The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

April 11, 2014

Spring football isn't what it used to be

ENID, Okla. — The late Jones Ramsey, the longtime sports information director at the University of Texas, once joked there were only two sports at UT — football and spring football.

That was certainly once true at both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Spring football was long anticipated, capped by an actual game — an intrasquad game at OSU where the winners ate steak and the losers beans, and a Varsity-Alumni game at OU.

The Varsity-Alumni game at OU wasn’t treated like a reunion weekend, although it was always nice to see the former stars back on campus.

In the 1950s and 1960s before NFL players started making six to seven to eight figure salaries, the Alumni lineup would be dotted with NFL personnel.

Former All-American linebacker Bob Harrison played in the game until he was in his early 40s. NFL Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald came back every year to play.

Derland Moore told his employer — the New Orleans Saints — he was only going to play a few plays. He played enough to earn the “Lineman of the game’’ honors.

I remember during my time at OU when current Sooner center Dennis Buchanan was excited about going against OU legendary nose guard Granville Liggins (then a star in the Canadian Football League), whom he had watched while growing up in Oklahoma City.

The varsities of 1954-55-56 never lost a game in the fall. They never beat the Alumni in the spring.

Former State Sen. Norman Lamb of Enid, a long-time official in the game, remembers the Alumni players telling the varsity they were there “to get you ready to play Texas.’’

The Alumni game started to die out in the early 1980s — the start of the United States Football League was the final death knell. There weren’t enough players to have a quality team.

When there were virtually no-scholarship limits, spring practice was much different. I remember one player telling me what he didn’t like was hitting every day as jobs were on the line — especially at OU, which was three to four deep at every position. With scholarship limitations, there aren’t the numbers to do that.

Those who were disappointed OSU didn’t have a spring game shouldn’t be.

There is nothing more plain vanilla than a spring game. Teams aren’t going to open up, giving an early opponent (such as defending national champion Florida State for OSU) some valuable insight.

Although it was pretty exciting the one year when then-News & Eagle sports editor Jeff Mullin served as a honorary assistant coach for one of the teams in the early 1980s and was on the sidelines. At OU’s game Saturday, quarterbacks will be wearing a blue jersey — meaning no hitting. The first objective is not getting anybody hurt, especially Trevor Knight, who showed at the Sugar Bowl he has the talent to be a future star.

OU’s game is offense vs. defense with the defense getting more points for various accomplishments (such as a three and out or interception), but even that changed during the game last season.

But it’s good for schools to have some sort of spring activity as OSU had last Saturday, even it it was for a practice (which used to be open to the public).

A lot of the fans who will be attending OU’s game are the ones who can’t get tickets in the fall. This is their chance to get experience Sooner football first hand.

They can purchase gear at the OU book store or get their pictures with mascots Sooner and Boomer in front of the Sooner Schooner. A lot of the old stars will return to be introduced. They can see a salute to the Sugar Bowl winning team and go to the third annual Big Boomer BBQ.

And get player autographs after the game.

There’s no better place than Owen Field or Boone Pickens Stadium to spend a fall afternoon. It’s not a bad place to spend a spring afternoon either.

Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.

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