Tinker Owens' first trip to the Oil Bowl in Wichita Falls, Texas, was a big one.
Owens and his parents crammed into his older brother's 1955 Chevy to go watch Steve play in the 1966 game.
“My dad drove it in third gear all the way because he couldn't get the gears figured out,” Owens said. “The AC didn't work very well in that old Chevy and it was a long ride. I'd never been past Oklahoma City.”
Six years later, Tinker Owens was playing in front of an estimated 20,000 fans in the annual all-star game between Oklahoma and Texas.
“It was a great experience,” Owens said. “We had a great time down there. I became friends with (Jimbo) Elrod and Larry Briggs at the all-state game before that and we had a really good time there. They treated us great.”
Now, it doesn't look like any other Oklahoma athletes will get that chance.
Last week, Oklahoma Coaches Association officials said an agreement between the OCA and game organizers had been breached and that Oklahoma wouldn't send a team there again until the disagreement was resolved.
Oil Bowl organizers said they hoped the series could be resumed, but it appears doubtful that will happen.
The charitable money that the game earned — more than $18,000 last year — was given solely to the Shriners Hospitals instead of being divided between the hospitals and Oklahoma charities.
Oil Bowl officials said the sides agreed on the one-year change, while OCA Executive Director Milt Bassett said his side had never agreed for all the money to be donated to that cause. The OCA, he said, had planned on giving the money to the American Cancer Society instead.
In recent years, the popularity of games like the Oil Bowl and the OCA All-State Games has taken a dive.
“All all-star games are about to play out as far as making money,” Bassett said. “There's so many of them and the colleges aren't letting the D-I kids play anymore.
“We still have fun at ours and still get alternates to come out and occasionally Tulsa will let someone play.”
Bassett said the OCA is still committed to its game, though. The OCA all-state game is held in conjunction with its coaches clinic every year.
“We're not having them to make money anymore,” he said. “We're just having them for the kids and coaches to have that experience.”
The decline in popularity might stem from that 1972 season.
Future OU star Joe Washington, who had starred at Port Arthur (Texas) Lincoln did not participate in the game.
Before that season, the NCAA made freshmen eligible for varsity football competition for the first time.
“Joe knew he had a shot to play as a freshman so he didn't take that chance,” Owens said. “I didn't think I had any shot to contribute as a freshman so I went ahead and went down there.
“Since then, so many freshmen have that opportunity to play early that they want to get on campus and don't want to take the chance of getting hurt as well.”
Before the rule change, the Oil Bowl had regularly seen crowds of 15,000 or more. After the 1972 game, the Oil Bowl drew a crowd at least that large only once — in 1974.
In addition to freshmen being made eligible, college coaches actively discouraged players from playing in all-star games, especially ones played so close to the start of fall practices.
Now, many players are opting to begin college during the summer, limiting even more the number of high-caliber Division I players to play in the games.
Still, for the players that played in the Oil Bowl, the game remains special.
“I was disappointed to hear that it's ending,” Owens said. “It's lost its luster some the last few years but it's still a great event for the players to be a part of.”