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Bob Barry Sr. Steps Down After a Half Century of Sports Broadcasting on Oklahoma Airwaves

By Darl DeVault

Bob BarryBob Barry Sr. finished his broadcasts for University of Oklahoma men’s basketball in March as the last of a historic career bridging back 50 years to 1961, when former OU head coaching legend Bud Wilkinson selected him to be the “Radio Voice of the Sooners.” Barry had just turned 80 in February.

After wrapping his football-announcing career, he had called 566 Division 1 college football games, and more than 1,430 men’s basketball games, conveying the action to several generations of radio audiences.

Barry is legendary for creating memorable experiences and passing along his love of Oklahoma college sports by convincing his radio listeners they were experiencing the action first-hand.

“How you broadcast is important,” Barry said. “By making the person’s mind see what you’re saying, you paint a picture in the minds of listeners. To me, that lives.”

By calling the action with such accuracy and vigor, Barry invited his radio listeners’ imaginations to witness the scene, to “be there” in the action, helping fans visualize the plays. His phrases invoked the speed, action and ruggedness of major college football while his concrete words painted a vivid picture, often counting down the yard markers to a rushing touchdown – perhaps his signature phrase.

Barry points to sharing plenty of detail with listeners in his radio broadcasts as the hallmark of a successful announcing career. He spent eight hours per game preparing his football spotter boards from the information contained in athletes’ statistics and bios. Early on, he was his own on-site production assistant, talent statistician, spotter, researcher and stage manager to accomplish his mission of informing the listener. More recently, he had the help of a broadcast team.

Quick to give credit to the team that helped him put together broadcasts, Barry could hear the crew of five on his headset intercom – the spotter, statistician, color commentator, commercial director and sideline reporter all contributing to the program.

Barry broadcast OU football and men’s basketball games until 1972, when the school’s radio broadcast partnership changed. He was soon offered the same position at OSU, and also broadcast TU Golden Hurricanes’ men’s basketball in the 1973-74 season.

Young Bob BarryHe then became even better known throughout the state and region as the voice of the OSU Cowboys’ football and men’s basketball teams for 18 years, from 1973 to 1990. He called the play-by-play during Barry Sanders’ 1988 Heisman Trophy season, when OSU head coach Mike Gundy was the quarterback.

Sanders’ 100-yard kickoff return to start his Heisman season opener is perhaps the best example of Barry’s signature yardage-countdown to a TD. Sanders caught the ball one yard deep in the endzone and ran so fast straight up the middle of the field that Barry struggled to announce the yard markers as OSU’s greatest running back jetted untouched to a score.

“I had a great time up there those 18 years,” Barry said. “They took me in and accepted me as one of them, rather than asking why’s this Sooner doing our broadcasts – that was gratifying at the time because I didn’t know if they would accept me.”

Since 1991, in his second stint at OU, Barry again brought games to life as the Sooner Sports Radio Network football and men’s basketball play-by-play announcer. He was the radio voice of the early Bob Stoops-era national championship in 2000. He called the action for OU’s Heisman winners Jason White and Sam Bradford, along with Adrian Peterson’s dazzling freshman season NCAA rushing record. He also may have had the most difficult job in college basketball – trying to describe the heroics of national Player of the Year Blake Griffin’s athleticism at OU.

“I was astounded by what some of the Sooners accomplished during my career there, such as Steve Owens carrying the ball 56 times against OSU to win the Heisman,” Barry said. “A special moment was when Jack Mildren told me if OU didn’t win their first game against Texas with their newly installed wishbone offense, they were never going to beat them.”

Born in Oklahoma City, Barry graduated from Classen High School; he attended OU to study business and pitch for the Sooners’ freshman baseball team. In 1951, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for four years.

Returning from the Air Force to live in Norman in 1955, Barry broadcast Norman High School football and men’s basketball from 1956 to 1961. During that period, Wilkinson’s sons Jay and Pat played football there, and Barry feels that may have earned him a tryout as broadcaster for Oklahoma football games.

