Collected Wisdom: Jay O'Neal, former OU quarterback

Jay O'Neal grew up in Ada and quarterbacked the Cougars to the 1952 state championship. Then he went to OU and spent three years as the backup quarterback, 1954-56, and never lost a game.
by Berry Tramel Modified: July 20, 2013 at 7:44 pm •  Published: July 20, 2013
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photo - OU quarterback Jay O'Neal is brought to the end of a five-yard gain by Terrapin Don Healy and a host of Maryland defenders during the first period of Monday's Orange Bowl classic. Photo taken by Joe Miller. Date photo was taken unknown. Photo was published in The Daily Oklahoman on 1-3-1956.
OU quarterback Jay O'Neal is brought to the end of a five-yard gain by Terrapin Don Healy and a host of Maryland defenders during the first period of Monday's Orange Bowl classic. Photo taken by Joe Miller. Date photo was taken unknown. Photo was published in The Daily Oklahoman on 1-3-1956.

Jay O'Neal grew up in Ada, quarterbacked the Cougars to the 1952 state championship and was The Oklahoman's first ever Back of the Year. Then he went to OU and spent three years as the backup quarterback, 1954-56, and never lost a game. O'Neal coached for awhile, then entered the early days of the cable television business.

Ada was what I call Happy Days. I was 15 in 1950. So I'd be 25 in 1960. That's your growing-up age. Small town America. Rode a bicycle everywhere. Wasn't a lot of TV, so you did a lot of stuff outside. We played sandlot baseball and sandlot football. It was a Happy Days experience. Good town. Still had a downtown, before Wal-Mart wiped out most of the small town downtown area. Movie theaters. Always went to the movie on the weekends.

For me, the late '40s, I was 10, 12, 13, going to high school games and going to the college games, didn't have TV to watch football, so you listened on the radio. It was an idyllic experience. People didn't worry about somebody being kidnapped. It was a wonderful experience.

Extremely blessed to be there at those times. Looking back at Ada, Elvan George, like most everybody in the '40s, was running the single wing and the double wing. The short punts. Of course, coach (Bud) Wilkinson came along and at OU in '46, started developing what became known as the split-T.

The T formation had been around for awhile. I guess the Bears had run it. But most of it was foot to foot for the linemen. Don Faurot is the one that came up with splitting the line, to spread the defense. Bud not only split the linemen to split the defense, but he was smart enough to realize, if they were going with you, move them in when you're running outside and move them out when you're running inside.

My coach in Ada in 1950, went up to OU at spring practice. Elvan got up there, he was a real detailed guy. He studied what they were doing. He brought that down to Ada for the 1950 season, and my brother Pat was the quarterback, what we could handle at the high school age. Bud used to send out letters in the summer to his players. He'd send them to my brother, and I'd read 'em. I knew pretty much everything about our offense. What they want you to run.

For me, that was a break that that all happened. Gave me a chance to go OU. In 1953, freshmen weren't eligible. Didn't have a limit on scholarships. Can't remember how many freshmen there were, 50 something scholarship players. Freshmen group turned out to be a classic group of players. We had two games. Tulsa and Oklahoma A&M. Worked out all year and got to play two games. Spent most of our time working out the varsity.

For some reason, the varsity was down in numbers. Must have been the Korean War. So the practice, it was still football, although we had our separate team. For me, it was a real eye opener. I think there was seven freshman quarterbacks on scholarship. I thought, man, this is going to be tough.

Texas was the only game they took freshmen out of town to. We got to ride the bus to Dallas and sit in the Cotton Bowl. My eyes were big as saucers. It was a great game, OU won, I think it was 19-14. And that was the first win of the (47-game) streak. Then OU went ahead and won the rest of the season. Represented the Big Seven in the Orange Bowl.

Some of us had to stay and work out with the varsity. The last day of practice before the team broke to go home for Christmas, we scrimmaged. We stopped 'em three times. I'll never forget, Tommy McDonald, he kind of said what he thought. The varsity was over there in the huddle. He said, “Hey, coach, maybe you better take us to the bowl game.” I think he got their attention, because the next 15 or 20 minutes they kicked the hell out of us.

They created the (single platoon) rule in 1953. Wanted to cut down the expense of football programs. Very limited substitution rule. Basically said if you started a quarter, you could come out and go back in once. But if you didn't start the quarter, and you went in and came out, you couldn't come back in. So you couldn't have any kinds of specialists.

Bud just came up and said, OK, we're going to create two teams. One will play the first half of the quarter. Two teams as equally as you could get 'em. We had enough players to do that. It was pretty much a split deal. Just depended on how the game broke on when he put the next guys in.


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...
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