade that saw political assassinations and an unpopular war that tore the country apart. The year 1969 was a watershed year in our country. While demonstrators were protesting the war and 500,000 young people were celebrating peace, love and understanding in a field in upstate New York, the United States was searching for heroes. Neil Armstrong gave us “one small step for man” that summer. And later that fall in Norman, Oklahoma, a young kid from Miami, Oklahoma won the Heisman Trophy on a 6-4 team.
Perhaps no other accomplishment signifies Owens’ character than his performance in his final game as a Sooner. A 5-4 Oklahoma team visited in-state rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Having received the Heisman Trophy the week before and with no bowl game in site, Owens had every reason to take a breather. However, noticing an opposing fans sign that read “Steve Who? Won What,” during pre-game warm-ups, Owens went out and established a school record 55 carries and 261 yards rushing during a 28-27 Sooner victory. In the third quarter alone he carried 20 times for 97 yards! Owens heroic effort typlifies his underlying competitiveness and teamwork.

The Sooners in the 1960’s experienced a lull. It’s not hard to imagine the pressue to follow in Bud Wilkinson’s shoes following his retirement in 1963. OU would struggle during the 1960’s and would have three coaches in six years. However, Owens was a rock of stability and literally carried the Sooners in 1969. He was not blessed with the powerhouse teams that Vessels had in the 1950’s. Most of his yards were the grind it out grueling kind that destroy careers far before their time. However, Owens was a horse and as assistant coach Barry Switzer said before that pivotal OSU game in 1969, “we’re gonna ride him as long as we can.” As great as Owens was on the field, it was his off the field character that won the hearts of Sooner fans. In 1969, Owens was invited to appear on “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson. This visit was atypical of the day when Heisman winners did not regularly appear on the highly-rated, popular nightly talk show. However, this visit was special. Ed McMahon, Carson’s long-time sidekick, had watched Owens acceptance speech for the Heisman Trophy. He took so much time to recognize his parents, his family, his teammates that it touched McMahon. So much so that he immediately called Johnny Carson and said, “We’ve got to get this guy on the show.” Owens appeared and was a hit.

Again, keep in mind the time period of 1969. The country was undergoing a tremendous social upheaval in our cities across the country. The Vietnam War was at its height of unpopularity and students were rebelling in scores. Long hair and sex, drugs and rock and roll had captivated the attention of a generation of young folks. The Age of Aquarius was in full force. And, amidst all of this, here was an innocent-looking, clean cut kid from the heartland winning over jaded Hollywood types like McMahon. Owens upbringing obviously had taught him to be humble in light of the illumination his new found celebrity had cast upon him. In fact, Owens trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York would be his parents first trip on an airplane!
Owens would be drafted by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 1970 NFL draft. He would separate his shoulder in the pre-season and saw limited action in the six games he played. However, the Lions made their first playoff appearance in 13 years. The Lions played the eventual Super Bowl representative from the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys, to a close 5-0 loss. The next year, a healthy Owens would become the first Detroit Lion to gain over 1,000 yards in a season and was named an NFL All-Pro selection in 1971 and 1972. After six years with Detroit, Owens retired due to a serious knee injury. In 1991, Owens was honored by being named to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and named the Walter Camp Foundation Alumnus of the Year. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991 and Orange Bowl Hall of Honor in 1992.

In 2006, OU honored Owens on opening day with his own statue in Heisman Park, the second of four planned statues just east of Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium. Thirty-seven years after his Heisman Trophy season, the University of Oklahoma honored one of its heroes. Legendary coach Barry Switzer summed it up best by calling Owens, “A great north-south runner, probably the best we’ve ever had at Oklahoma.”
Feeding the Monster

Although Steve Owens graduated in 1969, Oklahoma football continued with success in the following years. After suffering three non-winning seasons in the 1960’s and a 36-17 record from 1966 to 1970, OU would go 11-1 in 1971 and 1972.

However, the 1972 season would be a season of transition and frustration. Although the Sooners were almost perfect on the field, severe NCAA penalties cost them three games, television appearances and post-season play. After the Nebraska game in 1973, the Sooners would not play in another televised game until January 1, 1976. And, the NCAA also prohibited OU from appearing in any bowl games until after the 1975 season. The Sooners were dubbed, “The best team you’ll never see,” by Sports Illustrated in 1974.
Head coach Chuck Fairbanks accepted the head job with the NFL’s New England Patriots and was replaced with his assistant and offensive coordinator Barry Switzer in 1973. The Switzer era has been well-documented and his biography “Bootlegger’s Boy” is full of hilarious recruiting stories as well as his disadvantaged youth growing up in rural Arkansas. Switzer did not allow the NCAA penalties to disrupt his program. The 1973 Sooners would go 10-0-1 and finish third in the nation. The only blemish on the season was a 7-7 tie with a talented USC squad that featured Pat Haden, Anthony Davis and Lynn Swann in Los Angeles. The Switzer era would not lose another game until November of 1975. In fact the Sooners would post an incredible 54-3-1 record from 1971 to 1975 for an amazing 93% winning percentage. Switzer-led teams would win back-to-back national championships in 1974 and 1975 and he would become the all-time winningest coach in school history. Beginning in 1968, eleven Sooners would be named All-Americans: Steve Owens, Greg Pruitt, Tom Brahaney, Jack Mildren, Rod Shoate, Lucious Selmon, Randy Hughes, Leroy Selmon, Dewey Selmon, Joe Washington and Tinker Owens. All became instant legends in Sooners lore.

As a young kid growing up in Tulsa in the late 1960’s early 1970’s, the Oklahoma Sooners were legendary. For most of us, the seminal game of our youth as Sooner fans occured on November 25, 1971. A national television audience witnessed the “Game of the Century” as #1 Nebraska beat #2 OU 35-31. Legendary Husker Johnny Rodgers cemented his Heisman Trophy season with a heart-breaking punt return for a touchdown to secure the win which erased a terrific performance by OU quarterback Jack Mildren, Greg Pruitt and the Sooners. As painful as the loss was, OU’s dominance would rain supreme as the Sooners would not lose to Nebraska again for seven years!

As previously mentioned, the Sooners would go 11-1 in 1972 but probation followed curtailing any television appearances and post-season bowl games. So a generation of Oklahomans who could not make it to the games were relegated to listening on the radio. Back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s radio was an accepted norm. Network sports television had arrived big time in the 1960’s with the development of the NFL and other professional sports but most games were on Saturday or Sunday. Plus, there were only three television networks. ESPN was still years away so the only highlights you received were on the local affiliates limited sports reports.

So the radio was the ultimate “theatre of the mind” when it came to listening to OU football games. I can recall many a sunny fall Saturday being glued to my radio in my bedroom listening to OU football games. The only breaks were for the bathroom and to eat. Mike Treps did the radio broadcasts on the Sooner Network. And, Treps was the Sooners Sports Information Director too and a virtual walking encyclopedia of statistics and facts. Names such as Steve Davis, Joe Washington, Leroy Selmon, Dewey Selmon, Jimbo Elrod, Rod Shoate, Randy Hughes and others became household names and instant legends. To listen to a Mike Treps Sooner football broadcast was like receiving the weekly blessing from above.

And, for 29-consecutive games over a span of 2-1/2 seasons, the delivery was perfect! The Sooners went 11-0 in 1974 and won the first of two successive national championships. We could discuss individual games but in reality the 16-13 Texas win was the only close game. The 1974 Oklahoma Sooners are arguably the greatest team in OU history. That is saying a lot for the illustrious program but, except for a few early seasons when only two games were played, only eight teams in Sooner history escaped the season undefeated (most recently in 2000—the last OU National Championship.) Four of these eight undefeated teams won the National Championship—1955, 1956, 1974 and 2000. The fact that the 1974 Sooners were so dominant speaks volumes about the talent.

However, one individual stands out from the rest. Defensive lineman Leroy Selmon was the winner of the Outland and Lombardi trophies signifying the country’s outstanding college lineman in 1975. In 1976, he became the only Sooner to ever be the first player selected in the NFL draft. He was the first-ever player selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expansion franchise. Not a bad way to build a franchise. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1979 as he led the Buccaneers to their first winning season and the NFC Championship game. He was also the first and only Sooner ever elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1995. Unfortunately for the Sooners, the probation put an asterisk behind the success and the lack of television coverage kept OU off of television and out of bowl games. Thus, the national sports writing community as well as national television audiences could not see the tremendous display of talent.

Right in the middle of the Sooner excellence, I entered Junior High School in the fall of 1974 in Tulsa. Already a hard-core Sooners fan, I was ecstatic to learn that my favorite teacher was a Sooner mom! My seventh grade Speech teacher at Clinton Junior High, Ruth Hughes, had a famous Sooner in her family. Her son Randy was a two-time All-American at OU in 1973 & 1974. He was a standout high school player at Tulsa Memorial and was named Tulsa World Player of the Year in 1970. So not only did we get to listen to the games on Saturday, we got personal updates during the week and felt an individual Sooner connection. The highlight of the year was when Randy Hughes and Sooner offensive lineman Jon Roush actually made a classroom appearance! The connection gave us a personal rooting interest every Saturday in 1974. The fact that Hughes would be drafted in 1975 by the Dallas Cowboys and have a successful NFL career with “America’s Team” made it even better.

The 1975 season began much the same way as the Sooners rattled off seven consecutive wins to increase their overall unbeaten streak to 36-games and 29-consecutive wins overall. However, game eight in Norman would put a severe dent in the Oklahoma juggernaut. The Kansas Jayhawks visited OU on November 8, 1975 and pulled off the biggest upset of the year with a 23-3 victory. Not that the Sooners did not help them turning the ball over on eight consecutive possessions. Ironically, the KU defensive line coach was Wade Phillips current Dallas Cowboys head coach. Who would have thought that two future Dallas Cowboys head coaches would have been on Owen Field that day?

Now all the past success seemed to be for naught as the Sooners dipped to third in the nation. This is what happens when you don’t lose a game for 2-1/2 seasons! And, a tough Missouri team laid in wait in Columbia. Over the course of the past four and half seasons, the Sooners were rarely challenged. In fact, from 1971 to 1975 the only losses during that span were to Nebraska in the “Game of the Century,” in 1971, Colorado in 1972 and the Kansas upset in 1975. So the loss to the Jayhawks was virtually impossible to accept by Sooners fans. In their book, “The Winning Edge,” authors Jack and Jim Fried followed coaches Larry Lacewell and Galen Hall the entire season. The authors had back stage passes to the most successful team in the country. They attended meetings and practices and traveled with the team. The authors had unfettered access to the Sooners. Here is how they described the Sooner loss to Kansas,
“It had been a nightmare. The morning after was worse. The only thing worse than a nightmare itself, is the realization that the nightmare is no dream at all. Every individual has experienced the feeling. Regret. It manifests itself as a sickening sensation, with its origins in the deepest pit of the stomach. It is amplified, not so much by the fact that something has gone wrong, but rather from the knowledge that whatever happened need not have happened at all. This feeling—an aching desire to go back in time and do it all again, along with realization that things just don’t happen that way—is desired by none, but experienced by all, at one time or the other.”
The Sooners had a week to get over their nightmare to bounce back. The Missouri game would be the bell-weather signal to tell whether the Kansas game was a fluke or the beginning of the unraveling of the Oklahoma juggernaut. This game was important on its' own but coming one week following the Kansas debacle, the Sooners desperately needed a win to keep Big 8 and National title hopes alive. Down 27 to 20 with 1:29 to go in Columbia, and almost 31 years to the day before current Sooners coach Bob Stoops' fourth down gamble this year at College Station, Switzer decided to go for it on fourth and one from the OU 29 yard line. Running back Joe Washington scored on a 71-yard run then again with the same play for the two-point conversion and 28-27 win. Washington's heroics saved the season and National Championship.