In a foreword he wrote in 2006 to “The Oklahoma Football Encyclopedia,” authored by Ray Dozier, Barry says, “I was fortunate that Bud selected me over 13 other contestants to be OU’s play-by-play announcer in 1961.”

He clearly appreciated his long-time association with OU, which he terms “one of the most illustrious and colorful football programs in the country.” He readily shared historic insights into famous and infamous sports moments in the school’s programs, some of it gleaned from his role as a day-to-day working journalist in the Oklahoma City market.

“The notoriety of being the voice of the Sooners on radio got me the job at Channel 4 in Oklahoma City,” Barry said.

Barry joined WKY-TV (now KFOR-TV Channel 4) in 1966 as a television sports anchor, and became sports director in 1970. He went on to serve as that Oklahoma City NBC affiliate’s sports anchor for 43 years. He retired from anchoring sportscasts in 2008 after relinquishing sports director duties to his son, Bob Barry Jr., in 1997.

He was the 1993 recipient of the “Pioneer Award” presented by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters for his many years of distinguished accomplishments in radio and television. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and earned Oklahoma Sportscaster of the Year honors a record 15 times while becoming a statewide sports icon. For that, his peers elected him to the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1998.

In 2009, OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism, Media Arts and Strategic Communications recognized him as a distinguished alumnus. In 2010, the OU Board of Regents and OU Alumni Association presented Barry its Regents’ Alumni Award for his dedication and service in a testament to his important role in the life of the university.

Young Bob BarryFellow OU journalism alum Bob Burke and fellow broadcaster Michael Dean wrote a book, “Voice of Bedlam: The Life of Bob Barry,” published by the Oklahoma Heritage Association. They stated that with his 50+ years as a radio sportscaster, Barry has broadcast more major college sporting events on radio as the play-by-play announcer than anyone else in history. The book’s title refers to Barry having called every Bedlam football game between OU and OSU as part of that famous in-state rivalry as either the voice of the Sooners or Cowboys for a half century.

It was perhaps ironic that Barry’s last regular-season play-by-play call was a Bedlam basketball game. He broadcast that game March 5 from Lloyd Noble Center, where OU won its last game of the regular season to atone for their loss at OSU a month earlier.

In Barry’s honor, OU recently created a fundraising campaign to endow a student-enrichment fund to benefit Gaylord College programs for students interested in sports journalism. The Bob Barry Endowment for Student Sports Programs allows students to participate in educational enrichment opportunities, including travel to report on events away from campus, such as NFL and NBA drafts, out-of-town athletic contests and bowl and championship games.

“I am so amazed and honored that OU has chosen to establish the Bob Barry Endowment for Student Sports Programs,” Barry said. “I am proud of the idea that OU student journalists will get to attend important sports events away from the campus.”

The Sooners showed their appreciation for his long career by honoring Barry at halftime during his last football broadcast in November 2010 at Owen Field. The university announced they were naming the sixth floor of OU’s press box the “Bob Barry Broadcast Level.”

Barry’s play-by-play is over, but OU still appreciates its journalism icon by inviting him to continue his involvement in football broadcasts with pre-game and special segments.

“No one represents the Sooner spirit better than Bob Barry,” OU President David Boren said. “He is one of the most talented broadcast journalists in the United States, and has an unusual ability to transmit excitement and enthusiasm to his listeners. I am deeply grateful to Bob for his many years of service to the University and its supporters. We look forward to having him continue to be associated in a meaningful way with our athletic programs and sports broadcasts.”

Recently Toby Rowland, KWTV-9 sports reporter and anchor since 2000 and KREF-AM 1400 morning talk show host since 2004, was named as the next OU radio play-by-play voice. Rowland has been part of Barry’s crew as sideline reporter on the OU football broadcasts the past two seasons.

“I could not be more enthusiastic about Toby Rowland becoming the new radio voice of the Sooners,” Barry said. “He was my choice, he was Merv Johnson’s choice, and fortunately he was President Boren’s and Joe Castiglione’s choice. I am enthused for him as a good friend; he is such a good and talented person.”

