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January 11, 2014

Talking to Loren Owens

NORMAN — While doing some indoor walking at Sooner Fashion Mall recently, I saw a tall, athletic man, in his 60s, talking with his wife. I recognized them and said, “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Loren Everett Owens.” Mr. Owens turned, smiled and said, “Don’t say that too loud, people might get confused about who I am.” His wife, Barbara, laughed and was intrigued by the sudden recognition from a stranger. People passing around us seemed oblivious to our presence and conversation. I doubt they knew the 1969 Heisman Trophy winner was standing in their midst.

Loren Everett Owens is, of course, the iconic OU tailback, Steve Owens, one of the great football players of the late 1960s. His head coach, Chuck Fairbanks, once said, “Steve is the rare combination of athlete and person only a few coaches ever have the privilege of coaching in a lifetime.” I might add, Steve is a lot like Will Rogers — down-to-earth, humble and tells good stories. When I told him I was in the OU Memorial Union the day his Heisman award was announced, he said, “Barbara and I were also in the union and a KGOU announcer told me that I’d won. We were so surprised, we ran through the snack bar, out the door and to Evans Hall to see President Hollomon. Barbara was leading me by 50 yards.” I was sitting in the snack bar and can attest to Steve’s story and Barbara’s lead-blocking ability.

Steve and Barbara were amazed that I remembered so much about that day, including students yelling congratulations and clapping. News spread fast, mostly by word of mouth, and little transistor radios. They were also very surprised when I told them I was from Columbus, Ind., the hometown of Mike Phipps, the Purdue quarterback who was runner-up to Steve Owens in the Heisman voting. A mere 154 points separated the two players. I did not tell Steve that I would have voted for him. I had watched him in home games for two years and was always impressed and amazed with his ability to run hard, score and endure physical challenges — a true all-American, one of the best.

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