It was a classic Sooner comeback made even greater by listening to Mike Treps call it over the radio. It would be an ESPN Instant Classic today. Barry Switzer would say that Washington would have won at least one Heisman Trophy had OU been on television in 1974 and 1975. The Sooners would go on to beat #2 and undefeated Nebraska and clinch their first bowl game since 1972. The Orange Bowl in Miami pitted the Sooners against Bo Schembechler’s Michigan Wolverines. Led by their suffocating defense, the Sooners beat Michigan 14-6 in a game that was not as close as the score. And, with a surprising loss by #1 Ohio State to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma had won its’ fifth national championship. The game was the first bowl game since 1972 and the first time the Sooners had appeared on television since 1973. After listening to the games on the radio for 2-1/2 years, the Sooners’ legends looked even better in person! Defensive players such as Leroy and Dewey Selmon, Jimbo Elrod and quarterback Steve Davis, Joe Washington and Tinker Owens were larger-than-life. The Sooners would go on to successful seasons the rest of the decade of the 1970’s. However, the Sooner legend had been firmly imprinted in the memory banks of a generation of Oklahomans during the remarkable run from 1971 to 1975.

I was fortunate to attend my first Oklahoma game in 1979. The September 15 home opening win over Iowa 21 to 6 was my first home game in Norman (that Iowa team featured a freshman defensive back named Bob Stoops.) It was electric actually being at the game. Two more trips added fuel to the fire with wins over Colorado (49 to 24) and Kansas (38-0.). I was fortunate that a friend of mine had an OU connection. Richard Chandler’s older sister attended OU and assisted in the athletic department. She was also friends with OU running back and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims. So not only did we get tickets to the game but we also received “Special Guest” passes to the Bud Wilkinson Center home to the OU football players. We were fortunate enough to get an inside tour of the players rooms.

The highlight of the Colorado game was that we had dinner plans with Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims afterwards. We eagerly waited for Sims to finish an interview with Tulsa World columnist Bill Connors. The two of them seemed to spend hours on the Owen Field turf talking. Then, our moment had finally occurred. Sims and Connors concluded their interview and headed toward the locker room. We were clinging to a tall chain link fence that separated us from the Sooners locker room which was still beneath the west grandstand. Sims appeared to not hear us but after several “Billy. Billy” desperation yells he looked our way and said “Hi. How ya’ doin.” And that was it. He acted like he didn't know my friend. Oh well. At least we got to see the Sooners in person!

I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1984. The Sooner teams of the early 1970’s had forged a deep passion for the Crimson and Cream. And, after successive Orange Bowl victories over Florida State in 1980 and 1981, I was excited to actually see the Sooners in person. However, my Sooner football memories from college were not that great. After spending my freshman year chasing my college baseball career at NAIA division II school Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, my heart was still in Norman. Ironically, our first game of the 1981 season was scheduled against OU in Norman in the new Dale Mitchell Park. However, the new stadium was not ready, and after the 8 hour drive from Kansas and two rain-soaked days in the Sooner Motor Lodge on Classen, the series was rained out and we returned home without playing. However excited I was about being in Soonerland, OU’s Camelot period was about to come to a crashing thud. They suffered the first of three-straight four loss seasons my sophomore year. Oh, we had our moments but we never beat Nebraska and only beat Texas one time in three years.

My first big OU game in Norman came early in my first year pitting #1 USC vs. #2 OU in the L.A. Coliseum. The Sooners led 24-21 late and hopes were high until eventual Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen ran wild. The Sooners lost 28-24 on a touchdown pass with :02-seconds to go. We would finish 7-4-1 that first year and barely eaked out a tie against lowly Iowa State. My second year in Norman did not go much better. The Sooners lost their first home opener since a 1965 10-0 shutout to Navy to an unheralded West Virginia team led by an unknown quarterback! Who was Jeff Hostetler? You think the recent Boise State loss is bad. At least it was a BCS Bowl Game and they were undefeated and ranked #7 nationally. Losing to West Virginia 41-27 in 1982? The home opener? Are you kidding me? The loss was beginning of two year trend as OU lost the home opener to Ohio State the next year, too.

The Sooners lost the next home game in the 1982 season to Southern Cal 12-0, as well, ending an NCAA record 181-games without being shutout. The loss also was the first time OU dropped back-to-back home games since 1961 and the third consecutive home loss over two seasons. OU would finish 8-4 in 1982. The highight of the season was a 28-22 win over Texas in Dallas. Super freshman Marcus Dupree had his breakout game in the Cotton Bowl and established a freshman rushing record totalling 905 yards in seven games. However, his career would end after the annual Red River Classic the following year. The 1983 season was not much better as the Sooners went 8-4. The low-point of the season was a 10-0 loss at Missouri. It was the only time a Barry Switzer-led team was ever shut-out in Big 8 play and only second time ever in his career. And, unfortunately, I was there to witness the game firsthand. I still have visions of the goal posts rising over the hills while standing amidst the raucous Tiger fans at the popular nightspot Harpo's in Columbia.

Although my three years at Oklahoma did not produce any national championships, the wins have far outweighed the losses during the course of a lifetime. The heart-breaking Boise State “Instant Classic” loss in this years’ Fiesta Bowl is a stark reminder that defeat lurks around every corner. However, for the Oklahoma Sooners, there have been far more winning moments. For every stunning loss there are more memories of an exciting victory on the national stage. The 1977 Ohio State win in Columbus still resonates all these years later. What Sooner fan does not remember OU kicker Uwe Von Schamann leading chants of “block that kick” before kicking the 41-yard walk-off game winning field goal? I had a t-shirt that said, “Columbus Day—OU 29-OSU 28. The Day Woodie Hayes Discovered the Sooners.”

The University of Oklahoma boasts the #1 program of the modern era (since World War II) winning 41 conference titles and amassing 24 bowl wins. The Sooners are only one of two schools to have won seven National Championships. Over 142 All-Americans have played in Norman including four Heisman Trophy winners and 63 national award winners. Bud Wilkinson created the winning legacy in the 1950’s. Barry Switzer fed it in the 1970’s. And, Bob Stoops has returned the program to its’ winning ways in the 21st century.

Despite the Boise State loss, the 2006 season was one of my most enjoyable in years. The early season setbacks of losing two players before the season, the Oregon instant replay debacle (little Lucy is still confused why our victory dance came to such a sudden halt) and losing Adrian Peterson for half the year, gave the Sooners the opportunity to show great character in winning their last eight games to win the Big 12 Championship.

All in all, as painful as the Boise State game was, I'll take the lumps from the Fiesta Bowl loss because all the other pleasant memories and friendships over the past 40 years far outweigh the outcome of any one game. As the late, great Theodore Roosevelt stated in a speech given in Paris in 1910,

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
Boomer Sooner!

Hurricane Alert in Tulsa

The University of Tulsa was founded in 1894 and played their first football game in 1895—12 years prior to Oklahoma statehood! However, the Golden Hurricane did not receive national notoriety until the 1940’s. Between 1941 and 1945, Tulsa became the first college football team to win five consecutive trips to New Year’s Day bowl games. The TU squad was led by All-American Glenn Dobbs. The Golden Hurricane compiled an 8-2 record and were Missouri Valley Conference Champions qualifying the team for their first-ever bowl game in 1941. It was Dobbs’ 32-yard touchdown pass versus Texas Tech that capped a 6-0 victory.
Dobbs went on to a successful NFL career and returned to Tulsa as head coach in 1961. It was his leadership as a coach that would put the University of Tulsa football team on the national map again. Under Dobbs’ leadership, the Golden Hurricane installed a sophisticated passing attack that would lead the nation in passing for five consecutive seasons beginning in 1962. The hallmark of this team was the 1964 squad who became the first team in history to average over 300 yards passing per game with a 317 average. The TU team threw an average of 38 passes and called 52% of their plays as passes per game. My dad returned to Tulsa from his World War II stint in the Navy. He quickly found work as a bartender at a watering hole near the University of Tulsa campus on 11th street. He never met a stranger and soon befriended the many TU football players who patronized his establishment. That's him on the far right of the black and white photo with bow tie and cigar in hand with several TU football players. He passed along some of the stories of the greatness of the TU team during those years.

Led by All-American quarterback Jerry Rhome and wide receiver Howard Twilley, the 1964 Golden Hurricane compiled a 9-2 record and averaged a 33-point margin of victory per game! The team’s only losses in 1964 were to Cincinnati and the 11-0 and eventual National Champion Arkansas Razorbacks featuring Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson and assistant coach Barry Switzer. The signature victory for the Rhome/Twilley combo in 1964 was a 61-14 victory over Oklahoma State and Walt Garrison at Skelly Stadium. Rhome threw for over 350 yards as Tulsa scored on their first four possessions of the game. Overall, TU racked up 650 total yards. The Golden Hurricanes featured the 14th ranked defense in the country that averaged nine points allowed per game. Jerry Rhome would be the Heisman Trophy runner-up and led TU to a 14-7 Bluebonnet bowl victory over Ole’ Miss.

In the process, the Golden Hurricane finished 18th in the final rankings and seven (7) TU players were named All-Americans. A leader on the defense was Willie Townes who was one of TU’s most dominant defensive lineman ever. He was a two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference selection in 1964 and 1965 and was named the Outstanding Lineman of the 1964 Bluebonnet Bowl. He was an honorable All-American selection in 1964 and a second round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 1966.

The Golden Hurricanes would return in 1965 to defend their Bluebonnet crown from the year before. Although Rhome had graduated to the Dallas Cowboys, All-American receiver Twilley would finish as the Heisman runner-up this time before heading to the NFL and the Miami Dolphins. Twilley would have a stellar career at Miami and scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl VII as the Dolphins wrapped up an NFL-record 17-0 season in 1972. This was the backdrop for my local rooting interest in the Golden Hurricanes. In 1969, a 145-pound quarterback from New Jersey arrived on the Tulsa campus. Drew Pearson chose TU over Nebraska because he was promised he could also play baseball for Tulsa Head Coach Gene Shell. A three sport star in high school, Pearson was won over during a recruiting trip by attending a TU basketball game and witnessing the raucous home crowd and talents of Golden Hurricane star Bobby “Bingo” Smith. Pearson would quarterback the TU freshman team in 1969. In 1970, coaches told Pearson he would have to give up his baseball dreams and concentrate on football. Pearson would win the starting quarterback job from Athletic Director Glenn Dobbs’ son in mid-season and guided the Golden Hurricane to a 7-4 season.

However, in 1971, Pearson realized his professional future was as a wide receiver, and convinced coaches to switch positions. Although TU would have losing records in 1971 and 1972, Pearson would catch 55 passes and capture All-American honors. He spent the spring off-season in Dallas Cowboys mini-camps and worked extensively in the summer with a Cowboys quarterback named Roger Staubach. It was these off-season workouts with the future Cowboys Hall of Famer that contributed to Pearson making the squad for the Cowboys. Pearson would make the team in 1973 as an undrafted free agent and go on to star for the Cowboys for 11 years. He would be named All-Pro seven times and played in three Super Bowls. However, he is most famously known for his “Hail Mary” reception from Staubach in the 1975 NFL playoffs versus the Minnesota Vikings. Although Pearson was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970’s, he has not been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. His former summer workout partner has a strong opinion about Pearson’s omission. Staubach, has said many times he would not be in the NFL Hall of Fame today were it not for the accomplishments of his receiver, Drew Pearson.
Although Pearson moved on from Tulsa in 1972, another standout wide receiver arrived on the TU campus that same year. Steve Largent would play at TU from 1972 to 1975. In the process he would establish seven TU receiving records and would be named All-American three years. Drafted in the seventh round in 1976 by the Seattle Seahawks, Largent would go on to establish several NFL records and was named to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1993.