Apparently, Rowland sees Barry’s tradition as something he wants to continue. “I am beyond humbled to be entrusted with a position that has such a rich and storied history at OU,” Rowland said soon after being selected. “I have the greatest respect and admiration for Mr. Barry, Mr. (John) Brooks and all the men who have held the microphone at OU. It is with tremendous enthusiasm and excitement that I look forward to carrying the torch forward in a way that will hopefully make them proud.”

Barry asked that this article reflect his appreciation for not only his 50 years of broadcasting sports to fellow Oklahomans statewide, but also the outpouring of honors and special attention in his final season at the microphone. He is thankful to the organizers and fans that made the events special at Owen Field and the hardwoods of basketball venues around the Big 12.

Travel

by Bob Barry

Having been fortunate enough to broadcast major university Division 1 football and basketball play-by-play on radio for 50+ years, I have now retired. The question most often asked is what parts of my long-time job will I miss the most. The answer is simply the act of broadcasting the various games. And what will I miss least of all? That answer is the traveling.

Bob Barry BroadcastingWhen I began broadcasting, the thought of travel relating to broadcasting the games never came to mind. One just assumes that will be taken care of. That attitude soon changes when one realizes there has to be a way to get to the away games safely and in plenty of time to prepare the broadcast. Did that mean flying? Do we travel with the team? Are we on a privately owned plane? How safe it is? Is the pilot skilled to fly in tough weather? Do we have to drive to some locations?

At the start of my broadcasting career on the OU radio network in 1961, the broadcast crew did not travel with the team. We traveled by commercial airplanes and struggled with the usual ordeal of commercial flights – delays, weather, etc. Over the years, we sometimes flew in small private planes, perhaps owned by University boosters. Sometimes, we could not fly because of bad weather. On one occasion, we drove from Norman to Lincoln, Nebraska.

There were times when I did have the chance to travel with the team, which seemed like the safest and best way to travel. But particularly in basketball, with so many away games during the season, safety is something one thinks about, especially when there is questionable weather.

After 50+ years, I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have survived without too many travel-related mishaps.

So how many miles did I travel to broadcast those hundreds of football and basketball games? I really don’t know. But one thing I do know – I’m still here to tell about those years thanks to safe pilots, airplanes and the grace of God.

And a note to all – please remember the legacy of the Oklahoma State Ten, who perished in a plane crash in Colorado while returning to Oklahoma after an OSU basketball game.

OU’s No-Huddle Offense is an Extension of Bud Wilkinson’s Legacy

By Darl and Donald DeVault

 

Oklahoma’s football program conquered all of major-college ball last season, its continuing evolutionary emphasis on running far more plays than their opponents, allowing them to dictate the pace and tempo of the contest. This up-tempo, hard charging offensive philosophy of not huddling to call the plays is a logical extension of OU’s football innovations stretching back to coaching legend Bud Wilkinson’s adoption of a hurry-up offense in the mid-1950s.

 

How about this – the 2010 Sooners ran 1,131 plays leading up to this year’s BCS Fiesta Bowl appearance, while the next highest major-college team, Troy University, ran 997 in their 13 games.

 

Bud WilkinsonThis is a whopping 13.4 percent offensive increase from all others, an average 87 plays per game in a world where 65-70 offensive plays per game is the norm. Sooners’ head coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson stepped up the offensive pace going into the 2008 season. It was an instant hit with then-quarterback Sam Bradford marching the team to an incredible first-strike capability. That year, OU’s go-go offense had a devastating effect on uninitiated teams.

 

OU’s first-strike capability and its arsenal of weapons set it apart from even the most successful programs in 2008. With eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bradford, the most efficient passer in college football, throwing strikes to his receivers, the Sooners scored on their first drives in every regular season game except two. In those two games, it took the second drive to put points on the board. The Sooners’ first strike was so pervasive, they outscored opponents 225-30 in the first quarter before the national title game that season, and college coaching noticed. Wilson won the Frank Broyles Award in 2008 as the nation’s top assistant coach.

 

Bud Wilkinson

Seen above: Bud Wilkinson

That season, OU notched a school-record 97 TDs, surpassing the 80 scored the previous season. They amassed 702 points by averaging 54 points a game, the most in modern college history. The Sooners were highly efficient as they scored on 95 percent of their trips into the Red Zone (20-yard line to goal line).

