Steve Davis winced at the thought of seeing himself in the newspaper. On a Sunday? On the cover? Time was, Davis had a nearly permanent spot in the pages of the papers.
As Oklahoma's starting quarterback in the glory days of the '70s, he lived in the spotlight. He sneezed, and people knew. He talked, and people listened. They still do. He just isn't talking as much.
"I've just learned I can't be a learner and a student if I'm doing all the talking,” Davis said. "I've decided to talk less and listen more.”
He has all but disappeared from the public eye.
This is a man who used to travel all over the state speaking to groups, a man who spent almost two decades as a television broadcaster. Talking was one of the things he did best. Now, speaking engagements are rare.
His speech earlier this week at the Business and Community Leadership Luncheon was his first in many years. Davis only did it because Don Jimerson, his freshman coach back in 1971, was being honored for 40-plus years at OU.
A packed room at the Petroleum Club listened to his tales of glory and his stories of woe.Life, you see, has not always been kind to Davis.So much of his story is a fairy tale. As a kid, Davis decided he would some way, some day play for OU. When he eventually laid hold of a recruiting brochure, he tore off the back flap. On it was a picture of the OU huddle on which Davis wrote one simple phrase. "When?"
Davis focused all of his attention on that goal, and yet as a senior quarterback at Sallisaw High, he was not highly recruited. Leon Cross recruited that area for the Sooners back then, and he was skeptical about Davis being a Division I player. Watching film, Cross saw that the kid was neither very big nor very fast. "But all he did was win,” Cross remembered. "Every time he got under that center, they moved the ball and they did things right.”
Cross offered a scholarship, and Davis arrived on campus as the eighth-string quarterback."That didn't bother me,” Davis said of being so far down the depth chart. "What bothered me was ... Larry McBroom had hurt his shoulder in the All-State game. His shoulder was in a sling." He was No. 7.
Two years later, Davis was the Sooner starter. Over the next three seasons, he lived his fairy tale. He led the Sooners to back-to-back national championships, winning 28 consecutive games during one stretch and finishing with a 32-1-1 career record. Davis was the golden boy of the Sooners in the '70s. That reputation, though, went beyond what he did on the field. He was the boy next door, quick to shake your hand, look you in the eye and give you a smile.
Folks all over the state wanted him to speak to their groups. He was so sought after, in fact, that he would be shuttled to speaking engagements in cities big and small on the university's plane. "I felt like I was on the university plane more than the president,” Davis joked.
Thing is, it might have been true. Sometimes — pay attention, college coaches — he'd even go on Friday night before a game. The coaches trusted him so much that they knew he could make the trip and still be ready to play on Saturday.
Good fortune followed Davis after his college career ended, too. He spent 18 years as a college football broadcaster. He opened successful businesses in Tulsa. He looked to be living the good life. But there were problems.
His first marriage ended in divorce. His passion for work waned. Then, his brother, George, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Davis began to unravel. He seemed outwardly like the same old Steve, but on the inside, a battle raged.
George sensed it, and eight months before his death, he wrote Steve a letter. "I will be dead soon,” he wrote. "Before that blessed event takes place, I hope you will take some time to look around and recognize what you're doing. It is time for you to consider what has been done for you instead of what you have done for others.”
Then, George penned the words that still resound with Steve."My life is almost finished,” George wrote. "Your life is unfinished.”
The letter angered Davis, disgusted him even. "But over time,” he said, "I started realizing he was right.” Davis spent many weekends sitting with his brother, and after disease took George's ability to speak, Steve would feed him ice chips. Change the CDs. Listen to his breathing. And in those moments, he became a new man.
"What changed my life was seeing his courage,” Davis said of his brother, who died March 1, 1993. "It's given me a resolve to be more passionate about the very opportunities that I've been given. Passion can empower you. Passion can change your life.”
Davis thinks often about those words in his brother's letter, about how his life is unfinished, about how much he has to give. He lives now with renewed strength, not tired steps. He focuses on the things that are most important to him. Faith. Family.
"It's not about me now,” he said. "I've learned that.”
Former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis, left, helped the Sooners win back-to-back national titles and 28 consecutive games during one stretch. He finished with a 32-1-1 career record. BY Jim Argo, The Oklahoman Archive