As great as the TU football legend had become, the Golden Hurricane baseball team was not too shabby. Head Coach Gene Shell was a standout high school baseball coach before joining TU in 1966. Shell would lead Tulsa Webster to three state championships in a seven year span. His 1961 and 1962 state championship teams were led by future Major League pitchers Carl Morton and Rich Calmus. Shell joined TU in 1966 and picked up right where he left off at Webster. In 1969 Shell would lead the Golden Hurricane to their first-ever appearance in the College World Series where his team would finish as the runner-up to eventual World Series champion Arizona State. TU would return to Omaha two years later in 1971 with Jerry Tabb being named tournament MVP. Tulsa Webster All-Stater Steve Bowling, Jerry Tabb, Cliff Butcher and Steve Rogers may not be household names like their football counterparts Pearson and Largent, but they were just as integral to establishing the Tulsa Golden Hurricane baseball team as one of the top teams in the country. Between 1969 and 1971, the TU team would compile a record second only to national powerhouse USC.

The TU baseball team was not as fortunate as the Golden Hurricane football team to have a home field such as Skelly Stadium. In fact, both the TU baseball and basketball team played in off-campus facilities. Although the new Reynolds Center is state of the art for collegiate basketball teams, for many years the TU basketball team rotated home games between the old Tulsa State Fairgrounds Pavilion and the Tulsa Convention Center. The TU baseball team had even sparcer accommodations playing at rickety Oiler Park on 15th street and later at Tulsa County LaFortune Park American Legion field located at 61st and Yale.

By 1971, Shell was legendary as a winning baseball coach. He wrote books on his baseball philosophy and his off-season baseball camps were enthusiastically attended. The Junior Golden Hurricane Club offered discounts and memberships supporting Golden Hurricane Athletics. The TU baseball team came of age during a period of national dominance by a handful of teams. Rod Dedeaux would coach Southern Cal for 44 years from 1942 to 1986 winning 11 College World Series titles. During the 1970's, USC would win five consecutive NCAA titles from 1970 to 1974 under Dedeaux’s leadership. And, Arizona State would win three titles in five years in 1965, 67' and 69'. In fact, USC and Arizona State would win 9 of 10 CWS titles beginning in 1965. So the Golden Hurricane were the new kid on the block and would take on all comers at Oiler Park. During a period of four years beginning in 1971, future Major League players such as Fred Lynn of USC and Jackson Todd, Joe Simpson and Bob Shirley of Oklahoma, all would make appearances in Tulsa playing the Golden Hurricane. In November of 1974, Anthony Davis would stun the college football world by scoring five touchdowns while leading the Trojans to a 42-14 come-from-behind victory over Notre Dame. However, Davis was also a standout baseball player on the USC national champions and made an appearance in Tulsa in the spring of 1974 sporting a sprained wrist. However, he was accommodating to the young fans by signing autographs. He was even most accommodating to sign one young Jr. Golden Hurricane Club members’ membership card!

Growing up in Tulsa was an absolute delight for young baseball fans. I can remember many afternoons of being dropped off at Oiler Park after school to watch TU play arch-rival Southern Illinois, Oklahoma, USC and Arizona State. TU baseball was the “now” team in Tulsa. Jerry Tabb would be named a two-time All-American as would teammate Steve Bowling. Pitcher Steve Rogers was nearly unbeatable and would go on to success with the Montreal Expos in the National League. In addition to being named to the TU Hall of Fame, Tabb, Bowling and Rogers all would be drafted and have careers in and out of the big leagues. Shell coached teams would continue to have success in the following years but none were as great as those 1969 and 1971 squads. In fact, five players from those TU baseball teams have been honored by being elected to the TU Hall of Fame. Shell would compile a 444-165 overall record during his career at TU. Unfortunately, the school dropped the baseball program in 1980. An historic program and legendary coach came to an untimely end.

Titans In Our Midst

When most people think about college basketball they usually think about the current powerhouses and names familiar to most sports fans: Duke and Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina and Roy Williams and Bobby Knight among others. And, if the same question had been asked in 1965 most probably would have said John Wooden and UCLA, Adolph Rupp and Kentucky and Henry Iba and Oklahoma State the most notable names of the times. All were and are great programs and featured head coaches who had established long traditions of success and excellence.

However, another force was brewing at the time that would certainly change the face of Tulsa collegiate basketball if not the country. In 1965, evangelist Oral Roberts founded a university in his name. The main reason was because God commanded him to “raise up your students to hear My voice…to go where My light is dim…where My voice is heard small.” So in 1965 Oral Roberts University was founded in a 550-acre pasture located at the corner of 81st and Lewis bordered by Southern Hills Country Club to the north, Lewis Avenue to the west, 81st street to the south and an undeveloped area to the east. The center of the ornate campus featured a 200-foot, spire Prayer Tower (home of the Abundant Life Prayer Group featuring a 24/7 prayer hotline) that attracted over 200,000 visitors in 1972 and a clarion call to “Expect a Miracle.” Oral Roberts said God had told him to build ORU to educate the “whole man.” The inaugural class consisted of 300 co-ed students (apparently the women did not mind the discriminatory mission statement) and a student-to-teacher ratio of 16:1 who were offering a well-rounded curriculum that would develop the “Mind. Spirit. Body.”

The dedication ceremony was held on April 2, 1967 before 20,000 people, including my parents, and was keynoted by the popular evangelist Billy Graham who said,

"This certainly is the university of tomorrow. Evangelical Christendom can be proud today of this university and what it will mean to the future of this country….May ORU produce a holy enthusiasm for the will of God. It’s still true that people who get exited about the Scriptures and the will of God are people who can change the world…To this end we dedicate ORU.”
Although the “Mind. Spirit. Body” mantra was certainly the main driver behind the schools’ existence another motivation drove the founder. Oral Roberts was an avid sports enthusiast and considered sports the main vehicle to spread the word of his evangelical mission. Football was most popular at the time and was riding a renaissance across the county due to the expansion of the NFL and AFL as well as the growth of television. However, Oklahoma Sooner football and the struggling Dallas Cowboys were king in Oklahoma. Plus, the Glenn Dobbs’ aerial circus of cross-town rival University of Tulsa would make it hard on recruiting as well as difficult to pull the locals away from.

Besides, football was labor intensive and a suitable stadium and expenses could sky rocket and cripple a fledgling university. So, Oral Roberts turned his attention to another sport. The ORU Titans men’s basketball team would be founded that inaugural year to Oral Roberts satisfaction in order for his evangelical message to reach the “60 million men” who read the daily sports pages across the country. Keeping true to his mission, Oral Roberts created a uniform to fulfill God’s order. It was by no accident that the Titans colors were Blue, Gold and White. First, Blue represented God’s enveloping presence over all things. Gold represented the royalty of God. And, not to be outdone, White represented God’s purity of Spirit in every person. After the uniforms were decided upon, his first order was to hire a head coach who could fulfill his mission. After five years under inaugural coach Bill White who compiled a 65-35 record, Oral found his man in Ken Trickey.

Over the next five years Ken Trickey developed one of the most successful college basketball teams in the country. Oh sure they were not in a conference and they were actually an NAIA small-college team. However, do not let those two facts obscure the greatness that was being developed in the Southern Hills of Tulsa. Trickey was hired as head coach in 1969 after a successful five year stint at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. In fact, it was Trickey's 115-98 thumping of ORU on December 2, 1968 at the Titan Fieldhouse that convinced Oral Roberts to offer him the Titans job. The Cairo, Illinois native had resurrected the basketball program as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. A captain of the 1954 Blue Raider team which made it to the NAIA tournament in Kansas City, Trickey had returned to his alma mater in 1962 as assistant basketball coach and head baseball coach. During the next five years in Tulsa, Trickey would compile an overall record of 118 and 23 for an 84% winning percentage. He would leave and come back later and is still ORU’s all-time leader in wins as a coach. However, his first stint is simply defined in terms of greatness. In 1969-70, Trickey was 27-4 and 15-0 at home.

To prove the first year was not a fluke, Trickey led ORU to a 21-5 record the next season and another perfect home record of 11-0. In 1970-71, ORU averaged 104.1 points per game and held their opponents to under 84 points per game. In 1971-72, the first year of NCAA action, ORU proved they were no small-college fluke and improved to 26-2 (the team averaged 105.1 pts. per game vs. 90.1 for opponents) and again was perfect at home (14-0 at home for a three-year home record of 40-0.) That 1971-72 squad was ranked in the Associated Press Top 20 for four weeks reaching the highest ranking of 16th. They also established the season team record for points scored of 2,943 and the season team record for points average per game (105.1) in the 1971/72 season. The highlight of the year was qualifying for the National Invitational Tournament and upset of perennial power Memphis State before losing to St. John’s.

So for those of you counting at home let’s go to the Ken Trickey scorecard after his first three seasons: 74 wins versus 11 losses for an 87% winning record. Among the milestones were 22 consecutive wins from November 20, 1971 to March 18, 1972 and 52 consecutive home wins beginning February 17, 1969 that would not end until January 29, 1973. Pretty impressive numbers and not the kind of record you can run up without the key ingredient to any team: players. The most notable player among those ORU teams was Richard Fuqua. Fuqua was a 6-foot 3-inch shooting guard from Chattanooga, Tennessee that bought into ORU’s mission and came to the predominantly white town and private, Methodist school in Tulsa. Before Fuqua was through at ORU he was inducted into the ORU Hall Of Fame and compiled the following milestones in his career:

--All-America in 1972 & 1973.
--Scored Over 50 points per game 4x's in career.
--All-Time School Leader in Points Scored in a Season with 1,006 in 1971/72.
--Second All-Time School Leader in Career Points Scored with 3,004 from 1970 to 1974.
--Second All-Time Career Scoring Average with 27.1 points per game.
--Led School in Scoring all Four Years of College from 1969/70 to 1972/73 (18.1/31.8/35.9/23.5—the 35.9 is still the all-time school record.)
--Scored 60 points against University of the South in 1971.

The team highlight during Fuqua’s career came on the night of February 24, 1972 during the final game in the old Titan Field House when ORU established the school record for points scored in a 155-113 win over Union of Tennessee. ORU scored 84 points in the first half. Fuqua could not have accomplished all of those records by himself and didn’t. Players of note included Sam McCants, Al Boswell, David Vaughn, Eddie Woods, Eldon Lawyer, Sam McCamey and Haywood Hill. However, the glue that held this unit together was the head coach.

Ken Trickey’s up tempo, run-and-gun offense left opposing teams ragged after playing ORU. In fact Trickey had labeled his free-wheeling style "WRAG (We Run And Gun) Offense." They simply ran from the opening tip-off and never stopped until the final buzzer. It seemed like the main strategy was the first person across half court shot the ball and most of the times it was Fuqua and the shots went in. These games were wild and raucous and the crowds were left buzzing after every game. The gymnasium that hosted the Titans simply added to the mystique. The arena was very small and looked like an igloo from the outside. In reality, the building had a dual-purpose as it also featured the schools swimming pool. You could actually watch the basketball game and see the pool behind the large divider located behind one of the baskets. ORU at the time only had 1,800 students and most were more interested in the “Mind. Spirit. Body” philosophy than the basketball team. The first season averaged about 300 fans, so the local community supported the games with a small student body of supporters. However, the students soon discovered the exciting Titans and the crowds overflowed the small gymnasium/nadatorium.