Bud would have been proud.

Wilkinson, who died in 1994 at 77, shared his reasoning for the fastest offensive pace possible on the gridiron in a 1983 interview for a book about the Orange Bowl: “There’s no reason in my view to let defenses go into a huddle and call a play against you. The so-called ‘hurry-up’ offense that everybody does in the last two minutes – there’s no reason not to do that for 60 minutes. You’ve got to be in better shape – that’s why we won anyway; we were in better shape than our opponents.”

Wilkinson is a Sooner coaching legend for elevating OU to national prominence during his era (1947-1963) with 13-straight conference championships. OU won three national titles while winning six of the eight bowl games in which they played during his 17 seasons at the helm.

He continued with one of his pre-season speeches: “Going into the season, we’re not any better than they are physically, and we’re not smarter than they are, and we’re not any tougher than they are, but maybe we are even with them in these things. Assuming that, how are we going to win? If it’s that even, they’ve got the ball 30 minutes and we’ve got it 30 minutes. If we run 15 more plays in our 30 minutes than they can snap the ball in their 30, the yards made on those 15 plays will win for us.”

 

Tommy McDonaldWilkinson had some help in speeding up play in what he termed a “fast break” in the mid-1950s when former Sooner Tommy McDonald brought his track-star speed and extreme competitiveness to OU’s backfield as a running back, receiver and halfback passer.

 

In 1955 and 1956, McDonald was the top rusher on America’s best rushing team. In ‘55, he led in passing and scoring to become the first Sooner to score a TD in every game of a season, as OU led the nation in scoring with 36.5 points per game. He led OU in receiving in ’56. He averaged kick-off returns of 25 yards and punt returns of 15.8 yards. He is the only OU player to lead the Sooners for a season in all four offensive categories, all without wearing a facemask.

 

According to Wilkinson, McDonald was OU’s most dynamic player. They had an exceptional backfield, exceptional line, and they could all play defense; he considered them great athletes for that particular era.

 

Only four teams scored on OU in 1955. That 1955 team still owns the OU defensive record for the least passing yardage given up in a season, with 555 yards.

 

On his way to winning every game in which he played at OU, McDonald says he also liked to play defensive halfback for the Sooners.

 

Wilkinson explained that Tommy’s leadership got that ’55 team back to the huddle the minute the whistle blew. Saying they went without a huddle was a misnomer. They huddled every play, called the play in the huddle, but didn’t stay huddled for long. Once a team broke the huddle, most snapped the ball fairly rapidly. The difference in the timing came with the speed in which they returned to the huddle after the ball was whistled dead.

Tommy McDonaldReturning to the present and OU’s truly no-huddle offense, former OU Maxwell Award winner McDonald says he would like to play for the Sooners now. “OU must have been in pretty good shape this last season for all those extra plays, and I would feed on that tempo. That increase means more carries, more catches and more chances for us to get in the end zone. I would be looking forward to every game with great anticipation. Back then, Bud Wilkinson was an inspiration to me; I’m just glad I got a scholarship to OU,” McDonald said recently from his home in King of Prussia, Penn.

McDonald, 78, lives near Philadelphia, where he played for the Eagles during his heyday in the NFL, earning a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a league-best wide receiver. McDonald also said he believes, as small as he was, he was only properly evaluated by NFL scouts because of his play on OU’s two national championship teams (‘55 and ‘56) during Wilkinson’s historic 47-game winning streak.

Today, consensus All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles obviously thrives in the extra-snap environment at OU, recently opting to return for his senior season. He caught 13 passes for 170 yards against UConn in OU’s 48-20 Fiesta Bowl victory last month. The extra plays last season allowed Broyles to set team records for catches (131) and yards (1,622) to add to his career yardage mark of 3,429.

 

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has left OU to be the head coach at Indiana, but is quick to compliment his athletes for the Sooners’ success. “It’s just the mechanics of calling plays. It’s not necessarily that you’re doing a different offense,” Wilson said. “Going no-huddle is nice, but you’d better be able to block and take care of the ball and be smart. There’s a fine balance there.”

