Oklahoma football: Part quarterback hero, part preacher — Steve Davis' impact comes to light after his death

From football fans who remember gridiron glory to aging baby boomers who remember how a mop-haired preacher/quarterback touched their soul, former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis' impact has resurged in the week since his March 17 death in a South Bend, Ind., plane crash.
by Berry Tramel Published: March 25, 2013

TULSA — Don Jimerson called Chuck Bowman more than 40 years ago with a request.

Jimerson then was the University of Oklahoma freshman football coach. Bowman was Oklahoma's director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Chuck, you need to come over here and meet this kid from Sallisaw,” Jimerson told Bowman. “This could be the next Billy Graham.”

Davis never became Billy Graham, though Davis did, as a college quarterback, speak at a Graham crusade. And he affected Oklahomans in ways that still resound.

From football fans who remember gridiron glory to aging baby boomers who remember how a mop-haired preacher/quarterback touched their soul decades ago, Davis' impact has resurged in the week since his March 17 death in a South Bend, Ind., plane crash.

“I knew he was popular,” said Joe Davis, Steve's younger brother. “I didn't know he was that popular.”

Which is how the First Baptist Church came to be filled with an estimated 1,700 people Monday.

“We didn't really realize the significance and the impact of what he's done for the state of Oklahoma,” said another brother, Todd Davis. “What he's done in life in general.”

A spiritual version of the OU Chant flowed from Rhonda Roush's fingers on the grand piano as Davis' family entered the sanctuary.

To paraphrase the Sooner alma mater, a thousand strong joined in heart and song, in praise of a man who was many things.

Part quarterback hero, part preacher, part broadcaster, part businessman, part pilot, part father, part sinner, part saint. And all extraordinary.

“He was really special,” said Bowman, one of three who eulogized Davis and who related the Jimerson story. “Steve came into our lives two years after we started FCA. Steve Davis became our poster child. He was FCA before we were FCA.”

Dozens of former Sooners attended as the stories flowed about the man who quarterbacked OU to a 32-1-1 record from 1973-75. But few of them were about football.

The stories were about Davis' smile and charisma and world-class hair. About his depth of spirit and quality of leadership. About overcoming dark times later in life to find the victory he had found as a younger man.

“We all have problems,” said First Baptist pastor Deron Spoo, who delivered the memorial message. “Greatness is not defined by the heights we rise, but the depths from which we recover.”

Rossi Robinson became friends with Davis in 1972, while both were OU students. Monday, Robinson — the uncle of former OSU quarterback Zac Robinson — also eulogized Davis.

“He had an inner joy, a contagious smile,” Robinson said.

Robinson held up a Bible, given to him by Davis on Feb. 28, 1975, with the inscription: “Two things God promises will last forever: the souls of men and God's word. This is the only thing I could ever give you that will last. May God print it deeply in your heart.”


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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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