In 1972, Oral Roberts outgrew the “igloo” and its’ swimming pool companion and workers finished building a new $11-million state-of-the art basketball arena to match the Titans’ success. The Mabee Center was opened just in time for the 1972-73 basketball season on December 2, 1972 before a star-studded crowd which would fittingly be Richard Fuqua’s last year. Fuqua would score the first points in the new arena and Trickey and his talented group did not disappoint by compiling a 21-6 record, another NIT appearance and for six weeks a ranking in the AP Top 20. In fact the 1972-73 squad was ranked #18 in the pre-season AP poll and on December 12, 1972 reached their highest ranking at 10th in the country. The Titans were led by the dynamic duo of Fuqua and 7’ Sophomore center David Vaughn who would average 19 points and 14 rebounds per game. How good were these two? Fuqua was drafted by the Boston Celtics and Vaughn by the ABA’s Virginia Cavaliers following the 72’-73’ season.

However, the greatest season was still to come. In 1973/74, ORU led by rebounder-extraordinaire Eddie Woods and high-scorer Sam McCants, was 23-6 and for five weeks ranked in the AP Top 20 (they would reach as high as 18th) and qualified for the big dance—the NCAA Tournament. Now this is not the NCAA “March Madness” mega-monolithic version that captivates the nation’s attention now. This NCAA tournament was smaller and more colloquial. In fact, in 1973 the NCAA tournament field consisted of only 25 teams. It was much harder to qualify back then and the top seeds all received first round byes. Not that the byes mattered much to the rest of the teams as one west coast school dominated the tournament.

The 1974 NCAA tournament was supposed to be a coronation for John Wooden’s defending champion UCLA Bruins. In fact, the Bruins had won the last seven NCAA tournaments dating back to the Lew Alcindor-led 1967 bunch (he would later be influenced by Muhammad Ali and changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar.) Bill Walton had taken up just where Alcindor had left off and UCLA was heavily favored to win their eighth consecutive title. Other notable teams were Digger Phelps’ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (who had upset UCLA during the season ending their 88-game consecutive win streak,) Ted Owen’s Kansas Jayhawks, Frank McGuire’s South Carolina Gamecocks and Norm Sloan’s North Carolina State Wolfpack featuring Player of the Year David Thompson.

However, there was no team that seemed capable of dethroning UCLA. ORU qualified for the Midwest Sub-regional in Denton, Texas as an "at large" selection. They were matched against Syracuse from the East. This was not Hiram Scott, Sul Ross State, University of the South, Athletes in Action, Union of Tennessee or any of the other “softies” found on earlier Titan schedules. However, ORU proved themselves worthy adversaries. ORU defeated the Orangemen 86-82 in overtime to advance to the Midwest Region Final to be held in all places--at the Mabee Center in Tulsa. A late substitution for host Wichita State who dropped the basketball program earlier in the season, the historical significance of hosting an NCAA tournament in Tulsa cannot go unnoticed. The only other time an NCAA basketball tournament regional had been held in the state of Oklahoma was in 1958 in Henry Iba’s Stillwater! There ORU would meet nationally ranked Louisville led by Wooden-acolyte Denny Crum. Again, ORU surprised the basketball establishment by rallying from an 11-point deficit to finish off the Cardinals 96-93 behind the play of guards Sam McCants and Al Boswell who combined for 53 points. Now the Titans were in the elite Final 8 and were one win away from college basketballs “Holy Grail”-- the Final Four.

Other than Oral Roberts and God himself, who would have imagined that the ORU Titans would go from small college competition to the NCAA’s “Elite 8” in 10 short years? But alas, it was not to be. Although ORU led by as many as nine points late in the game, the Titans eventually lost at home to a tournament-tested Kansas Jayhawk team that was making its second Final Four appearance in three years, 93 to 90 in overtime (Ironically, Jayhawks coach Ted Owens, a native of Hollis, Oklahoma and OU Sooner graduate, would return to Mabee Center in the mid-80’s as Titans coach.) The game was a bitter defeat for the Titans during their first appearance on the national stage and was marked by controversy. Perhaps reeling from the pressure associated with his accomplishments on the court, Trickey was arrested for drunken driving following the Louisville game on Thursday night. Oral Roberts immediately suspended Trickey; however, soon saw the light and reinstated his beleaquered coach after a prayer session in which "Ken told me he thought God wanted him to coach." Although, Trickey would stumble he did recover to coach the Titans to within an overtime victory of a Final Four appearance. How significant was this accomplishment you might ask? Well, in 42 years of basketball competition, ORU has only been to the NCAA tournament four times in school history—the most recent this season.

Although Sloan’s Wolfpack would stun Wooden’s UCLA Bruins 80-72 in double overtime in the National Semifinal and go on to defeat Al McQuire’s Marquette Warriors 64-51 to win the national championship, for many Tulsans the 1974 NCAA tournament will be remembered as the year ORU finally gained national credibility. In fact, the NCAA tournament appearance capped a remarkable five year run for ORU which saw the Titans recording more victories than any other NCAA school except for perennial champ UCLA. The role of tradition with UCLA and Kansas left an indelible impression on the ORU coach. Trickey had this to say following the Kansas loss:

"It's because of tradition. Even North Carolina State and UCLA can't touch the
tradition of Kansas. You don't have to believe this, but it affects their players. They don't
have better players than us, but they've got tradition."

As with all things, this chapter in ORU history would end. Trickey, who had actually resigned in mid-season after bickering with Oral Roberts over basketball doctrine, would leave following the season to accept the Iowa State head coaching job. And although ORU would have success without Ken Trickey with a slew of top coaches (Jerry Hale, Ted Owens, Ken Hayes, and Bill Self) and players (Anthony Roberts, Mark Acres, and Greg Sutton,) the basketball would never be the same. Nor could it have been. Trickey would return in the mid-80’s to lead ORU through some difficult transitions but would never match his earlier success. In 1989, school finances had been drained on building the City of Faith hospital that local leaders told Oral Roberts was not needed, ORU dropped NCAA classification to the more affordable NAIA level. The move reportedly saved the school $750,000 but the stain of moving from the big-time could not be erased. Trickey would have one final winning season but the thrill was gone and he soon departed after the 1993 season.

Today, Tulsa is a growing metropolis with nearly one million residents. Many citizens have moved there in corporate relocations and most assuredly are not aware of the origins of the ORU Titans (the name was changed to Golden Eagles in 1993) or the basketball legacy of Oral Roberts, Ken Trickey and Richard Fuqua. However, to a small group of fans who weathered the early years in the cramped “igloo” playing the likes of Hiram Scott, Sul Ross State and University of the South and saw the meteoric rise to the 1974 NCAA Final Eight, the ORU legacy lives on in the memory banks. Trickey's legacy would have far-reaching influence in Tulsa and the Sooner state as well as the national stage. In 1981, Nolan Richardson would have the University of Tulsa "Rollin' with Nolan" as they would win the N.I.T. in New York. And, a young coach at Lamar University in Texas would soon emulate Trickey's "WRAG Offense" in Norman, Oklahoma with another Tulsa basketball legend. Billy Tubbs, a Tulsa native, and Wayman Tisdale, a Tulsa Booker T. Washington graduate, would rewrite the Oklahoma Sooner record books in the 1980's. The pair would reach the NCAA Midwest Regional Final 11 years later losing to Memphis State in Dallas. And in the NBA, long before Magic Johnson's "Showtime" in Los Angeles and Larry Bird and Michael Jordan resurrected professional basketball into the phenomenally popular sport it is today in the 1980’s, there were Titans in our midst in Tulsa soaring above the clouds with the basketball gods.

Tulsa Youth Sports

As great as the college scene was in Tulsa in the 1970’s, the local High School level was the proving ground for many future stars. Tulsa has a legendary record for producing home grown talent and no one was any better in cultivating the local athletes than a small man with a large heart.

Ed Lacy graduated from Tulsa Booker T. Washington High School in 1940. He was the team manager for legendary coach Seymour (S.E.) Williams. Lacy only weighed 125 pounds in high school but would later letter at North Carolina A & T. Lacy returned to his alma mater in 1957. While at Booker T. Washington Lacy started the schools wrestling and tennis programs. However, it was in a sport that he never played at the school that he would hone his legacy in Tulsa sports annals. Beginning in 1967 the Hornets lost just one game in a three-year span.

During his nine seasons as head football coach, the Hornets won five state titles -- in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971 and 1973. Booker T. Washington’s storied rivalry with Tulsa Nathan Hale would captivate the city and establish future stars for decades to come. In fact, Nathan Hale would win the state title in 1972 to knock-off the Hornets as perennial state champs. In 1969, Booker T. Washington would meet Tulsa Nathan Hale in the state 3A semifinal playoffs at Skelly Stadium. A record crowd of 38,250 watched these two undefeated powerhouses. However, the Hornets were too much for the Rangers and quarterback Brent Blackman and won going away 33-14 behind the exploits of John Winesberry. Winesberry rushed for 170 yards and scored on the game’s opening kickoff. He rushed for 1,763 yards his senior season while averaging 8.4 yards per carry. He would later attend Stanford and led the Cardinal to a New Years’ Day Rose Bowl upset over Michigan.

As great as the Booker T. Washington football team was in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the north side of Tulsa was not the only school who produced great talent. Randy Hughes was a standout defensive back at Tulsa Memorial. He was named the 1970 Tulsa World Player of the Year (the first defensive player ever named) and would go on to legendary success at the University of Oklahoma. Hughes would be named All-American in 1973 & 1974 while leading the Sooners to the National Championship in 1974. He would later star on the “Doomsday II” defense of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970’s that would appear in three Super Bowls in four years.

There have been many great Tulsa high school athletes and teams over the years. However, none played in a better period than the 1960’s. Beginning in 1961, Gene Shell would lead Tulsa Webster to three state baseball championships in seven years. The 1961 and 1962 Webster back-to-back state championship teams featured pitching sensations Rich Calmus and Carl Morton. Both would go on to pitch in the Major Leagues. This domination in baseball led the way for an unparalled dominance by Tulsa High School teams in the large-school state tournaments. According to the Tulsa World, during a 28-year period, eight of Tulsa’s nine public high schools would combine to win 24 state titles—Webster won seven and Hale and Rogers won four each. The schools featured legendary coaching names in Tulsa history—Bill Allen would lead Webster to the state basketball tournament seven times winning the state title in 1966. Tulsa Rogers head baseball coach Gordon Morgan would coach the Ropers for 20-years and 499 victories. Gene Hart was the head baseball coach at Webster and won two state titles in 1969 and 1970 and his last 15 years later in 1985.

I was fortunate to play high school sports in the late 70’s during a similar renaissance in Tulsa high school sports. Beginning in 1977, I played against some of the best high school football players to ever play in Tulsa. Guys like Tony Casillas from Tulsa East Central, Bob Slater and Jim Northrup from Tulsa Mason, Jeff Leiding from Tulsa Union, John Blake from Sand Springs and Spencer Tillman from Tulsa Edison. Unfortunately, my Tulsa Webster teams only won 5 games in three years and most of the opposing stars were on defense so I saw more of these guys than I care to remember as a two-year starter at quarterback (two of the wins were against Owasso and one was against fledgling church school Eastwood.) There was the forgettable touchdown dive by running back Blake into the end zone my sophomore year. I don’t think I made a dent while he steamrolled into the end zone during a Sand Springs 20-0 victory. Then, there was a memorable All-City game against Casillas at Skelly Stadium. Although we had one drive that reached the East Central one yard line, we failed to score thanks to the former All-American nose guard Casillas. Thankfully the All-City games consisted of only two quarters! Ironically, Blake, Casillas and me would be reunited in 1994 in Atlanta. Blake was the defensive line coach and Casillas a starting tackle for the World Champion Dallas Cowboys. I was sitting in section Y, Row 20, Seat 19 in the Georgia Dome watching the Cowboys defeat the Buffalo Bills for the second straight season in the Super Bowl.

