Jay Wilkinson: Great White Son
Former OU football star Joe Rector introduced Jay Wilkinson as the “Great White Son” to a group of Sooner football alums Friday. The Sooners of Bud Wilkinson always referred to their coach as the Great White Father, because of his white hair and commanding presence, and Jay Wilkinson, the son of their legendary coach, bears a striking resemblance in both voice and mannerisms to his father.
The old Sooners meet every few months at Hometown Buffet in Oklahoma City for lunch, and Rector asked Jay Wilkinson to speak Friday. The reverence and respect these players, now in their 70s and 80s, still have for their late coach remains evident.
Calvin Woodworth, a 1953-55 Sooner, told Wilkinson, “Thank you for sharing your mother and dad with us. It was a life-changing experience for us.”
Wilkinson addressed the silver-haired crowd and talked about memories. How when he hears the Willie Nelson song “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” Wilkinson consciously reminds himself that his heroes have always been OU football players.
When George Brewer (in attendance) and the ’49 Sooners won the Sugar Bowl, Wilkinson was seven years old. When Claude Arnold (in attendance) and the ’50 Sooners won the national title, Wilkinson was eight years old. When Dick Ellis (in attendance) and the ’52 Sooners of Eddie Crowder and Billy Vessels beat Texas to start a six-game series winning streak, Wilkinson was 10 years old. When the ’53 Sooners began the epic 47-game winning streak, Wilkinson was 11 years old.; he was 15 the next time the Sooners lost.
“Here I am 68 years old, and we’re getting closer in age,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson regaled the old Sooners with memories of them and his dad. He told of visiting coaching legends who came to Norman to learn more football from Bud Wilkinson. Bear Bryant. Darrell Royal. Frank Leahy. Woody Hayes.
Hayes visited the Wilkinson home and met Pat, Jay’s older brother and valedictorian at Norman High School. Hayes went home and asked his son, Steve, why he couldn’t make straight A’s like the son of Bud Wilkinson. “Maybe,” Steve Hayes said, “I’ll make straight A’s when you win 47 straight games.”
Wilkinson spoke about the letters he received from his dad over the years, many of which came while Jay was a football player at Duke, where he made all-American, and the philosophies of life that were apparent in those lessons.
1. Values. 2. Attitude. “What can I give to the group, not what can I take from the group.” 3. Preparation. “Don’t set your sights too low, but make a practical plan.” 4. Perseverance. “Falling short can be beneficial if you go forward in the most trying of circumstances.”
“For my dad, the scoreboard was only one aspect of winning,” Jay Wilkinson said. “His philosophy wat not about the outcome of any single event. It was about a process … winning is a natural extension of that process.”
Wilkinson told the alums what they already knew: Bud’s teams won 14 conference titles in 17 years, three national championships and produced winning streaks of 31 and 47 games.
Wilkinson said those coaches who came through town had “different characteristics, different styles, one common denominator, each had a burning desire to win and the ability to transcend that desire to others.”
Bud Wilkinson’s first question each year to his team. “How good do you want to be?” And then Bud’s answer: “It’s up to you.”
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