NORMAN — Barry Switzer worried the day would never come. He coached many great players over the years, but as each year passed, the odds increased that the memory of just how dominant a football player Rod Shoate was would fade.
Finally, 38 years after playing his final game at Oklahoma, and 13 after Shoate passed away at the age of 46, he will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.
“He was such a special player, and I’m glad he finally got in,” former OU coach Barry Switzer said Tuesday. “I worried about that for years.”
Shoate, who was three-time All-American inside linebacker at OU from 1972-74, was one of 12 players and two coaches in College Football Hall of Fame’s 2013 Class.
With Tuesday’s announcement, Shoate will become the 20th former Sooner player enshrined.
What he did in an OU uniform made many wonder why it took so long for it to come to fruition. Shoate’s 420 career tackles still ranks No. 3 in school history. He was named the Big 8 Conference defensive player of the year in 1973 and 1974. The teams he played on went 31-1-1 and won the 1974 national championship. Shoate’s 21-tackle effort in OU’s 16-13 victory over Texas in 1974 remains one of the indelible performances in Red River Rivalry history.
It wasn’t Shoate’s size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) that made him a revolutionary inside linebacker. There were few if any games Shoate wasn’t the fastest player on the field.
“He could go from point A to point B so fast,” said former OU linebacker and teammate Steve Calonkey. “I remember going to linebacker drills and hitting drills and I hated it whenever I got lined up against Rod Shoate. There was going to be a collision and he was always going to get to you before you could get to him.”
In what was one of the classic cases of finding a diamond in the rough, Shoate came to OU from Spiro in 1971. He was a running back and linebacker in high school, but OU was the only school that really recruited him.
What Shoate did in high school instantly translated to OU.
“He had an incredible sense for the ball,” Switzer said. “All linebackers have to have a great sense to get to the ball and move through those little cracks to get to it to make a play. He could do that from sideline to sideline and he could do it in the backfield, too.”
Shoate played on teams stocked with incredible athletes. He will become the fourth OU player from the 1972-74 teams to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Lee Roy Selmon was inducted in 1988. Greg Pruitt was chosen in 1999. Joe Washington was inducted in 1975 and Tom Brahaney was enshrined in 2007.
Shoate played professionally for nine seasons. The first seven were with the New England Patriots. The last two were in the USFL. Players are not eligible to be enshrined until 10 years after their college careers end. Most have to wait much longer.
Switzer, however, was always concerned the way Shoate’s final years played out with drugs and illness, by most accounts, playing a large part in early death at the age of 46, would be held against him.
“I was worried that since he wasn’t present that he would be overlooked and forgotten about. It always concerned me that he might never make it,” he said. “Obviously, it was important enough that people remembered him.”
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