“The older you get,” Barry Switzer was saying the other day, “the faster it goes.”
Don't we know it. Wish your favorite coach a happy birthday on this fine October Friday. Barry Switzer turns 75.
“I can't believe he's gonna be 75,” said Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who played for Switzer on the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. “Switzer ain't no 75. He's got to be about 55.”
Believe it. Despite that same beaming smile and raspy voice that has charmed us for decades, the signs are there. Weathered face. Halting walk. Worst of all, so many near and dear already gone.
Switzer is right. The years pick up speed. “I promise you, they fly by now,” Switzer said.
But living long and living large has its upside, too. The adoration and devotion from so many people.
For Switzer's 75th, we contacted 75 friends, family, former players, fans, asking them for a birthday tribute. Hope you enjoy it.
Alas, some of the most important people in Barry Switzer's life are gone. Just in recent years, Jack Mildren, Daryl Hunt and Lee Roy Selmon have passed. Some of his greatest players, dead too soon, all in their 50s.
“I've thought about that many times, losing players and friends,” Switzer said. “It just shows you how life does move. We all have a spot. We don't know how much we've got left.”
Hollywood is negotiating to turn Bootlegger's Boy, Switzer's autobiography, into a movie. Switzer wants it to be long on his Arkansas upbringing and short on Oklahoma football. The Sooner Switzer era, you can see via Brandon Meier's superb video series, the latest of which will be released later this year. Or even better, you can close your eyes and picture Steve Davis pitching to Joe Washington.
But there are things about Switzer we can only see through his stories. People we can meet only through his memories.
Switzer's parents, Frank Switzer and Mary Louis Wood Switzer, both tormented in their own way, and both slain by a bullet.
Switzer's and his daddy's nanny, Irma Reynolds, who later helped Frank Switzer run his bootlegging business and who died in 2000 at the age of 104. Switzer spoke at her funeral.
Switzer's mentor, Jim Mackenzie, who brought Switzer to Oklahoma 46 years ago. Mackenzie is the forgotten man of Sooner football. The coach who put together a staff of Switzer, Chuck Fairbanks, Galen Hall, Pat James, Homer Rice and Swede Lee. Mackenzie died of a heart attack in April 1967, at the age of 37. But Switzer hasn't forgotten. He is always quick to remind any who ask that Mackenzie would have achieved all that Fairbanks and Switzer built.
Those are just some of the people who impacted Switzer's life. But remaining are plenty of people whose lives were impacted by Switzer.
Switzer perhaps is not as influential on Oklahoma culture as was Bud Wilkinson. Perhaps not as iconic as Henry Iba. Perhaps Bob Stoops' revival or Eddie Sutton's renaissance were more impressive.
But most beloved coach? That's a landslide. There's never been a more popular coach in this state than the transplant from Crossett, Ark.
From lifelong friends to autograph-seeking strangers in a diner, Switzer has been nothing if not a man of the people. Presidents or paupers, it seems not to matter to Switzer. “I've never thought anything about it,” Switzer said.
Switzer's old players swear by him. Even Bob Stoops calls Switzer the King. But it's not just the football crowd who march in step.
I once knew an elderly Holiness preacher. Fire and brimstone and the old ways. Most every stereotype you could imagine. You'd think they wouldn't be too keen on Switzer, a self-admitted rascal in many ways.
Through a mutual friend, the Holiness preacher and his wife met Switzer and were totally smitten. Had Switzer over to eat fried quail. Switzer visited the preacher in the hospital.
Man of the people. The stories are endless of Switzer's connection with common folk in a life that now has reached 75 years and is flying by.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
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