NORMAN — Bob Barry Sr. has seen a lot. From the time he began his career as a sportscaster in 1956 to calling Oklahoma game in 1961 until his death last week, the longtime voice of the Sooners knew the in and outs of the program.
So when Barry attended the screening of The History of Oklahoma Football: Part II-Legacy of Winning, he was flooded with memories.
“I think it’s a fantastic education for some who were too young to remember the Bud Wilkinson days and all those great players at that time,” Barry said after the screening last month. “He set the standard sort of and the others coaches following him have picked up the mantle so to speak. I just think it was great.”
Legacy of Winning, the second in a four-part series, chronicles the career of coach Wilkinson through interviews with former players, coaches and those close to the program such as Barry.
Wilkinson’s career spanned 16 years (1947 to 1963) and included three national titles and a 47-game game win streak. But even those achievements were just a small taste of what producer and director Brandon Meirer want to get across to the fans.
“Main reason behind it was to really just to tell the history of Oklahoma football,” Meirer said. “Tell the stories of the great teams of that era. The great coaches, the great players. Our goal from the beginning was to tell a real thorough history, uncover things people hadn’t seen or heard before. A lot of books had been written about Oklahoma football. We kind of wanted to put the visual to all that.”
While much of the film details the rise of the football program from also ran into a juggernaut, it also dealt with the issues of the day. Mainly the integration of the football team by Prentice Gautt in 1956.
Gautt was not only the first black football player at Oklahoma, but also the first black player at a major college in the south. Well ahead of such contemporaries like Alabama, Texas and LSU.
“I think a lot of the younger people have no idea what type of prejudices there were between the races,” Barry said. “They know about Martin Luther King and they study him, but they don’t really realize how bitter it was. It took a special guy like Prentice Gautt.”
In the film, former players and coaches tell of the difficulties Gautt had upon first arriving at Oklahoma. From hate mail the hateful fans, it shows how the Oklahoma City native was not welcomed by opponents, some fans and even a few teammates.
But much in the way Jackie Robinson had Branch Rickey a decade before, Gautt and Wilkinson found a way to make it work.
“My dad really did say that helping Prentice break the color code is probably the most significant thing he did as a coach,” said Jay Wilkinson. “And it took someone like Prentice with his quality of character and his athleticism to be able to endure the abuse, the criticism and profanity. But I felt that my dad and Prentice were just a marvelous team in making that happen.”
Gautt, who died in 2005, ended his career at Oklahoma as a two-time All-Big Eight player and the 1959 Orange Bowl MVP. He even played in the NFL for seven years with the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Cardinals.
But current Oklahoma athletes know of Gautt more for his off the field achievements. That includes being named to the academic All-American team as a senior and earning a Ph.D. in psychology.
“The study hall we go to is named after him,” sophomore Gabe Lynn said. “More than anything, I heard he was a great player. But I also heard about what kind of student he was. He definitely paved the way for me and a lot of the others players that are hear today. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that easy. Not only to be a great athlete, but to excel in the classroom also. He showed a lot of perseverance.”
Being able to show young people what it was like at OU more than 50 years ago was important to Meirer said. But equally significant was to help those who lived through those days remember how significant those days were.
The screening of Legacy of Winning had several former players in the audience at Moore’s Warren Theater. When it was over, Meirer could see right away what they felt about the two hour and 45-minute movie.
“I was walking out of the theater and saw tears in a few former players eyes,” Meirer said. “I got to be honest with you, this has been the most fun I’ve had at work in last two years. I love putting these together. I love talking to these old guys. They’ve got great stories to tell. I knew I had the pictures to be able to support their stories. That meant so much to me. This was an emotional time to see their coach and see their teammates. It was very special.”
Michael Kinney 366-3537 firstname.lastname@example.org