However, the greatest memory I have from playing high school football came in my junior year against the #3 ranked team in the state. The Tulsa Mason Patriots were undefeated and unscored upon when they played Tulsa Webster in 1978. The game just had an eerie feel from the get-go because it was foggy and cold and Mason was the home team at our home stadium. So even though we kept our locker room, we wore our road whites and stood on the visitors sideline. Typically, Mason took the opening kickoff and scored to make it 6-0. They missed the extra point and, thanks to a superb defensive effort by my teammates Paul Bertelli, Mike Cagle, Lee Broom, Mike Slack, Jeff Zoller and others, the score remained the same until 1:17 remained in the game. We played the game of the year and held Mason scoreless the rest of the game. Not that we did anything against the top ranked defense led by future All-Big 8 players Slater (OU) and Northrup (Kansas State.) Unfortunately for me, Mason also had several players on defense who were my teammates the summer before in Mickey Mantle league baseball. So Tom Dutton, Mike Robinson and Pete Engler made a point to make sure I knew who was tackling me all night by facetiously asking me if I was "alright" after every tackle. However, we had our own weapon in All-State wide receiver Arnael Pettie. Arnael was a speedster who had been battling the Mason cornerback all night long. Finally, we had the ball at our own 20-yard line with 1:17 to go. We had a "Rex Grossman" offensive game plan and had only thrown 13 passes all game completing four. However, we had noticed that the cornerback was playing very aggressive looking to pick off one and take it to the house to cement the victory. So after losing 10 yards on the first two plays including a penalty, we called a down out and up on third down. The defender bought the fake and Arnael caught the pass and zipped down the sidelines 90 yards for the tying touchdown.

Incredibly, we missed the extra point when Slater leaped over the center and crashed into me who was holding for the extra point attempt. Fortunately for us, we made our field goal in overtime and former teammate Dutton missed his to preserve our 9-6 shocking upset. It was my best moment during my high school career and one I still cherish all these years later. Especially the post-game handshake when I had the last word with my former teammates who had been razzing me all night! I was fortunate to play on the same fields that the legendary Booker T. Washington Hornets, Nathan Hale Rangers and the legendary players John Winesberry, Brent Blackman and Randy Hughes played on in those earlier years.
The Tulsa high school scene would not be what it is today without the organized teams and leagues that feed into the high schools. Beginning in second grade, I was fortunate to play organized sports for the next 11 years in Tulsa. I thank my dad for taking the time to be my coach for most of those years. We would go year round from football to basketball to baseball. We lived sports 24/7 at my house. My dad never met a ballpark he did not like. If we were not playing at one of the many Tulsa youth fields or parks such as Johnson, Ziegler, Chandler, McClure, Reed and others we were watching it on television or in person at nearby Oiler Park, Skelly Stadium, the ORU Titan Field House, LaFortune Park or the Tulsa Convention Center. And our outings were not just limited to the local venues. I recall travelling to Oklahoma City in 1977 to watch the NCAA Midwest Regional Final as Al McGuire's Marquette Warriors defeated Wake Forest on their way to the Final Four and the National Championship.

Our Robertson Rockets teams won more games than we lost from 1970 to 1974 finishing third three times with two second place finishes. Most of those same players would go on to play in Tulsa Prep Minor for Williams Auction in 1975 and Glenn's Coney Island in 1976. In 1977, our Big 3 team moved to the North Side Babe Ruth league. I recall a meeting between my dad and legendary Tulsa Oiler Walt Wrona to discuss the creation of the league. If not for the efforts of these two men and Ken Edwards, the Tulsa North Side Babe Ruth league would not have materialized. It was the dedication and determination of these fathers to serve as coaches that would pave the way for that summer of fun in 1977 for several dozen teenagers.

And what a summer it was. Our Big 3 team would tie for second with Wrona’s team but the magnanimous Wrona would acquiesce and award us the second place trophy. Our all star team would travel to McAlester, Oklahoma where we would win the Oklahoma Babe Ruth State Championship. From there we headed to Plainview, Texas to play in the Babe Ruth South West Regional. Although we would lose two games—one to future Texas Longhorn and Boston Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi and his Austin Burger King team--and come home without a win after a rain-delayed schedule kept us there the entire week, I have tons of memories from that summer and the State Championship team. Future Tulsa High School baseball stars Terry Rupe, David Hicks, Rich Zonder, Ken Edwards, Troy Estes and Rick Wrona would all play in Tulsa High School programs and play significant roles on their respective teams.

My closest friend on that team was Ricky Wrona who was only 13 and my back up catcher. However, we had become fast-friends during our first meeting outside the prefab elementary school buildings adjacent to the Bishop Kelley campus that winter night whiling the time away as our two dads met inside to hash out the Babe Ruth Northside League rules. Although two years behind me, he would be the best player of the bunch later starring as "Rick" Wrona for Tulsa Bishop Kelly, Wichita State and the Chicago Cubs. He would pass on his fathers' legacy by showing me his secret to breaking in a catcher's mitt. I never thought it was that labor-intensive but that glove was my all-time favorite and fit literally "like a glove." My parents thought I was crazy sitting in my room all winter pouring water in the mitt and pounding a baseball into it for hours. I would then place two baseballs inside the glove and tie it tight with shoestrings for overnight storeage. We shared stories and cut-up in the backseat of my parents car for the long ride to Plainview, Texas for the Babe Ruth Regional and would room at the same "host" home for a week. Two years later as a freshman, he continued his ribbing of me by reminding me how bad my football team was while running into the end zone to retrieve the extra points his brother Billy's Bishop Kelley football team was piling up on us.

The next year I was also fortunate to play on a star-studded team. My high school did not field a team in the summer of 1978; however, after a one-day tryout as an outfielder (fortunately my one long throw made it to the catcher on one-hop,) I made the Tulsa Western team in the South Side Mickey Mantle league. We played our games at the old Mason High School field. This team had been together for years and was loaded. Of the starting nine players seven would play on the 1980 Tulsa Memorial State Championship Baseball team and a few others would play on the 1979 Tulsa Nathan Hale State Championship football team. A talented bunch indeed. Guys like Scott Logsdon, Mike Robinson, Kelly Bell, Tom Dutton, Robbie Duncan, Pete Engler and Rob Fretwell were some of the best players to ever play in Tulsa. We were fortunate to be sponsored by a deep pocketed local sponsor and our coach Bob Duncan owned the local Buck’s Sporting Goods store. So we had top-drawer uniforms with matching red Converse All Star cleats and satin red jackets with our names on the back! We looked like big-time and played like it too. I think we won a few games during the walk from the parking lot.

Also, I was fortunate the coaches son, Robbie Duncan, liked pitching better than catching. He was equally talented at both positions. So although I made the team as an outfielder, I started the majority of games as a catcher that summer affording the younger Duncan the opportunity to pitch more often. We compiled a 41-9 record that year and beat Scott Seay and Jesse Vann’s North Side Mickey Mantle Champions in the State Championship game in Tulsa. It was the first time I had played in a tournament where the top two teams came from separate brackets undefeated. We were fortunate to win two straight to qualify for the Regional Tournament in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Although, we lost in the finals to the Dallas Stars, the first state championship game was most meaningful to me. I was just as surprised as the rest of the team as Coach Duncan told me I was leading off to start the first game. I had been a .250 average hitter all summer while batting in the seventh hole. However, I rarely struck out and made consistent contact so, looking for an edge, Duncan surmised my left-hand batting stance would be confusing to their pitcher and could throw them off stride. It was a brilliant move as I rewarded my coaches confidence by lining the first pitch off the center field wall for a double and later scored the games first run. Later that fall at my first day of football practice, one of my high school coaches Charles Nance, told me he almost fell out of his chair as he was watching the start of the game during one of the local sports live telecasts and recognized the skinny kid running to second base. After Las Cruces, my two summers of fun came to an end. However, I would be reunited with some of my teammates three years later. Of the players from both those state championship teams in summer league play, 13 would comprise the 1980 Tulsa World All-City Baseball First and Second Team selections. I was fortunate to be named to the second team.

Tulsa has fielded many outstanding teams and players over the years and my experience only offers a small snapshot in time of this illustrious history. However, this is my story from my memory bank and I am just proud to have been a part of the rich and storied history of the local Tulsa sports scene. It was a simpler time when players played and fathers coached. We all owe a debt to the many men and women who have made sacrifices to teach a sport to their youth. I was fortunate to have played for many outstanding such men during my sports career. Most notably was my father who taught me the fundamentals and instilled the passion and drive to compete while not always winning or being the best player on the team. I still recall not making the fifth grade Pop Warner All Star football team and watching my dad take four teammates to play at Skelly Stadium as coach.

However, there were funny stories my mom has recently related to me as well. Being a coaches son puts tremendous pressure on you. The obvious criticism is that you get to play just because you are the coaches son. One example occured when I was in third grade. My dad had just returned from Tampa and took over the coaching reigns from the two women who kept the team afloat the first season. One parent grumbled that I was only getting to catch because of my dad. So, my dad (who was never one to back down from an argument) started the next practice by holding a catching tryout. He took every player and had them put the catching equipment on and they had to catch one inning of practice. Most never grew accustomed to wearing the heavy mask, bulky chest protector and shinguards. A few would not even put on the protective cup! The others quickly soured on the task the first time a ball bounced in the dirt and hit them in the thigh. The experiment was soon over and I was the logical choice for the position. I look back now and laugh because that parent never had a chance. He was unaware of the Polaroids from Tampa and my Johnny Bench rookie cards!

As I progressed further, I was fortunate to play for men like Ken Edwards and Bob Duncan who fine-tuned the skills of many different players to make championship teams. And, in high school I was also blessed to have been associated with and played for some very outstanding coaches. Men like Bill Allen, Mark Gibson, Harold Cagle and Gene Hart and Charles Nance who saw something in me that made them care enough to challenge me to be the best player I could become. And give me an opportunity. Coach Hart was the head baseball coach and also served as the defensive backfield coach in football. So besides wanted to impress him on the baseball field I also wanted to prove to him I could play some football. My sophomore year I was one of four players who made the varsity team. After spending the first several games charting plays in the press box, injuries pushed me into a uniform and onto the sidelines on Friday nights. I was the third string quarterback and cornerback. We had a senior quarterback so I had little chance to play on offense.

However, defense was another story because we only won one game that year (our last one in Oklahoma City against NW Classen in historic Taft Stadium was memorable for the post-game riot which caused us to hurredly exit the stadium in full pads without showering) and opportunities were plenty. It only took eight quarters of play to letter so I was intensely focused on getting onto the field anyway I could. It finally happened in game four at Sapulpa. It was late in the fourth quarter and we were getting pounded as usual 33 to 14. After several long touchdown passes over the free safety, Coach Hart kept turning to us bystanders a few feet away and asking why someone could not stop those long passes. Each time he would look at me and soon realize there were better options. I was just happy he was acknowledging us during a game. I think that instance was the first time a coach had actually spoken to me during a game! However, after another long pass, in a burst of frustration he turned to me and asked if I could play safety. By this time, sensing the moment, I had put on my helmet, fastened my chinstrap, put in my mouthpiece and was standing right next to him. A quick "sir, yes sir" was all he needed to hear and in his brief lapse of reality he sent me into the game. I can still recall running onto the field and into the huddle. The look on the seniors faces probably matched the incredulity on the faces of my parents, as well!

