“Hello, Oklahoma,” Jim Click answered the phone, not knowing who was calling but knowing where they were from.
Forty years in the Arizona desert, and Click hasn't forgotten the 405 area code. Hasn't forgotten his days as tri-captain of OSU's historic 1965 football team.
“I can talk all day about Oklahoma,” said Click, who graduated from Altus High School in 1962 and from Oklahoma State in 1966. Then Click proves it, jumping from story to story about his days in Stillwater, as one of Phil Cutchin's survivors.
And yet, there was a day last year, and there will be a day this year and next, when Click uses the term “we” and won't mean the Cowboys.
The Jim Click Auto Group is one of the nation's largest, which has been as large as 24 dealerships in southern Arizona. Click bought Pueblo Ford in 1971 at the age of 27; now he's a Tucson institution.
“I made most of my money in Arizona,” Click said.
But Click talks like he made most of his memories during four years in Stillwater.
“Best four years of my life,” he said.
Click entered the car business through his great uncle, Holmes Tuttle, who was a postwar Los Angeles auto dealer and rose to great wealth and influence. Even headed Ronald Reagan's unofficial “kitchen cabinet.” Helped get Reagan elected governor of California in 1966.
Holmes Tuttle, from the family for whom Jason White's hometown was named, is in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
Click's father was raised by the Tuttles and got into the car business himself, opening a Chevy dealership in 1958.
When Click graduated from OSU, he went to California, worked five years for Holmes Tuttle's company and then purchased the Tucson Ford dealership.
Now Click is a Tucson icon, one of its most influential and respected philanthropists, and a big supporter of the University of Arizona. A few years ago, Cigar Aficianado magazine profiled three of the most generous boosters in collegiate athletics. OSU's Boone Pickens, Louisville's Sam Rechter and Arizona's Jim Click.
“If you take from a community, you've got to give back,” Click has said repeatedly.
One of Click's involvements is UofA athletics, not just with finances, but with relationships. Arizona football coach Mike Stoops has raved about Click's moral support; when then-athletic director Jim Livengood flew to Norman in 2003 to interview Stoops, Click made the trip, too.
So the 2010 Alamo Bowl — OSU vs. Arizona — was a torn-between-two-lovers plot for Click.
It's not like he hasn't donated to OSU, too. Click has endowed a scholarship for the center position and the defensive tackle position, for his old pal Hugh McCrabb. In the OSU football complex is a testament from Click on what the university and football program meant to him.
“Obviously, I'm grateful to Oklahoma State for the education I received,” Click said. “I love Mike Holder. I like our coach, too. I come back every two, three years.”
But all those years in Tucson means “we” is Arizona.
Click wore a red shirt to the Alamo Bowl, given to him by Holder, and jokingly told Holder he had no one to blame but himself. Click said he was “embarrassed” by 'Zona's 36-10 loss. Hopes the Wildcats can perform better on Sept. 8, when Arizona plays at OSU, and next season, when the Cowboys make the return trip.
But Click can't complain that this series is pulling at his heartstrings. The series exists because of Click.
“Absolutely,” Holder said. “Would not have happened without him. We couldn't get anyone at Arizona interested in playing us. I called Jim, he called the athletic director and voila, we have a home-and-home with Arizona.”
Click's devotion to OSU can be seen in his office. On the wall is a picture of his 1962 football recruiting class. On his desk is a game ball from the Cowboys' 17-16 victory over OU in 1965, which ended OSU's 19-game Bedlam losing streak.
“Great group of guys,” Click said. “Even the ones that quit were a great group of guys.”
Cliff Speegle was OSU's coach in 1962, Click's freshman year. “First day of practice was a scary experience,” Speegle said. “Probably had 100-plus players on scholarship” in that freshman class.
But Speegle was fired, replaced in 1963 by Cutchin, a Bear Bryant assistant at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama. Cutchin was on the A&M staff in 1954, when Bryant took his team to the legendary August training camp in Junction, Texas.
A decade later, Cutchin didn't take his new OSU team away from Stillwater, but he ran an hellacious camp.
“When Phil Cutchin came in, I'll bet we had 150-175 players in the spring,” Click said. “The following fall, we almost couldn't field two teams. Everybody quit.”
The numbers were so scarce, Cutchin moved the entire team into one wing of the dorm.
“I got to play because of default,” Click said. “There were a hell of a lot better centers than me, I tell you. Spring of '63 was brutal. The guys that were left, we've got a bond that will never be broke.”
During the season, Cutchin issued a proclamation. Anyone not playing could challenge the man in front of them to a physical contest in practice. The winner got playing time.
Click was playing and was challenged. “Somehow, I won that challenge,” Click said. His challenger quit that night.
Don Brewington, an OSU teammate of Click, called him a “great guy. Very tough football player; 180 pounds at linebacker and center. About as tough as one can be.”
Said Holder of Click, “It's a great story. He's one of those survivors. He's prospered because of that experience.”
Click plans to bring all his former teammates out to Tucson in 2012 for OSU-Arizona III and put them up for a couple of days.
But first comes OSU-Arizona II, when Click returns to his alma mater, for the matchup he put together, a matchup that either way, he cannot lose.
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 AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.