The Norman Transcript

Local news

April 26, 2008

Hearing the 'Silent Thunder'

Transcript Staff Writer

Football gave so much to Eric Thunander.

In high school, it gave the deaf young man a way out of a tough childhood and some normalcy despite his disability. In college, it gave him identity, pride, a sense of belonging and a huge, diamond-encrusted ring from his gridiron contribution to the University of Oklahoma's 2000 National Championship team.

But when it took away his dream, it almost took away his life.

The former OU defensive end remembers what it was like to hit rock bottom.

After a head injury that ended his promising football career and a painful divorce, Thunander downed much of a fifth of Jack Daniels, put a single bullet in a revolver, put the gun barrel to his head and pulled the trigger.

Click.

There was no bullet in that first chamber. But if Thunander had pulled the trigger just one more time, it likely would have been fatal. And he realized how far he had fallen.

Thunander called his friend and the man who recruited him, co-defensive football coach Brent Venables, who had believed in and encouraged the young man who has 95 percent hearing loss in his left ear and 92 percent loss in his right. With hearing aids, he calls himself "very hard of hearing."

And about a week later, OU's head coach Bob Stoops called back.

"Hey Thundercat! How have you been?" Thunander remembers Stoops asking, using the nickname Stoops gave him from an old cartoon strip.

Stoops inquired as to what he was doing the next semester and offered Thunander a chance to return to OU on a football scholarship, a rarity in college sports for an injured player.

"I have a second chance and a second lease on life and I almost threw it away," Thunander said.

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