So, I made it into the huddle and tapped the senior safety, Wendell Hillhouse, on the shoulder and said "You're out" and oh by the way, "what are your reads?" He quickly told me my reads and headed off the field. Playing free safety is not that difficult as you freelance quite a bit. Basically, you just get as deep as the deep and do not let anyone get behind you and you have some run support duties, as well. However, I was the third string cornerback. I had not played safety since Junior High School. I had talked my way onto the field and now was just praying they would not pass my direction. As fate would have it the first play was a pass. I am sure the opposing quarterback was salivating at the opportunity when he got under center and saw all 135-pounds of me standing seven yards away scared to death. The quarterback took the snap and faked to the fullback which should have froze me in my tracks. Then the tight end released which should have sent me scurrying back into pass protection.

However, I misread the tight end and stepped up for run support. The correct read was to protect the deep for a pass when the tight end released and let the linebacker cover the tight end. So I stepped right into the middle of the pass and quickly realized it was "game on" as the ball hit me square in the stomach. My instincts took over and I was soon racing down the sidelines to paydirt. Or so I thought. Soon I heard this huffing and puffing and what sounded like a thundering heard. It was just this fella named Mackey who just happened to be a track star as well as an All-State running back. He sort of looked like the Forest Whitaker character "Lincoln" in the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." I can still recall the thud of his forearm catching me just beneath the chin and the sting of the track surface scraping my forearms as I went spread eagle across the surface and into the chain link fence. However, my gamble had paid off and the pain soon subsided as my senior teammates were quickly grabbing me and patting me on the head. After the bus ride home, Head Coach Mark Gibson had to escort me and my three teammates back to the sophomore locker room to let us in to change and shower. As were were walking up to the door he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You got yourself one tonight, didn't you?"

I would go on to earn my first of three letters in football that first year, and also the first of three in baseball the following spring, thanks to Coach Gene Hart taking a chance on me that fall Friday night in Sapulpa. Upon further reflection, I think that play earned myself a pass with Coach Hart the next spring. We were playing Sand Springs and had a runner on third base. I came to bat in a close game and Coach Hart called a suicide squeeze play. Looking back, I think was so nervous I never even recognized his signal for the bunt. So, my long-time neighbor and senior captain Mike Turner was easily tagged out on my missed assignment. Fortunately, I drove the next pitch 329 feet down the right field line. However, the fence was 330 feet and it was just a long fly ball for the innings final out. Coach Hart never said a word to me about my mistake although his glare from the third base line was all the encouragement I needed.

And finally in college I would play for Keith Hackett at tiny Baker University. He was a fast-talking New York native who was so convincing that he persuaded me to pass the opportunity to attend the University of Oklahoma and head north to Kansas. He was an outstanding offensive line coach on the perennial national power Baker football team who sacrificed his time to save a fledgling baseball team the year before. We played a challenging schedule that consisted of Big 8 and Southwest Conference teams that honed our skills en route to winning the Heart of America Conference Championship in NAIA Division II. After charting pitches the first half of the season, I was starting by spring break and fortunate to letter on a conference championship team. The fact that my mom and dad were able to drive to Fayetteville, Arkansas to see me catch against the Razorbacks made the decision all the better. In hindsight, I guess I validated my dad's decision way back in third grade. To all of these men, a very sincere thanks for taking the time to lead, motivate and teach.

I was not a very good basketball player but played from the fourth grade through my sophomore year in high school. Our fifth grade team won the Westside Kids League Championship and my church team won its’ league championship the next year. Most of my greatest moments came inside my garage on cold winter days. I would hollow out an empty coffee can and nail it to the divider on our garage ceiling. Using a tennis ball and my dad’s wrist watch, I would run back and forth to the stairs to read the NBA box scores in the Tulsa World and play my imaginary games. My favorite team was the New York Knicks who would win NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. My rotation of passes from Walt Frazier to Earl Monroe to Dave DeBusschere, to Bill Bradley and eventually Willis Reed were flawless. Somehow I don’t recall Willis Reed ever missing a banked shot from the ceiling although arch rival Boston Celtic Dave Cowen’s shots always seemed to clank off the lip of the can. This was during the golden age of the NBA of the early 70’s when legends such as Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar,) John Havlicek, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Oscar Robertson, Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and others dominated the game. They all played in my indoor imaginary league. My game would move outside to the driveway when the weather cooperated. I can still remember playing one-on-one against my dad and backing him down directly below the basket where somehow I would always score. I never realized until years later that he was letting me win to boost my confidence and self-esteem.

However, it was in high school that I really saw my talent limitations and realized I would be better off sticking to football and baseball where I was fortunate to letter all three years in both sports. Besides off-season baseball was easier than all the running you had to do in basketball! However, I averaged 13 points on the sophomore team and eight points on the Junior Varsity team. A chronic high arch injury ended my basketball career but with the help of plaster made leather implants I would have no further problems in football or baseball. It was after one non-descript JV game when I received a word of praise from a Tulsa legendary coach that made my day and my season. After scoring my normal eight points in a game, I was walking off the court and headed home when I noticed our former Athletic Director, Bill Allen coming my way. This was the same Bill Allen who had taken his Webster teams to seven state tournaments in the 60’s winning the big one in 1966. I had hardly known that he even knew my name let alone would take time from his schedule to come watch the J.V. team play. However, there he was in his towering presence with his trademark blue sweater with both hands casually tucked inside his front pants pockets as he ambled up to me. I was not sure what he was going to say but was thrilled to have him put his arm around my shoulder and gently say, “Nice game.” It was a small gesture from a great man that I will always remember. He did not have to say anything and probably knew I would never amount to much on the basketball court but he cared enough to let me know his thoughts on that particular night. This is the power coaches have on athletes however limited they may be in talent. I wish more parents and coaches would remember this fact today when teaching their players regardless of their talent level.

Jewel in Chandler

Lazy, hot summers were a part of every kid’s experience growing up in Oklahoma. The hot humid days could sap the strength out of most mortals. However, most kids get bored sitting inside the house watching day time television while enjoying the cool air conditioning. And, there were only so many games you could play by yourself inside without yearning for the outdoors. So it was normal that about mid-June every summer, I was bored with the lazy, hot days. Our Little League baseball seasons ended in early May. I was never a big swimming pool fan but spent my share of time at the nearby watering hole located a few blocks from my house at Reed Park.

Fortunately, by age 11 my mom and dad had discovered the Chandler Baseball Camp in Chandler, Oklahoma. Although we missed the camp sessions in 1972, by early spring 1973 I was eagerly looking forward to my first camp experience! The Chandler Baseball Camp was unlike the normal camp experience. Founded in 1958 by former major leaguer player Bo Belcher, the camp was a baseball purists’ dream. First of all, there were no amenities associated with other notable baseball camps. This was strictly a baseball camp 24/7. There were not any swimming pools, tennis courts or air conditioned cabins on the sprawling 60-acre campus. Campers were divided into one of four age classifications based upon size and talent: Pee Wee; Midget; Prep and Minor. About 200 kids aged 8 to 18 attended several summer sessions beginning in early June through July. Most of the sessions were two weeks in duration; however, the legendary three week sessions in mid-July caught my attention. I attended the Chandler Baseball Camp beginning in July of 1973 and would attend four consecutive years until 1976. I attended the same three week session for four years. At first glance, a three week session in the middle of the summer does not sound like a big deal. However, when you consider it is your first time away from home for a significant time period, 80 miles from home for three straight weeks it becomes a bigger deal.

You realized you were in a different environment the first time you saw the Chandler Baseball Camp compound. Approximately 16 wooden, non-airconditioned cabins were situated in the rolling hills among four stellar, state of the art baseball complexes. Each field featured manicured grass infields (a rarity in local fields most of which featured dirt infields,) major-league dugouts, bleachers for fans and regulation fences complete with signs marking the distances from home plate just like the big leagues. The pitcher mounds actually featured regulation mounds (another rarity for the times.) So you really felt this place was special the first time you saw the compound.

However, what really made the Chandler Baseball Camp special were the people in charge. Tom Belcher, a former major league pitcher for the New York Mets, returned to Oklahoma to take over the reigns of the camp following his playing career. Belcher had a successful major league career as a pitcher with the Mets and felt drawn to his hometown to the camp his father had founded in 1958. Belcher surrounded himself with a group of coaches from around the area to coach the various divisions in his father’s vision to instill the basic fundamentals. The Pee Wee group was comprised of kids aged 8 to 10. The Pee Wee field featured a right field fence of 125’ nestled deep in the woods abutting a local stream. The Midgets played just up the hill and featured kids from 11 to 12. Preps were located just below the Midget field and featured kids from 13 to 15 years old. And, finally, Shean Field was where the high school-aged kids played.

At age 11, I should have easily been classified in the Midget group. However, I was a lanky, skinny kid who was not as developed physically as my 11 and 12 year old counterparts. And, following the first day evaluation session for all 200 campers, the coaches sent me to the Pee Wee league. I was devastated. I was in a cabin with other Midgets but playing with the Pee Wees! My parents were coming up that first weekend for our first games versus out-of-town teams and I just knew how disappointed my dad would be if I was playing in the Pee Wee league with the 8 and 10 year olds. So, after my first day of practice and after a night in my cabin where I cried my self to sleep, I mustered enough courage to approach my coach to request a transfer the next day after practice. I remember cautiously walking up to the coach and trying to explain my dilemma. Although I rehearsed my speech in my mind a thousand times the night before, I quickly broke up and stuttered my way through my declaration. Fortunately, our coach could read through crying, slobbering 11 year old rants and after mildly objecting, accepted my request and sent me to the Midget field. I still remember walking up the hill with my bat and glove and approaching the Midget coach, named Doc Ward. He was nonplussed by my entrance onto the field and told me to take a position in right field. I did not realize it at the time but this was one of the biggest decisions I would make and one of the most rewarding ones of my formative years.

I quickly bonded with my Midget teammates and adapted very well. It helped that one of the first campers to befriend me was a kid smaller than myself named Shannon Brown from Lewisville, Texas. Shannon was a “lifer” who had attended the Chandler Baseball Camps for several years. He quickly took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Right away I knew that the Pee Wee Coach was right. I would just be another player in the Midgets playing against older kids. Plus, I would probably never play my natural position of catcher and be relegated to right field anonymity. Of course, he was right. Had I stayed in the Pee Wee’s, that short 125’ right field porch overlooking the stream would have played naturally into my left-handed batting stance. I would have hit many balls into the woods beyond the stream and been a big Pee Wee stud! However, I knew for my own personal development I needed to be in the Midget league because I did not want to disappoint my dad and mom who were headed to camp that weekend.

Practice was only a small part of the Chandler Baseball Camp experience. Oh yes, you practiced nearly eight hours each day followed by night games each night, but the real experience of the CBC surrounded the life experiences you encountered. First, every camper had a checking account at the main office located atop the hill of the compound. Each parent was responsible for depositing funds in their childs’ checking account. Each camper received their own check books whereby they were accountable for managing their own money. Secondly, each camper lived in a separate wooden cabin with about 12 other campers and an older counselor. The cabins were spread throughout the wooden complex with the younger kids on one side of camp and the older kids on the other side of camp. In the middle was big locker room complete with bathrooms, showers, lockers and community washer and dryers. Everything a baseball camper would need to wash their own clothes! Of course, it helped to make sure your name was prominently written on all clothing articles with a permanent magic marker!

