Jack Mildren, who quarterbacked the Oklahoma Sooners to great glory and later became the state's lieutenant governor, died Thursday after a bout with cancer. He was 58. Mildren was diagnosed two years ago with stomach cancer but had continued to serve as a vice chairman for Arvest Bank and host a daily sports radio talk show on WKY-AM 930. "I'm devastated,” said John Shelley, Mildren's college roommate and teammate at OU. "He was tough, maybe the toughest quarterback and toughest minded and toughest physically you'll ever see. He exemplified this throughout his disease. "There's going to be a void at OU for a lot of years.” Mildren was elected lieutenant governor in 1990 and ran for governor in 1994 as the Democratic Party nominee. He lost that election to Republican Frank Keating. But despite being a prominent politician, Mildren was probably best known in Oklahoma as a quarterback. He arrived in 1968 out of Cooper High School in Abilene, Texas, as one of the most ballyhooed Sooner recruits ever. As a sophomore at OU, Mildren set passing records. As a junior in 1970, when the Sooners got off to a struggling start, coach Chuck Fairbanks switched to the wishbone offense in midseason, and history was made. Mildren was a natural for the option offense. He made All-American in 1971, when OU set NCAA rushing records and ignited a nearly 20-year dynasty. That same year, he led the No. 2-ranked Sooners into a showdown with No. 1 Nebraska, dubbed "The Game of the Century.” The Cornhuskers won, 35-31, but Mildren's highlights from that game still echo in college football history. The Sooners finished 11-1 that season, including a 40-22 defeat of Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. "If you were in the Army, he would be the general,” said former Sooners halfback Joe Wylie, who starred in the same backfield with Mildren. "And everybody knew he was the general.” After playing defensive back in the NFL for three years for the Baltimore Colts and New England Patriots, Mildren retired from football and wrote another success story in the oil business. "Jack had a confidence level about him. He took education seriously and did a lot with it,” said former teammate and OU defensive end Vic Kearney. "He was very successful in the oil business, very successful in government life. "Jack was a smart guy.” After losing the 1994 gubernatorial election, Mildren began to shift his focus from politics back to football again, this time as a radio and television analyst. Most recently, Mildren co-hosted a sports talk show. But in the last three months, it became difficult for him to continue doing the show. "You could tell the last three months that his health had been declining. It was tough to watch,” said Brandon Rush, producer of Mildren's show. "But even in his final days, he had a quick wit about him. "Jack was a guy, when he came to work for us, I was really excited. I knew what kind of man he was, not just the football (player), but what he'd done for the state. I was really pleased to get to know him." Because of the cancer, Mildren began receiving chemotherapy treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "I guessed it was going to happen, but you never want it to happen,” Shelley said. "He was top-notch, someone you really wanted to model yourself after. "To be around a guy like him was truly unbelievable.” Contributing: Staff Writer Berry Tramel
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