 

The Sooners used that fine balance to propel themselves into new college football territory in 2010 and again, this time under Stoops, brightly polish their long legacy of coaching innovations.

 

ROUND BALL PREVIEWS – OKC THUNDER, OSU and OU

By Darl DeVault

OKC Thunder gains experience and great following

Oklahoma City’s Thunder is beginning play after a great showing in a thrilling first-round playoff series loss against the skilled and veteran powerhouse L.A. Lakers last year.

Thunder phenom Kevin Durant (Rookie of the Year while a Seattle SuperSonic) helped the Thunder improve from its inaugural OKC season, winning the NBA scoring title by averaging 30 points a game. That accomplishment reflects strongly on the team’s improved ability to move the ball up and down the floor.

Durant’s supporting cast and shot selection is guided by another 2009-10 NBA season award winner – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, winner of the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA Coach of the Year in his first full season as the Thunder’s head coach. The award is named for legendary Celtics coach (nine NBA Championships) and Hall of Famer Red Auerbach.

“Most importantly, I thank the players,” Brooks said at a news conference announcing his award. “We all know the success that you have as a team is predicated on the commitment you have in players, and we have 15 guys who are strongly committed to each other and want to improve every day. I’m thankful for them.”

Brooks coached his youngest-in-the-NBA Thunder to a 50-32 (.610) season and the team’s first playoffs since 2005. The Thunder posted an NBA-best 27-game turnaround following a 23-59 (.280) record in its inaugural OKC 2008-09 season.

Most overshadowed by all the attention directed Durant’s way is Westbrook. Only serious fans would have noticed that he accomplished something in his second season in the league that Durant didn’t accomplish in his – Westbrook became only the fifth player in NBA history to post more than 16 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds per game.

But this is how a dynasty starts: one player serves as an anchor. Durant signed an $86 million, 5-year contract extension in the offseason, so the Thunder can build on his foundation for the future.

Aside from the extremely talented Westbrook and Green, the team’s young trio of athletic big men have potential. When Serge Ibaka starts at center in place of Nenad Krstic, the second-year post man displays relentless aggressiveness in the paint to complement his great shooting.

Cole Aldrich is showing promise as he rebounds well as a base for blocking shots and controlling traffic in the lane with hard screens. The third new big man is just as important, with Byron Mullens expected to become an offensive threat.

Durant sees KU rookie center Aldrich’s joining former KU star and now veteran reserve forward Nick Collison as a welcome addition to the Thunder. Aldrich’s draft interest rivaled Durant’s, and his chances of seeing significant playing time could mean the next step toward dominating the NBA. The Thunder is a fast-paced playing team that mimics Aldrich’s KU tempo during his three years there. Aldrich was selected 11th overall in this year’s NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets and then traded to the Thunder.

This year, OKC began the season with four of its regular starters. With Westbrook becoming more confident running the point, shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha defending hard, Green and Durant scoring relentlessly, the Thunder can overcome any questions at center. Starting center Krstic is sidelined with a broken finger and back-up Collison is still out with a bone bruise on his right knee.

Coach Brooks has rookie Aldrich, second-year man Mullens and power forward Ibaka for the starting center spot. Ibaka and Aldrich began the preseason sharing starts, while James Harden filled in for Sefolosha as shooting guard.

Other team members are down with injuries significant enough to report in a preview: Rookie Jerome Dyson (lower back strain), Sefolosha (illness) and Daequan Cook (concussion) are rehabbing.

The Thunder’s inaugural and second-year turnaround season have only whet Oklahoma’s appetite for the excellence a major league sport brings. Thunder full-season ticket renewals are at 90 percent (league average is 80 percent, up from 75 percent last year), allowing them to watch Durant shoot a jaw-dropping 90 percent of his free throws. His accuracy at the line is unsurpassed in the NBA, where he is the only player ever to achieve 90 percent of more than 700 free throws in a season, making 756 last year.

With Durant and Westbrook fresh from conquering the world in international play, it should be another great year of what organizers bill as “The Thunder Experience.”