In order to keep track of over 200 youngsters, the camp issued each camper a personal Chandler Baseball Camp T-Shirt complete with your own personal number. The words “Chandler Baseball Camp” were prominently printed on the front with your camp assigned number printed on the back. From the first day, until the coaches could recognize your name, you were not called by your name but rather by the number printed on the back of your T-shirt. Each camp day began promptly at 8 a.m. You did not need your own alarm clock because precisely at 8 a.m. every day the camp speaker system split the summer morning with ear-piercing renditions of the most famous United States Military marches! I can still hear the reverberations from the “Stars and Stripes!” Up at 8 a.m., campers were expected to march up the 100-plus yard trek to the main mess hall located atop the hill for breakfast. Following breakfast, each division met at 9:30 a.m. sharp for the first practice of the morning. These sessions were the most pivotal for learning as they featured individual drills focusing on the fundamentals of baseball, i.e., bunting, fielding, throwing to the cut-off man and hit and runs. Then at noon every day, all 200 campers met at the bottom of the midget field for mail call. At noon every day, the local camp announcer would read the name of every camper who received a letter from home. Not just their name once but for every letter each camper received, the announcer would read their names. So for example, if Shannon Brown received 10 letters that day, the announcer would read his name ten consecutive times. This process may sound silly today but you cannot imagine the rush of anticipation each camper experienced every time the announcer read a campers name.

After a one hour lunch break, all campers were to report back to their respective fields for inter-league games. Each division would divide amongst themselves into individual teams for afternoon competition. Each team was selected by an informal team draft similar to picking teammates in a local game of sandlot baseball back home. However, this was serious stuff as each team battled one another for three weeks for the camp inter-league title at the end of the session. So, I was picked to play on the Pittsburgh Pirates inter-league team. The captain, Grant Jackson, was from Pennsylvania so he picked his hometown team for our inter-league team. Although, I rarely played my normal position of catcher, I played mostly right field and batted in the eighth position in the order. However, I learned a new position and hit .369 that first year as we won our inter-league title that first summer so I felt proud to be apart of the winning team.

The inter-league sessions ended at 3:30 p.m. every day. This afforded the campers just enough time to shower, change and be ready for dinner at 5 p.m. sharp. After a full course meal, the day was not complete. Each night the Chandler Baseball Camp teams would don their New York Yankee pinstripe uniforms and compete against an out-of-town schedule from teams across Oklahoma and the region. If an outside game was not scheduled, the inter-league games would continue. At any rate, campers were playing baseball from 9:30 a.m. until about 8:30 p.m. every night. The highlight of the out-of-town games began with all of the Chandler Baseball Camp teams leaving the locker rooms for their respective fields. In single file fashion each team would line up at their respective right field foul pole. After a brief moment of silence, a loud boom would be set off in a nearby field signaling the campers to begin their nightly trot around the outfield fences to their respective third base dugout to the tunes of “Take Me Out to the Ballpark!” I realize this whole pomp and circumstance sounds hokey today, but in 1973 we thought we were pretty cool!

Following the games all campers would shower and change again. On most nights everyone would congregate back atop the hill to say goodbye to friends and family who had made the trip from home to watch their children and friends play. Many times the camp would show World Series movies against an impromptu screen placed against a nearby tree. I must have seen Cincinnati’s Bernie Carbo tagged out by Baltimore’s Elrod Hendrick’s “phantom tag” at the plate during the 1970 World Series a thousand times, it would seem today (arguably one of the most controversial plays in World Series history, Hendricks tagged Carbo with his glove but replays actually showed he was holding the ball in his bare hand. Umpire Nestor Shylock’s back was actually turned against the tag so he never saw the glove tag anyway. Besides, replays showed Carbo actually missed home plate to begin with.) At 10 p.m. everyone was expected inside their respective cabins and all lights were supposed to be turned out at 10:30 p.m. Of course, many campers soon discovered that by lowering the shudder on your individual screened window, one could hide the glare from the nearby television. This opportunity afforded us the luxury of staying up to watch the rerun of the nightly “Star Trek” episode on the local Oklahoma City television station. However, most of us were so worn out from the daily regimen that we all quickly went to sleep in order to be ready for the next daily grind.

Although the Chandler Baseball Camp intentionally lacked the luxury amenities of other summer camps such as swimming pools, tennis courts, horseback riding and other recreational activities, it made up for those amenities in other areas. Once every week the camp organized trips to nearby downtown Chandler. Camp pick up trucks would depart on the hour to take campers in the back of the truck beds beginning at 1 p.m. You could choose your departure time but everyone had to return at 4 p.m. The highlight of the excursion was the local drugstore for an old-fashioned malt and a visit to the local Dollar Store. Of course, this was in 1973 and times were a lot more innocent and simple then. I cannot imagine an organized camp taking their campers across town in the back of pickup trucks and dropping 8 and 10 year olds off in the middle of downtown unsupervised for up to three hours today! However, this was 1973 and downtown Chandler, Oklahoma was about as innocent and safe as you could come by. The local merchants actually looked forward to our visits (or so we thought, I am sure.)

So this was the regimen. A pretty heavy structured schedule for kids even today. You really had to love baseball to survive the unbearably hot Oklahoma summers and the daily grind. There were several different types of campers from all walks of life and from points all across the globe. First, some of the campers were simply there because there parents had disposable income and wanted to send their kids off to camp for the summer. The fact this was a very serious summer baseball camp did not seem to faze some of these parents because their kids had no more business attending the Chandler Baseball Camp than some of us would have had at their local County Club pool. Most of these players never played a down on their local football team or ever picked up a baseball on their local summer league baseball team. Secondly, there were a group of campers whose parents were really devoted to the development of their children’s baseball progress. So these kids were fairly dedicated baseball junkies whose individual talent levels fluctuated widely. And, finally, there were other kids there whose parents were not independently wealthy nor were they gifted physically. These kids were just hanging out at a summer camp, oblivious of the fact this one actually featured fierce competition and a rigorous daily schedule, and probably never made the cut on their local league teams, either.

Besides the fundamentals, the disciplined daily schedule, personal growth and development associated with being on your own for the first time complete with your own checkbook, the main benefit of the Chandler Baseball Camp for me was the individual relationships you developed with your fellow campers. I still remember the welcoming gesture my friend Shannon Brown extended to me on that lonely walk up the hill that first day. He was a fellow camper for three of the four years of my visits. Another friend was Eddie Merklen from Brooklyn, New York. He also attended each of the four three-week July sessions I attended. He was a left-handed flame-throwing pitcher and excellent fielder, as well. There were familiar names I recall, as well. Cody Graves was a tall, lanky home run hitter that first summer in Midget Leagues. Today, most Oklahomans know him from his Corporation Commission stint and run for Governor. I know him because of our friendship established on the ball fields of Chandler, Oklahoma. Another familiar face is Bill Self. Now he is a successful head basketball coach of the University of Kansas Jayhawks. But back then, he was just my teammate from Edmond, Oklahoma at the Chandler Baseball Camp.

Of course, today I have lost touch with all of these friends. I am sure their memories still abound just like mine do today. We have all grown up and apart and are raising our own families today. About 20 years ago I was traveling on the Turner Turnpike returning home to Tulsa from Norman. It was a cool Summer night and I was just trying to survive the mundane turnpike drive home when I saw the Chandler exit. I had passed this exit many times while in college at the University of Oklahoma and never thought twice about stopping. However, this night was different. For some reason I was drawn to take this exit and return to my baseball camp roots. Probably out of curiosity more than anything, I winded my way through Chandler up the hill to the baseball camp. Once there I got out of my car and stood atop the hill and just took in the entire scene. The place had not changed much and my childhood memories were running through my memory when a familiar voice rang out. “Can I help you?” Sure enough it was Tom Belcher the camp owner. We had a brief exchange and I explained who I was and my past attendance of the camp and why I stopped by. He was friendly but unfortunately did not remember me. I can hardly blame him as I was just one of the 20,000 other campers who had attended the camp. However, it was a nice visit and I was soon on my way back to Tulsa.
I was saddened recently to learn of Tom Belcher’s passing last May while conducting research for this book. You can learn a lot about the greatness of a man from what other people say about him after his passing. I found a link to a local funeral home where he was laid to rest. The eulogies keep rolling on the website with one kind word after another from past campers who knew Tom Belcher from their days at the Chandler Baseball Camp.

I am sure there are many kids who have fond memories of their childhood camp experiences and many who enjoyed the luxurious trappings of swimming pools, horse back riding and air conditioned cabins. However, I cannot think of a more enjoyable or memorable experience growing up in Oklahoma than the four summers I spent at the Chandler Baseball Camp. I have Tom Belcher to thank for carrying the torch his father Bo created in 1958. Today the Chandler Baseball Camp is no more; although, it has reopened under new ownership. I wish the new ownership much success and luck. However, I doubt the Chandler Baseball Camp I remember will ever be resurrected again. The times have changed and baseball does not capture the attention of today’s youth like it did in the 1970’s. Today, video games, computers, iPods, Xboxes and cell phones compete for the attention of today’s youth. However, there was once a time that baseball was king and I am fortunate to have been a part of that time in the hills of Chandler Oklahoma.

Heroes In The Heartland

My initial post of this story was in 2007 and concentrates on my Oklahoma youth and sports experiences that shaped my adolescence. However, after witnessing the dramatic action in Oklahoma City the past two weeks, I thought it was worthy of an update that includes an adult experience.

The Oklahoma Sooners softball team captured the 2013 Women's College World Series Tuesday night. The Sooners defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 4-0 to win the program's second National Championship.

However, the story of this part of my Oklahoma Sports History was what happened in Game 1 on Monday night in Oklahoma City.

The Sooners pulled off an incredible comeback and defeated Tennessee 5-3 on a dramatic 12th inning walk-off home run by Lauren Chamberlain. It was Chamberlains' 30th home run of the year and tops in the NCAA.

The dramatic comeback included rallying after twice facing their last out in the bottom of the 11th inning after Tennessee took what appeared to be a commanding 3-0 lead in the top of the 11th with a line drive homer to deep center.

But the Sooners never wavered. They battled back and scored 3 runs of their own to tie the game and even left the winning run out at third base when Callie Parsons tried to stretch a double into a triple.

No worries. Two-time National Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts responded with a three up and three down 12th and then the ladies began their own version of "Sooner Magic!"

Speedster Brianna Turang led off the inning with a slap-stick double to the left field wall. This brought up Chamberlain who wasted no time in settling matters. She took the first pitch deep down the left field line and with a towering blast, the Sooners smashed their way home. The win made the Game 2 victory almost anti-climatic as they would go on to win their second National Championship the following night.

Incredulous. Awe-Inspiring. Relentless Determination.

Pick an adjective. Any adjective. Because this victory was one for the history books. Not only because of the dramatic fashion in which the Sooners came back in Game 1 but because of the emotional backdrop this College World Series was contested.

You see, earlier in the month, on May 20, an F5 tornado blew threw the Oklahoma City metro area and devastated the community of Moore, Oklahoma. A total of 24 people lost their lives including 9 elementary school children who were covering in the hallway of their school.

The devastation quickly became national headlines as the national media descended upon Oklahoma. Heart-breaking stories of loss, devastation and life-changing events circulated among the news media.

However, no less devastating than any other life, one loss became more known because of the Sooners. Nine year old Sydney Angle was one of the third graders at the Moore Elementary school who lost her life in the tornado. Her little sister Casey was quickly adopted by the Sooners and became their honorary batgirl in Oklahoma City.

Then, just when you thought it could not get any worse, another devastating F5 tornado hit Oklahoma City again during the College World Series on Friday, May 31. This tornado hit just west of Oklahoma City outside the city of El Reno and took a total of 20 lives with three missing in addition to cancelling that days play of the College World Series.

So as the Sooners were capturing the hearts of Oklahoma on the field, they were capturing the hearts of the nation off of it.

While death and destruction were circling all around them, the Oklahoma Sooners were circling the bases en route to a second national championship. And in convincing fashion. They smashed the Big 10 Champions Michigan 7-1 in Game 1. Up next was arch rival Texas. No problem. A 10-2 run rule victory. The Pac 10 Huskies from Washington were next and the Sooners won easily 6-2 to earn the right to play in their second consecutive Womens College World Series.

