Unforgettable: Mantle and now Murcer

    Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, Roger Maris

     
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman - July 13, 2008)

     

    Bobby Murcer was supposed to be the next Mickey Mantle.

    Now Murcer is seated next to him.

    Sadly for us, Murcer’s courageous battle against cancer is one he could not win. So was his impossible quest to make people forget that Mantle once played center field in Yankee Stadium.

    Murcer was not the next Mantle. There still hasn’t been a next Mantle.

    Murcer was saddled with a task no mortal could ever achieve. Comparisons between Mantle and Murcer encompassed everything from whence they came, to where they played, to how they spoke. The more they had in common, the heavier Murcer’s burden.

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    A man of character: There are many reasons Cowboys would like to have Jayhawks' Self

    Bill Self
    Photo by Nick Krug
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman - April 8, 2008)

     

    SAN ANTONIO - Oklahoma State wants Bill Self to be its next basketball coach, and Kansas wants to keep him.

    Here are some reasons why this is so:

    • Self is the guy who can remember the name of a junior varsity assistant coach he met eight years ago.
    • Self is the guy who will walk past a worker who’s sweeping the arena floor, give him a nod hello and say, “Appreciate it. You’re doing a helluva job.” And Self will actually mean it.
    • Though Self is the center of attention, he’ll make you feel like you’re the most important person in the room.
    • Self is a chameleon. His communication skills have no bounds. Rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, boy or girl, black or white. Doesn’t matter.
    • Within the first 10 seconds of a conversation, Self will be the one asking the questions, not you. How’s the family? What’s going on? Anything new?
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    Bud, Barry and Bear: As a young assistant, Switzer served drinks to college football coaching legends

    Barry Switzer

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman - Sept. 4, 2002)

     

    On a January evening in a Chicago hotel suite, two college coaching legends shared stories and laughter. Serving them drinks was a 20-something assistant who would become somewhat legendary himself.

    Barry Switzer and Larry Lacewell can’t agree on the year. Switzer insists it was January 1966. Lacewell said it had to have been the year before.

    After the 1965 season, Oklahoma hired Jim Mackenzie as its new football coach. Mackenzie picked Switzer as offensive line coach, and the staff was looking for a freshman coach. Switzer suggested Lacewell, who won the 1966 national junior college title at Kilgore (Texas) College.

    Switzer coaxed Lacewell to join him in Chicago for the annual national football coaches’ convention. Lacewell had no travel budget. “I told him if he got his butt up there, he could stay with me,” Switzer said.

    Lacewell rode a bus from Kilgore to Chicago and slept in Switzer's room at the Hilton.

    Although the year is in doubt, what transpired is not. Switzer and Lacewell’s stories share the same laughter.

    First, a bit of background.

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    Walter Cronkite was a 'Five Ws' man

    Walter Cronkite was a 'Five Ws' man

     

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman – August 29, 2002)

     

    In the eyes of Walter Cronkite, journalism has slowly decayed into a featurized state.

    Cronkite is a “Five Ws” man. He wants the who, what, when, where and why — and he wants them pronto.

    “I’m so tired of stories starting, ‘Maud Jones was walking her dog down Broadway.’ You’ve got to go over to the back page somewhere to finally find out the damn dog was run over by a truck,” Cronkite said. “Get the thing told, for heaven’s sake. Everybody doesn’t have to be an O Henry.”

    Translation: Don’t bury the lead.

    So here it goes:

    Hall of fame broadcaster Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was the first play-by-play radio announcer for Oklahoma football, making his debut Sept. 25, 1937, when the Sooners lost to Tulsa 19-7 at Skelly Stadium.

    Cronkite described his debut as a disaster, but said the experience taught him a valuable lesson in preparation.

    He left WKY radio within a year and eventually became "The most trusted man in America” as anchor for the CBS Evening News.

    And that’s the way it was...

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    A twist of Lemons at his best: Legendary coach has aged, but his humor is still solid

    Abe Lemons

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman - December 19, 1999)

     

    You walk into a Braum’s on North May Avenue and spot an Oklahoma treasure.

    Abe Lemons is sitting alone in the corner, putting the finishing touches on a half-eaten order of burger and fries. He is wearing a black pullover jacket from a recent Vince Gill celebrity golf tournament and a blue GOLF Inc. cap. No one seems to recognize him, which is good and somewhat sad at the same time.

