Darrell Herndon likely had his brother Bob on his mind Friday while watching his beloved Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M.
Bob Herndon, who came out of Medford to star for the Sooners from 1952-54, died Sunday after battling Alzheimer’s disease the past few years.
“When I was growing up in elementary school in Medford, all I heard on the playground or downtown was ‘are you going to grow up and play football at OU like your big brother,’’ Herndon said.
Bob, who was 13 years older, was more than a big brother to Darrell. The Herndons’ father died in 1958, while Darrell still was in grade school.
“He always looked out for me,’’ Herndon said. “He was my hero, the reason for me becoming a coach.’’
Darrell played football at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa and was a long-time assistant at Enid. He has taken EHS to six state tennis championships.
Bob, after a stint in the Navy, coached at California, Illinois, Oregon State and Miami, before returning to Oregon State as an administrator.
“I just wanted to follow in his footsteps,’’ Herndon said. “I spent a lot of years coaching and I don’t regret it. He was the one that got me into it.’’
Bob gave Darrell the watch he got for the 1954 Orange Bowl when OU beat national champion Maryland, 7-0 and the helmet he wore in an OU-Alumni game in the mid-1950s.
Darrell would wear the helmet when he came out for football in junior high at Blackwell.
“It was spinning around on my head so the coach eventually got me a smaller helmet,’’ he said.
The younger Herndon found the helmet in his attic in 2005. He cleaned it up, got it encased and engraved and presented it back to his brother.
“I was able to surprise him,’’ Herndon said. “He put it on his shelf ... he had a lot of memories.’’
Herndon had to follow his brother from afar. Bob’s first year at OU was when Darrell was starting grade school. His Saturdays were spent listening to him on the radio.
Bob gave him a lot to cheer for. The elder Herndon led the 10-0 1954 Sooners in yards rushing (588), total offense (601) and all-purpose yards (617).
His teams contributed the first 18 wins of OU’s historic 47-game winning streak. OU went 27-2-2 during Bob’s career.
Herndon was pictured in Look magazine pile driving a University of California player. That picture still hangs in the press box at OU.
“You bet I did a lot of bragging,’’ Herndon said. “They weren’t as big or fast as they were today, but they achieved a lot. He was one of many players from a small town in Oklahoma. People could relate to that.’’
A friend from Medford sent Darrell Herndon a video from the 1953 OU-Kansas game in which Bob scored twice and had an interception.
“Thanks to him, I got to see my brother play for the first time,’’ Herndon said.
Herndon followed his older brother’s coaching. It allowed him to see various parts of the country. Bob coached under former OU assistant Pete Elliott at Cal, Illinois (where one of the players was Dick Butkus) and at Miami and under former OU teammate Dee Andros at Oregon State.
Thanks to Bob’s connections with Miami, Herndon was able to get tickets for the 1976 Orange Bowl, where OU claimed the national title after beating Michigan 14-6.
Bob, who married a farm girl from Tonkawa, would come back to Oklahoma for wheat harvests. The brothers tried to pack a year of memories in a month.
“We set a lot of trotlines,’’ Herndon said. “My dad was a big fisherman and my brother followed him. When we were finished with the harvest for the day, we would go to some country ponds and stay out there all night catching big old channel cat and flatheads.’’
In Oregon, the brothers the brothers fished off the mouth of the Columbia River for salmon.
Herndon got to meet some of his brothers’ old teammates when they had a reunion at the 2001 OU-Tulsa game. The brothers sat with each other.
“I got to hang around with some of the legends,’’ Herndon said. “That was exciting.’’
The last few years with Bob battling Alzheimer’s were difficult for the family. The Alzheimer’s, the family felt, might have been the long-term result of football injuries.
“He had several concussions,’’ said Herndon, noting his brother played in the days of no face masks. “His daughter and I believe that led to the onset of Alzheimer’s. You hear that from a lot of old football players.’’
While mourning his brother, Herndon is glad his brother’s suffering is over.
“We had been expecting this,’’ he said. “It was truly a blessing. He had been trapped in a hell. His loved ones were suffering with him. We were praying for a release and the Lord has done that.”
And the memories will live on.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.