The Jim Thorpe Banquet always is one of the best non-game nights of the year in Oklahoma City sports. Lynne Draper, Greg Slavonic and the Jim Thorpe Association staff do a fantastic job putting on a quality event. Here’s just one example. The banquet is scripted and was scheduled to end at 9:25 p.m. Tuesday. It ended at 9:27. That’s organization.
Here’s another example, and maybe something we don’t truly realize in OKC. The Thorpe Award is a big deal across the country. In fact, 2007 Thorpe winner Antoine Cason of Arizona told a touching story from four years ago, when he was being recruited, how he had always been told he was too small to play football and was not highly-sought coming out of high school in Long Beach, Calif.
Cason said he had set winning the Thorpe Award as a goal, even in high school. Think about that for a moment. In Long Beach, where there’s plenty, good and bad, to occupy the mind of an 18-year-old, some kid was intent on winning an Oklahoma City trophy four years in the future. Cason told his story from the podium at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and set it up nicely, talking about how much support and encouragement he received from his parents during his high-school days, when his football future was not always so rosy.
An uncle, too, was on his side, and when the few Pac-10 recruiters who took an interest in Cason came to his home, this uncle would ask, “What are you going to do to help Antoine win the Thorpe Award?” And Cason’s father interjected, “Hey, we’re just trying to get the kid a scholarship.”
Here’s another example of the Thorpe’s rising status. Its alumni are starting to build a fraternity. In past years, recent winners have returned to help celebrate with the new award recipient. Last year, Chris Hudson (Colorado 1994) and Bennie Blades (Miami 1987) attended. This year, past Thorpe winners were in abundance: Rickey Dixon (OU 1987), Darryl Lewis (Arizona 1990), Hudson, Lawrence Wright (Florida 1996), Michael Huff (Texas 2005) and Aaron Ross (Texas 2006).
Texas’ media relations director, John Bianco, attended with the ex-Longhorns and said the players had been talking about it all year. Huff and Ross are NFL starters; Huff for the Raiders, Ross for the New York football Giants, a team that perhaps you’ve heard of. Nine nights before the Thorpe banquet, Ross and the Giants took down the greatest team of all time, Bill Belichick’s Patriots, in the Super Bowl.
Here is the simple truth about the Jim Thorpe Award. Draper and the organizers of the award more than 20 years ago took a concept from nothingness and turned it into something special. The city and the state have reaped the benefits.