 

OSU Basketball Preview

OSU is coming off a 22-11 season that saw the NBA San Antonio Spurs select junior guard James Anderson 20th overall in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft. The fifth-highest drafted Cowboy ever, Anderson was one of the most prolific scorers in Cowboy basketball history. After declaring himself an NBA early-entry, he was the eighth player in school history to be selected in the first round, and the fourth since 2000.

Sophomore guard Keiton Page will try to translate his 33-minute-per-game playing time average last year into team leadership this season to fill the huge hole left by Anderson’s early exit. Page should get considerable help with this from sophomore guard Ray Penn, who saw almost as much playing time last year.

The Pokes started their season at home with nine returning lettermen and five newcomers joining the squad against Oklahoma City University, and finish their regular season with a second Bedlam game against OU at Lloyd Noble Center on March 3.

Travis Ford, the Pokes’ third-year head coach, will have to turn up the motivation and teaching as his Pokes are expected to finish in the bottom half of conference standings. According to an early October Big 12 preseason basketball coaches’ poll, where they cannot vote for their own team, OSU was picked eighth, the lowest prediction since the league formed 15 years ago. The Cowboys were picked seventh before the 1997-98 and 2007-08 seasons.

Ford compiled his second and almost identical (9-7 conference) winning record as OSU coach in 2009-10 with his second straight NCAA tourney berth.

 

OU Basketball Rebuilds

The OU Sooners are in the process of rebuilding their program after a disappointing season made even more difficult because of the expectations created by the 2008 Elite Eight team. OU went from a 30-6 program with its first Elite Eight showing since 2003 and a .750 winning percentage to .250 in conference play last year, posting a 13-18 overall record and tying for ninth place in the Big 12.

OU Basketball Head Coach Jeff Capel is optimistic, fresh from a good Sooners’ offseason of training and coming off recent success in a 16-day stint as head coach of the gold medal-winning USA team at the FIBA U18 Championship.

“I think because of how we performed last season, our returning players have a hunger. They have a desire to not let that happen again. I think maybe they’ve worked harder (since the end of last season) than they’ve ever worked,” Capel said midsummer. “There’s been a different energy around here and I’m excited about it, excited to see what we become. We still have expectations. We want to become the best team we can be – hopefully vie for one of the top spots in the Big 12 and make the NCAA Tournament.”

Capel, averaging more than 20 wins during his four seasons in Norman, has guided two teams to the NCAA Tournament (including one to the Elite Eight), coached Blake Griffin to OU’s first consensus national player of the year, and saw four Sooners drafted by the NBA.

To get back to a winning season, OU will need strong leadership from their senior. That’s right – one returning senior, no juniors with any playing time, and only two sophomores of note.

One of four 2010-11 OU captains, senior Cade Davis is the Sooners’ leading returner in minutes, scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and 3-pointers. He shot an average 12.5 points for the last 12 games (second-highest team average).

Davis, from Elk City, Okla., became a starter last year, making at least three 3-pointers in each of 11 games. His play was somewhat clouded to start this season as he sustained a facial fracture during a team skill workout in late September and was expected to take four to six weeks to heal.

Sophomores Andrew Fitzgerald at forward and Stephen Pledger at guard will be looked to because Cade is the only returning starter. This presents Capel with a new coaching dynamic. “Blake Griffin was a leader his sophomore year (2008-09), but that was completely different,” Capel said. “As a coach, I’ve never been in a situation like this.”

The Sooners feature two junior college transfers as forwards, Nick Thompson and C.J. Washington, who dominated in junior college national tourneys. Washington, from Stringtown, Okla., earned first team All-American at Connors State Junior College last season. Another Oklahoman on the team is freshmen Tyler Neal, who was Oklahoma’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season at Putnam City West High School. Redshirt freshman guard Ryan Randolph excelled at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in Oklahoma City.

 

Bennie Owen: OU’s Man for All Seasons

 

By Gary King

 

Before Bob and Barry, even before Bud, there was Bennie. Bennie Owen might have been the best of them all. He was certainly the most innovative.

