Norman McNabb, who fought the Japanese in World War II and then helped Jim Tatum and Bud Wilkinson found the Oklahoma football dynasty, died Wednesday in Atlanta. He was 85.
McNabb played for the Sooners from 1946-50 and was part of Tatum’s legendary 1946 recruiting class, made up primarily of war veterans.
McNabb once told Stan Ward, a Norman lawyer and former Sooner player himself, that Wilkinson and Tatum got along well with the veterans because the coaches often “looked the other way ... they figured we’d been to Hell and back. They were pretty damn tolerant.”
McNabb played two years of war-time football for the Fourth Marine Division and spent three years in the Pacific theater, with fighting in Saipan and Iwo Jima.
McNabb survived with only a skin burn across the back, he told OU historian Harold Keith. “All they gave me for it was a couple of jiggers of brandy,” McNabb said.
McNabb played on the 1946 team, received a medical hardship after a knee injury in 1947, became a starter at left guard on the undefeated 1949 Sooners and was a senior co-captain on the 1950 national championship team.
McNabb later helped Port Robertson coach the OU freshman team. He ran a sporting-goods store in Norman, then returned to OU for his doctoral degree and eventually became president of Carl Albert Junior College in Poteau.
McNabb retired from higher education and worked as a senior marketing executive for Tulsa’s Noble Drilling Corp. He moved to Atlanta about five years ago.
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