Talking to old Sooners about Mildren
Joe Wylie figured out why I had called. He’s a financial services agent in Tyler, Texas, now, and why would an Oklahoma City writer be calling after 10 p.m. on a Thursday. He had a sinking feeling what the news would be.
He was right. Jack Mildren was dead.
Thursday night was tough duty, and not just because we wrote about someone who had gone from legend to colleague. I called several Sooners to ask them about Mildren; Barry Switzer, Tom Brahaney and Vic Kearney already had heard the news, Wylie had not. We didn’t mention it, but left unsaid was this. When talking about the loss of Mildren, they were talking about their own mortality.
Mildren, to me, was the bridge between modern OU football and yesteryear. He played I-formation quarterback in 1969, when I was eight years old and the Sooners still were trying to emerge from the shadow of Bud Wilkinson’s splendor and sunset. In 1969, the Sooners were less than six years removed from Wilkinson’s final season. By 1971, the modern era had arrived, with a wishbone the likes of which college never had seen.
So Mildren, to me, was both young and old. He had a weathered face, even while playing, so it was easy to think of him as a veteran. But he also was ALWAYS in the public sphere. OU quarterback, NFL player, politician, sports radio host.
But to those old players who listened to Mildren in the huddle and followed him down the line of scrimmage in the wishbone, Mildren had to always be General Jack, the unquestioned leader of Sooner football. The quarterback who handed the ball, and thus the Heisman, to Steve Owens in 1969, and who pitched the ball, and thus history, to Greg Pruitt in 1971.
Wylie told of looking forward to, when his kids were finally grown, OU football reunions, talking about the glory days. And now, those reunions won’t include the leader.
Fifty-eight is one of those remarkable ages that is both young and old. This morning, those Sooners of 1969 and 1970 and 1971 probably are thinking about themselves as much as Mildren. Thinking about all the good times of life, while also wondering where did the years go.
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