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.
During our conversation, Mr. Owens kindly shared other good stories, including one about the 1969 Bedlam game that OU won by one point, 28 to 27. He had 55 carries, 261 yards and two touchdowns in the game. He said, “I was so tired, I wanted a substitute so I could get some rest. During the next time out, sophomore quarterback Jack Mildren asked OU offensive coordinator Barry Switzer what to do. Mildren was told (expletives deleted) to keep giving me the ball and that I could rest after the game. I had to run the ball 12 times straight. I did it because I kept looking at an OSU sign that said I did not deserve a Heisman Trophy.” Steve was elated about OU’s Bedlam win this year. None of the players had a “Steve Owens kind of game,” but they did excel in their own way.
I had to resume my mall walking, but not before Steve yelled out, “Professor, come on and see me at my office. Let’s talk some more.” I walked on, thinking, “What a good man.”
Dr. John Perry is a retired professor of biology.
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