Beauty pawed the dirt, tossed her head back, and flared her nostrils. “Easy girl,” Bennie said. “The gun will sound in just a minute, then we’re gonna race.”

 

It was almost noon on Saturday, Sept. 16, 1893. Bennie Owen and his black mare, Beauty, were waiting at the southern border of Kansas for the start of the Cherokee Strip Land Run, the largest land run in American History. The United States government was offering 40,000 parcels of free land in what is now northern Oklahoma. The Cherokee Strip contained more than 6.5 million acres, larger than the states of Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Any United States citizen (male or female) who was at least 21 years old and had not previously benefited from the Homestead Act was eligible to stake a claim.

 

By nightfall, every acre had been claimed. The intrepid settlers built sod huts and tried to farm the dry land, but conditions were so unforgiving that only 25 percent of those who had filed claims were able to survive the six months needed to satisfy the residency requirement and receive their official deeds.

 

Bennie’s family lived in Arkansas City, Kansas, only three miles from the northern starting point of the land run. On the day of the race, it was estimated that 100,000 people were in town. Three days later, only 5,000 remained. For months Bennie had watched them come, some on foot, some on horseback. Others came in wagons with their families. It was a time of great hope and high adventure.

 

Bennie had ridden Beauty deep into Oklahoma Territory many times chasing coyotes and jackrabbits, and knew the area well. He was one of 50,000 who lined up on the northern border of the Cherokee Strip that day, and there were at least that many on the southern boundary. A few shameless mercenaries at the starting line were charging a nickel for a drink of water, and many were willing to pay it to choke down the dust – dust so thick, by one participant’s account, that he could not see more than three feet in front of his face.

 

Bennie was only seventeen years old, therefore ineligible to file a claim, but he was not about to miss this adventure. When the shotgun blast sounded, he and Beauty raced among the leaders for four miles before he reluctantly pulled up and turned for home.

 

It was not yet time for him to live in this untamed land. Twelve years later, he would move into the very heart of this windswept prairie and play an important role in shaping the history of the young state and the destiny of the new university in Norman.

 

Bennie Owen made such an impact on Oklahoma that the most valuable and best known acre of land in the state now bears his name. This acre is, of course, Owen Field, the turf on which the University of Oklahoma football games are played. He was afforded this honor because… Benjamin Gilbert Owen was a coach, best remembered as the mentor of the University of Oklahoma’s football team from 1905 through 1926. But he also coached basketball at OU from 1909 to 1921 and baseball from 1906 until 1922. Truly, he was a man for all seasons.

 

On Oct. 16, 1907, Bennie Owen lost his right arm in a hunting accident. He was soon back at work and doing everything a man with two arms could do… and more. He hunted and fished. He shuffled, dealt, held and played cards with one hand. He drove his old stick-shift Buick all over Norman with reckless abandon. He even tied his own shoelaces.

 

His good friend Phillip Kendall observed, “Bennie didn’t know he only had one arm. I think he made himself forget it and he made you forget it, too. He was the most complete and well rounded person I’ve ever known.”

 

During the first ten years Owen coached at Oklahoma, there were many football rule changes, which Owen used as an opportunity to add to his offensive arsenal. J. Brent Clark wrote in Sooner Century: One Hundred Glorious Years of Oklahoma Football, “Nowhere in America was there a more skilled or creative mind than Bennie Owen of Oklahoma.” He split his ends out, unbalanced his line, ran the “tackle-around” play. The “tackle-eligible” pass is one of the oldest plays in football, but Bennie’s tackles didn’t just catch passes, they also threw them. He developed the “long punt” formation that was an early prototype of the single-wing, and was the first OU coach to have spring practice.

 

Bud Wilkinson, in the 1950s, ran the “fast break,” reeling off plays as fast as he could, and in 2008, Bob Stoops installed the “no huddle” offense. Owen ran both fifty years before Wilkinson and a hundred years before Stoops. Charley Orr, a 117-lb. quarterback who won his letter in 1912, said, “In those days we didn’t hold any conferences (huddles) behind the line of scrimmage after each play. We called signals and we called ‘em fast. I’ve called many a signal flat on my back thirty yards from the ball.”

