My Dad had two rules for my four brothers and me growing up – don’t ride motorcycles and don’t play organized football.
Why? Because you can really get hurt with either activity.
My Dad loved to watch football and he actually played varsity football at Cherokee High School in Cherokee, Oklahoma, back in the late 1930s. He also played varsity basketball and baseball (he was so good at baseball, he played minor league ball for several years). He would have played golf for his high school if they had a team back then.
My first real introduction to football was sitting in our living room in 1968 and watching Dad watch the Dallas Cowboys. This was fairly intriguing.
While in the fifth grade at Burbank Elementary School, I tried to join the football team. The coach’s son was the quarterback and I got mad at him in the first practice and quit. I figured I had no future in the sport if the coach didn’t like me.
The Dallas Cowboys were really good back then and I became a fan.
One of my brothers disobeyed my Dad’s wishes and went out for the football team at Nathan Hale High School. He was 6-3 and weighed 190 pounds – a big guy for back then. He didn’t want to play football but an assistant coach had him in a class and he talked him into it. Of course, my brother got hurt and had to quit.
Another brother played basketball and temporarily ran track. He was quick as a cat. He was a starting guard on the Ranger basketball team that included Brent Blackman, who later signed with Oklahoma State University and starred as a quarterback. Blackman told my brother he could be a pretty good football player but he never made a serious attempt to do so.
Another brother was an outstanding baseball and basketball player who went to college on athletic scholarships. He was stout and very athletic. He would have been a great linebacker in high school, but again, Dad didn’t want us playing football.
In 1970, I discovered Oklahoma Sooner football. OU was outstanding under the late Chuck Fairbanks. I went to junior college in Tulsa my freshman year and then transferred to OU for my last three years.
I wanted to be a sportswriter and I worked on the daily student newspaper. During those three years, under Coach Barry Switzer, OU lost only one game (to Kansas) and won two national titles.
I was hooked on football.
In this state, football is so tied to pageantry and school loyalty. There is nothing to compare to hearing almost 90,000 people cheer as a football team takes the field to do battle.
Oklahoma is amazingly blessed to have three major college programs – OU, OSU and Tulsa – in the same state. The level of play is remarkable and so is fan support (for the most part).
I started my journalistic career as a sportswriter in 1976 at the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. A year later, I switched to news because it was a better career path.
But even in my early career, I moonlighted by covering high school football games around the state in place like Morris, Gore, Webber’s Falls, Hominy, Caney Valley, Catoosa, Coweta, Twin Oaks, Stroud, Locust Grove, Nowata, Dewey, Pawhuska, Sand Springs, Bixby, Jenks, Sapulpa, Collinsville, Liberty, Glenpool, Kiefer, Mounds, Broken Arrow, Inola and others.
It was fun to drive to those towns and see how excited folks were to see their boys play ball on a brisk fall Friday night.
Decades ago, I had a weekend where I covered a Thursday night high school game and then drove to Dallas on Friday for the annual OU-Texas game at the Cotton Bowl and then went to the old Dallas Cowboy Stadium to see the Cowboys play the San Francisco 49ers.
What a weekend lineup.
I still write sports stories and during the season, two brothers, a nephew and Jeff Brucculeri and I predict the outcome of college football games. That starts next week and it’s a lot of fun.
When we first started the Tulsa Beacon in 2001, we tried to cover high school football but that was impossible.
We didn’t have the manpower to cover the games nor the space in the paper to run the stories. Plus, by Thursday, most fans are concerned about the upcoming Friday game rather the one played six days previously.
So, we concentrate on covering OU, OSU and TU. The idea is to do a better job with a smaller number of teams and that works pretty well.
This year, OU could win the Big 12 and the national championship but so could OSU. OU has a new coach and OSU has maybe the best offense in the land. Despite preseason predictions, I think Tulsa could win its division in the American Athletic Conference and then win the conference. Coach Phillip Montgomery is building a great program.
A lot of guys get hurt playing football. I told my two boys that I didn’t want them playing varsity football (or riding motorcycles) and they didn’t.
It is a rugged sport but it sure is fun to watch.