    Within minutes, your side aches from laughter. You get lockjaw from smiling. For two hours, this elderly gentleman spins yarn of folklore and acumen. You can’t escape his web. Then again, who would want to?

    Lemons recently said: “I got fired from the University of Texas. I didn’t deserve that. Now I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease. I don’t deserve that, either.”

    Eleven years ago, Lemons was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a chronic disorder associated with tremors of the hands and rigidity of muscles. “I’m not scared,” Lemons said of dying. “It’s kinda like I hated it before a ball game, the thought of getting beat.”

    Parkinson’s is slowly robbing Lemons of his voice. His hands shake. His taste buds are shot. His lower lip droops. His gait is slow. His humor, however, is rock-solid.

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    First down, a lifetime to go: Son's death left Owens nowhere to run

    Steve Owens Oklahoma Sooners Heisman Trophy Winner

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman – Jan. 7, 1998)

     

    There was a noticeable quiver in Steve Owens’ voice Tuesday. Perhaps his ailing back was making it tough to catch his breath. Occasionally, there was a sniffle. Perhaps a touch of the flu, but each response was undeniably brutal in candor.

    This was the first time Steve spoke at length about the death of his son, Blake, who committed suicide on Sept. 6 at age 25. “It’s been a long journey, but I’m doing better," Steve said.

    There are various ways people handle grief. Some bury themselves in work. Others run and hide.

    Steve Owens hid.

    The brawny 1969 Heisman Trophy winner went into a shell and stayed there for four months.

    Physical pain, Steve can handle. Emotional anguish is another story.

    This is the same bullish man who carried the football 55 times against Oklahoma State in his last collegiate game. Six times in his career, he had 40 or more carries in a game. “Physical pain never seemed to affect me too much,” he said.

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    Ferguson Is Local Golf Icon: U.C. Is Bound For Sports Hall of Fame

    U. C. Furguson, Golf Hall of Fame
    http://oklahomagolfhof.org/

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman - June 9, 1996)

     

    Urban Clarence Ferguson Junior feels awkward. Again. He’s about to receive an honor. Again. He feels it’s much ado about nothing. Again.

    “To be honest with you, it’s embarrassing to me,” he admitted. “Always has been. It’s difficult to receive an award because there’s other people out there who deserve them … and they haven’t had as many years as I’ve had.”

    U.C. Ferguson Jr. is 82 now. His eyesight is fading, but his insight remains refreshingly genuine. His candor remains intact. His anecdotes have not lost their meaning. He still talks from the heart, not the mouth.

    On Aug. 6, the local golf icon best known as “Fergie,” will be inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. Ferguson was selected by the Jim Thorpe Association veterans committee and will join this year’s inductee class of basketball coach Eddie Sutton and Olympic gymnast Bart Conner. The late Volney Meece, a long-time Oklahoman sportswriter, will also be inducted.

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    Baggin' For The Bear

    Baggin' for the Bear - Caddying for Jack Nicklaus

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    (The Oklahoman - Nov. 19, 1995)

     

    A few days before this year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, former Oklahoman co-worker Mike Ferguson telephones with a proposition.

    “There’s this auction being held in New York,” he explains. “A round of golf and dinner with Jack Nicklaus is up for bid.”

    “Sounds great,” I answer.

    “Whatever it costs, I’m gonna get that bid.”

    “You go, boy.”

    (The 32-year-old Ferguson is of journalistic ilk -- rather hyper and wound a tad tight. His grandfather died last year and left a large chunk of change to his grandson. So Ferguson did what any hyper, tightly wound journalist would do under such circumstances. He left the profession.)

    “By the way,” Ferguson adds, continuing his pipe dream of divots and dinner with the Golden Bear, “the bid also includes a week-long, all-expenses-paid tour of Nicklaus courses. It’s for eight people. You interested?”

    “Fergie! Pal-o-mine. I’ve missed ya, buddy!”

    “I’ll take that as a ‘Yes.’”

    “You would be correct, sir. Now take your check book and do what must be done. Write on! You da man, Fergie!”

    Three days later, Ferguson calls back.

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