 

However, Owen is probably best remembered for the innovations he made in the passing game. It might surprise some fans who remember OU football before Bob Stoops, back in the days of Wilkinson and Switzer who disdained the pass, to learn that Bennie Owen’s teams were throwing the ball 30-35 times a game before WWI. Forrest “Spot” Geyer, the first Sooner to be picked as an All-American, consistently threw for over 200 yards a game between 1913 and 1915. Geyer could easily heave the ball 55 yards in the air, even though the ball they used in those days more closely resembled a pumpkin than the streamlined missile quarterbacks hurl today.

 

In a 1914 game, OU scored five passing TDs. That same year Al Lindsey, a halfback for Kansas who would later become a coach at OU, said, “Oklahoma bewildered us with forward passes.” The venerable Harold Keith wrote in Oklahoma Kickoff, “Oklahoma appears to have been the first team in America to go in consistently for mass production of aerial play and to prove that the forward pass could be a major unit of the offense in every game on the schedule, with the forward passing yardage usually surpassing the running yardage.”

 

Owen’s twenty-two-year tenure is the longest of any coach in OU history. He won 122 games, lost 54 and tied 16. If these numbers don’t seem all that spectacular in comparison to some of the coaches who followed him, it must be remembered that all of his players were walk-ons. He did not recruit players, and gave out no scholarships. He thought the reason for going to college was to get an education, and football was an extracurricular activity. “All we got out of football was the fun,” Sabe Hott, a tackle for Owen from 1910-13, said. “It was sport, and that’s why we played. If Bennie had offered me board, room and tuition, I wouldn’t have played for him.”

 

Owen had three all-victorious seasons, 1911, ’15, and ’18; his 1920 team went undefeated, with one tie. Even though he would never have tried to embarrass an opponent by running up the score, his teams scored more than 100 points nine times and more than eighty on four other occasions. Such lopsided victories were unavoidable – his starters had to play almost the whole game since he seldom had more than 15 men on a squad.

 

Bennie Owen was always noted for his fine sportsmanship in a time when sportsmanship was not exactly commonplace. Dewey “Snorter” Luster, captain of Owen’s unbeaten 1920 team and later OU’s head coach, said, “Bennie was a sportsman in every sense of the word, a true sportsman. He knew how to win and lose like a gentleman.” Ivan Grove, an outstanding quarterback for Henry Kendall College (which later became the University of Tulsa) in 1917, recalled, “Oklahoma absolutely had the cleanest team of all the teams we ever played.”

 

In this regard, Oklahoma teams clearly reflected the personality and values of their coach. No one led a “cleaner” life than Bennie Owen. He neither drank, smoked, chewed, nor used profanity. His favorite expression was “Gee Cly!” but if he was really upset he might shout out “murder, murder, murder!” Page Belcher, a guard for Owen in 1918, said, “Bennie was clean as a pin himself, and wouldn’t let us swear either in practice or in a game. If some player sang out in disgust, ‘Hell, I dropped it!’ Bennie would stop practice in a flash and call the whole squad in. ‘We don’t use that kind of language around here,’ he’d tell everybody. ‘You’re men now and men don’t talk that way.’”

 

When Owen stepped down as head football coach in 1926, OU President Dr. William Bennett Bizzell said, “For more than 20 years, Bennie Owen has stood for good sportsmanship and high ideals. No man identified with athletic activities in this country has contributed more than he has to the wholesomeness of athletics.”

 

But Owen was much more than a coach. He was also a visionary and a builder. As Director of Athletics from 1907-1934 and later as Intramural Director from ’34 until his retirement in 1950 at the age of 75, he was the driving force that produced Owen Field, the Fieldhouse, men’s swimming pool, baseball field and bleachers, concrete tennis courts, nine-hole golf course, and intramural playing fields.

 

Bennie Owen died on Feb. 26, 1970 at the age of 94. Upon hearing of his death, University of Oklahoma President Emeritus George Lynn Cross said, “His contributions to the university athletic program can never be measured. He was a legend in his own time, and the name of Bennie Owen will always be synonymous with OU football.”

 

Let’s hope so