You remember last year don't you? The Sooners were favored to beat Alabama and after a win in Game 1 certainly seemed on their way to their second national championship. However, they lost Game 2 and after taking a 3-0 lead in Game 3, time, rain and a series of Ricketts wild pitches allowed Alabama back in the game. The Crimson Tide completed their comeback after a rain delay and Alabama would defeat the Sooners for the National Championship.

So despite the weather problems, and the dramatic national story unfolding a few miles all around them, this Oklahoma team displayed the grit and determination of their coach Patty Gasso and dug a little bit deeper this year and proved they belong in the discussion as one of the greatest Women's College World Series Champions of NCAA history.

I'll take it a step further.

How about one of the greatest teams in Oklahoma sports history?

Yep. Right up there with the 74' & 75' Sooners football dynasty. Certainly no less than any of the other 5 Sooner Football National Champions either. Let's wait for another National Championship before we start the Bud Wilkinson comparisons. But you can put Chamberlains' 12th inning walk-off Monday night right up there with "Joe Go Joe" in 1975 and "The Kick" in 1977 in my Sooners greatest plays ever book! And what about Big Game Bob? Yes, Gasso now has more National Championships including a victory over an SEC team! Sorry Coach Stoops. We still love you but you're now one behind Patty!

Patty Gasso has now cemented her name firmly on the Oklahoma and Women's College World Series record books. Her 32-year head coaching record is simply remarkable:

1,032 Career wins vs. 338 losses & 2 ties (.753 avg.)
871 Oklahoma wins vs. 279 losses & 2 ties (.757 avg.)
228-77 Big 12 Career--Best Ever (75%)
5x Big 12 Coach of the Year
5 Regular Season Big 12 Championships
4 Big 12 Tournament Championships
2nd or Higher Big 12 Finishes 13x's
19 Consecutive Post-Season Appearances
7 College World Series Appearances
2 College World Series Championships

Hey Joe Castiglione, better get the donors working on another statue for Gasso!

This team was so loaded from top to bottom that Gasso's 7, 8 & 9 hitters, Destinee Martinez, Callie Parsons and Brianna Turang, were heroes all season including the regional against Arkansas and again on Monday night in Oklahoma City. And the sparkplug to this outfit was former leadoff hitter Turang who Gasso moved to the nine hole earlier this season to set-up Chamberlain's power. This on top of having All-America & NCAA home run champ Lauren Chamberlain at lead-off, followed by Georgia Casey, All Pac 10 Player Shelby Pendley and two-time National Player of the Year & All-America Ricketts at the top of the order. Add in the 3rd Sooners All-America Jessica Shults for seasoning. Talk about a "Murderers Row!"

This team was so loaded that after tossing 188 pitches in a career-high 12 innings in the Game 1 victory, Keilani Ricketts didn't pitch in Game 2 having been bypassed for Michelle Gascoigne. And the Sooners rolled anyway. Gasciogne pitched a 3-hit shutout, struck out 12 and didn't walk anyone. At one point, she retired 15 of 16 straight hitters. And how about Ricketts? All she did was help her teammates with her bat instead of her arm by driving a 2-1 pitch halfway up the right field bleachers for a 3-run home run in the third inning, her 15th homer of the year, and tacked on an RBI groundout in the seventh accounting for all 4 Oklahoma runs, pushing her RBI total to 60.

This Sooners team was a dominating force all year, carrying the #1 banner from the first week and leading the nation in scoring and earned-run average, finishing the season with a 57-4 record including an undefeated run through the post season. They outscored their opponents by 402 runs, including a run differential of 75 in 10 post season games. That's an incredible 7.5 runs per game in the post season!

And with every great team, one dominating player emerges. And that player for these Sooners was Ricketts. She finished the season with a 35-1 record in the circle with a 1.23 ERA. She also hit for power as well. And as great as her pitching was all year, who will ever forget her towering fly ball in the 11th inning Tuesday night with two outs that seemed to circle high above the Tennessee players forever. And just when you thought the Sooners would lose game 1, the Oklahoma winds came sweeping down the plain and moved her fly ball back into play where it fell in for a stand-up double.

Yes, the unpredictable Oklahoma weather wreaked havoc on the communities of Moore and El Reno and touched a nations' heart but just as incredibly, mother nature worked a little magic for the Sooners on a night when they needed a little help and a battered state needed a little comfort.

Call it Sooner Magic, ladies and gentleman because that is what it was on Monday night. The Sooners bats did the rest to finish this incredible story.

And earn a spot in my Oklahoma Sports Memories collection!


Sports is a great metaphor for life. Growing up in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I cannot think of a better time to come of age from a social and sporting perspective. The social unrest and political instability of the period combined with an unpopular war to create an environment which was perfect for sports to fill the cultural void for millions of kids.

Today, corporate sponsors, agents, 24-hour cable television networks and the internet have created a virtual sports world where we have instant access to our sports heroes. The 24-hour news cycle and 24/7 access exposes the good, bad and ugly associated with today's athlete. Certainly, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Brown and other sports stars of the 60's and 70's had their fair share of off-the-field problems. However, the times were less cynical and the relationship between the athletes and the press was more collegial.

So the times have changed, the money is astronomical and the stakes have never been higher for today's sports heroes. Don't get me wrong. There was plenty of money in the 1970's. Reggie Jackson signed a multi-million contract with the New York Yankees in 1976. Although Jackson was spotless off the field, his money pales in comparison to today's athletes. Despite the constant news cycle on point for the slightest slip up by our sports stars, there are still heroes among us. Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning has excelled on the field and off the field with a spotless reputation. And, he has never been linked to any steroids scandal. Manning's coach Tony Dungy is a religious man who leads by example. And, Joe Torre won several World Series Championships while managing the New York Yankees and never made the tabloids for off-the-field indescretions. In college sports, Joe Paterno at Penn State, Bob Stoops at the University of Oklahoma, Mack Brown at Texas and Jim Tressel at Ohio State are all men of high moral conviction who have established winning legacies of sportsmanship and leadership at their respective universities.

Today college football coaches are making $4 million per year and NFL quarterbacks are signing $65 million contracts to play football. The NFL has a multi-billion television contract that is increasing with every renegotiation. ESPN controls the airways and has been responsible for creating new sports and football teams at schools that never even thought about funding a football operation. And, of course, designer steroids and other performance enhancing drugs have created their own cottage industry which is effectively destroying the reputations of top stars and the leagues that depend upon their authenticity as athletes. The drug scandals have not been limited to the major leagues either. Just this year Olympic track and field Star Marion Jones was sentenced to prison for lying under oath about her drug use during her career.

However, for all of these excesses, the foundation of the sports world has not changed. Youth leagues are still being formed and fathers all across the country are taking time from their busy schedules to teach their sons the fundamentals of sportsmanship. One child at a time they are instilling the same character-building blocks of discipline, hard work, and teamwork that the athletes of the 1960's were taught. The times they are a changing but the dream lives on in millions of athletes every day.

One thing that has not changed is the role of parental influence. I was fortunate that my parents were married for 39 years and were the bedrock of my foundation. They were always there for me encouraging me every step of the way. I lived in two houses growing up and my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a fantasy world of sports where the heroes were larger than life. Fortunately, the heroes were men like Landry, Staubach, Lilly, Bench, Owens, Hughes and Selmon. All first-class citizens as well as athletes. I was also fortunate to have an Aunt living in Miami, Florida who saw fit to purchase my first Sports Illustrated subscription as a youngster. I can still recall the anticipation of running to the mailbox after school to see who made the SI cover.

Culturally, the times are vastly different from the 1960's. Although the political times are not as feverish, we are fighting a new war on terror against Radical Islamic Extremists who want to annihilate us. Although not completely solved, race relations have improved and the barriers to entry to the public consciousness and opportunity have largely been overcome. Especially in the equal opportunity world of sports where decisions are based upon results. African-Americans and Hispanic athletes dominate football, basketball and baseball. They can thank the pioneering trailblazers from the 60's including a young black man from Louisville who opened doors with his brash manner and revolutionary style. Politically, we have a black man running for President with a solid chance of winning his party's nomination. And, we also have a woman running for President, as well. Ironically, the likely challenger from the Republican side is a former Navy pilot who was shot down over Vietnam and spent years in a P.O.W. camp. Who would have guessed in 1969 that nearly 40 years later a Vietnam P.O.W. would be running for President of the United States against a man of color or a woman? Yes, we have come a long way since the anti-war protests, race riots and feminist movements of the 1960's but we still have a long way to go for complete harmony and reconciliation.

I am sure this historical snapshot will be overwhelming for Lucy when she learns to read and can comprehend the story. However, it was written for her and hopefully will impart a bit of history, both from a country and family background, that she will enjoy and share with her family some day. Lucy and my father have a bond she does not know yet. They were both orphans. My father grew up in an orphanage most of his youth. He actually had to leave the Wyandotte Indian School to go straight to the Navy in World War II. His mother died when he was a baby and his father could not provide a stable home life for him so he put him in an orphanage where he knew he would be taken care of and loved. I learned many stories about my father at his eulogy for his funeral in 1992. Now looking back, all the love and unselfish support he provided me is even more meaningful knowing his background. He never talked much about it or his family who we never knew. I recall remarking to my aunt on the eve of his funeral that I regretted not talking to my dad more. She replied that he communicated plenty enough to me through sports.

Today, we live in a high-speed, 24/7, wired world of instant gratification. We have remote controls for our televisions, text messaging for our cell phones and instant messaging for our computers. Buzzwords of the day are "metrosexuals," "multi-tasking," "blogging," "war on terror," and "politically correct." We get our news online, our food in the microwave, watch our movies on DVD's, tape our shows on Tivo and post our thoughts on our MySpace site. However, for all the advances in technology that have made our life easier, the basic tenets of human interaction remain the same--personal friendships. I am fortunate to have a great group of friends from college with varied interests. We live far apart and don't see each other very often. However, every year when the summer gives way to the fall we reunite to support our alma mater, the University of Oklahoma Sooners. For a while every Saturday, the present morphs into the past as old acquaintances reunite for a common cause. The players names may change but the dream stays the same as we stress over every play, worry about every turnover and cling to the belief that our team is better than the opponent that day. It's a common bond through sports that draws us together. Lucy's Chinese ancestors have a word for it called: "guanxi." It means the glue of interpersonal relationships that bonds families and people together.

I don't want to wax philosophical about how sports can solve all of our problems and make the world a better place and build character and friendships. But in addition to all those things they can make us feel a little better, give us a sense of purpose and provide pleasant memories for a while. In my case, a lifetime.


Sports Memories said...

This story is an excellent historical recap of growing up in the 1960's and the impact sports can have on America's youth.

terrymary said...

Thanks for the photo of my cousin, Howard Twilley!

Mary Twilley Haines
Overland Park, Kansas (Kansas City)

Alboo@alboo.net said...

The SHAME that a writer this gifted at capturing the adolescent mind of a Sooner in the 1970's would wrongly attribute the incredible Joe Washington "GO JOE!!!!" call to John Brooks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbirSv4kgNA It was Mike Treps who ceased being a broadcaster and unleashed the zeal running down the spine of every fanatical true believer in the Sooner Nation. Mike Treps did play by play, John Snyder did color. In 1977 for 1 year we had a sorry #@$%^&*() play by play man I swear was rooting for Texas; Brooks did not come until 1978.

Sports Memories said...

Thanks for the clarification.

I did give Treps credit for the call in the article. He's obviously the one on the yahoo clip I posted so I knew it was him.

I mistakenly believed Brooks was in the booth with him then and confused his tenure calling games. His bio says he started calling games at OU in 1974. I guess he just called basketball then.

So I have corrected and reposted.