In August of 1961 I was stepping out for a new phase in my life. I had just graduated from High School, gotten engaged to the child bride that has endured me for over 50 years and was set to leave kith and kin and the neighborly confines of home for the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship. The omens during that month were most propitious. A major hurricane hit the south coast of Texas near Houston. A not rare occurrence but certainly not the summer norm. During the ’40s and the ’50’s we in fact had many more hurricanes than we have had during the last couple of decades. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. In Dallas we got some rain which was always welcome and indeed rare during August. Then only a day or so before I left my gal and me were out parking and sparking in the fields not far from home when a giant meteor (relatively speaking) slashed through the night sky and lit everything up and produced a very loud bang and rolling thunder sound. Scary as the devil. Thought the damn Russkies were attacking for a few seconds. Of course I was anxious about leaving my gal. We spent lots of time together and except for a few days here and there weren’t really apart for over a year. I was already missing her without having left. You ever miss something you still have but know won’t be there in the future?
I had visited the campus already during my recruiting trip with my mom and dad and my gal so I knew at least the lay of the land and what my dorm would look like its location. The morning came in mid August and off I went in my ’56 Chevy the folks let me have for college. Picked up my future roommate who lived about 75 miles away. We weren’t like girls going to college so we easily got everything packed into the car with room to spare. When we arrived we were met by the Freshman football coach who in addition to coaching was the point man for discipline for all football players and running the dorm and our study hall requirements. We were assigned a room on the third floor which was actually pretty good, some guys were all the way up on the fifth floor so we didn’t have to carry our stuff as far. The one elevator was for freight and strictly taboo for our use. It was so darn hot. I knew it would be but worse than I expected. The dorm room had everything built-in and nailed down–bunk beds, desks and the one dresser. The only m0vable items were the two plastic chairs. Don’t faint but the dorm was not air-conditioned. That is hard to believe I know. Our first purchase was a small rotating fan to move the hot air around. Today of course many of the major schools don’t even have athletic dorms and the guys live in apartments or other student housing.
At that time going to OU was a big deal. They had won two national championships in recent years and Bud Wilkinson was still the coach and as big a name as there was in the game. There were 48 of us in the freshman class. We were all at least good or outstanding or we wouldn’t have been there. OU pretty much got the pick of the litter for players in the entire southwest along with Texas. I was probably one of their last selections and near the bottom of their acceptable range but I was there. The guys from Texas were used to spring training and two-a-days workouts but they had no spring training then in Oklahoma and most other states. That first afternoon after getting unpacked we were sent to the dressing room and equipment room to get fitted and outfitted with our football gear. While this was going on the varsity team came in from practice. They weren’t bigger than us but the revealed all those tell tales signs of bruising workout in the hot southwestern sun and the helmets and facemasks of the day. More than on had a tooth or two missing and since the facemaks of that era were almost exclusively a single bar almost everyone of them had those cuts and bruises on their noses and forheads from the helmets smashing into their face or an elbow shoulder pad or cleat. Gee, they looked like survivors from the Bttaan Death March and they were understandably in no mood to be friendly. They wanted a shower and hot meal and as much rest as they could get before the early morning call the next day and doing it all over again twice in the same day.
It wasn’t intimidating to see them or scary just a real reminder of what was in store for us. Like those replacement troops going up the front and passing by the walking wounded on the way. A bit disconcerting. But we buckled up the next morning and were off to do our thing which was nothing but drills and then more drills. The old bull-in-the- ring and other assorted torments to see who could deliver and take a blow. In those days everyone had to play both ways so the pain was evenly spread. No prima donnas. The star halfback or quarterback had to also play cornerback or safety on defense. In addition to our drills we learned our basic offensive formations. I remember spending about 15 minutes doing nothing but aligning the huddle and getting out of it to the line of scrimmage, over and over till the coach was satisfied we wouldn’t embarrass him the way we lined up. You can get pretty tired doing that over and over after having gone through the crash and smash drills for 45 minutes or so. Once we could huddle up correctly then we were sent on our next assignment–cannon fodder for the varsity.
“Dance with the girl you brung” Darrel Royal. http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com