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Oklahoma football: Barry Switzer talks Steve Davis

by Berry Tramel Published: March 19, 2013

I wrote about the passing of Steve Davis for the Tuesday Oklahoman. You can read that column here. I didn’t dwell on any particular stories – other than those Davis shared with me – but I thought I would share some with you today.

I talked to Barry Switzer yesterday. He and Davis broke in together in a lot of ways. In 1973, Switzer became head coach, Davis became his quarterback, and it seemed like they were together forever. Not until September 1976, when Dean Blevins started against Vanderbilt, was the Switzer/Davis duo broken.

Steve Davis and Barry Switzer, Jan. 2, 1976 (AP Photo, File)

Steve Davis and Barry Switzer, Jan. 2, 1976 (AP Photo, File)

Over the last few decades, Switzer never seemed particularly close with Davis. For one thing, Switzer was as tight with his scrubs as he was with his stars. And for another, Davis hadn’t come around the OU program much over the decades. Not until the last few years had Davis reconnected.

But Switzer, as always, had plenty of recollections about the Camelot days when he was young, Davis was a thick-haired preacher/quarterback and it seemed like the Sooners never would lose.

* This is the third Switzer player to die in the last two weeks. Guards Jaime Melendez and Ken Jones died recently.

“They say they come in threes,” Switzer said, sounding like he is growing tired of seeing his players buried. It’s not supposed to happen that way.

* Davis died Sunday in a private-plane crash in South Bend, Ind. “I think about all the damn times I get on airplanes, with pilots I don’t know,” Switzer said. A week or so ago, Switzer, Joe Castiglione and Bob Stoops flew on a charter flight to Nebraska for a Tom Osborne celebration.

* Davis wasn’t highly-recruited out of Sallisaw. He always said he got the final OU scholarship, and Switzer said that’s right but pointed out it wasn’t the last of 25, it was the last of about 50 scholarships.

“Different time,” Switzer said. “Steve wasn’t highly recruited. I remember when we took him, I think just (assistant coach) Leon Cross said, ‘I believe in this kid.’

“Hell, that was back when we took 50. You take 50, this state isn’t going to produce 50 players in five years. We took him. We took Lucious (Selmon) last, too. One guy quarterbacks you for three years. The other’s the first of the brothers.”

* Switzer’s first real view of Davis came in a 1971 freshman game, those Monday night classics.

“I was sitting in the pressbox, in the media area,” Switzer said. Davis caught Switzer’s eye.

“I went down to the coaches’ booth, Galen (Hall)’s sitting there with a couple of coaches, I said, ‘Galen, this kid’s not a bad player. Gets rid of the ball quick. Runs tough, gets upfield north and south.’ I didn’t have any idea.”

* Davis took over in 1973 when Kerry Jackson was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Davis took over perhaps the most talented Sooner team of all time. On defense, three Selmons, Randy Hughes and Rod Shoate. On offense, Joe Washington, Tinker Owens, Eddie Foster, John Roush and Kyle Davis. That was a ballteam.

“Of course, Steve was fortunate,” Switzer said of all the talent. “We all were fortunate.”

* What kind of quarterback was Davis?

“Steve never beat himself,” Switzer said. “Never made the mistakes that would beat you. Pretty sound in his play. Pretty damn tough going north and south with the football. Made the deep throw pretty good.”

Switzer said Davis was a 53 percent passer, but in reality he was a 40 percent passer. Doesn’t really matter. Switzer said the Sooners always threw deep. No quarterbacks completed 65 percent in the ‘70s, especially those that threw mostly deep balls.

Think about it. OU really had only two pass patterns – the 10-yard out and the 40-yard bomb. Occasionally, the Sooners might send a tight end over the middle, but rarely.

* Switzer on Davis: “Steve, by his own volition, didn’t come around much. There was a period of time, he kind of ostracized himself from the program. Didn’t come back for the alumni game. I don’t know why.”

Later, that changed. “I’m sure as you grow older, the more you appreciate it,” Switzer said of the old connections. “I know I appreciate the relationships with the players.”

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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