Oklahoma football: Merv Johnson finds solace in work after his wife's death

On Oct. 5, Merv Johnson called an OU football game hours after his wife was removed from life support. Johnson has found that his work as director of football operations and radio color commentator is a helpful coping mechanism.
by Jason Kersey Modified: November 27, 2013 at 6:57 pm •  Published: November 27, 2013
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photo - Merv and Cindy Johnson. PHOTO PROVIDED BY OU ATHLETICS
Merv and Cindy Johnson. PHOTO PROVIDED BY OU ATHLETICS

— Merv Johnson sat in the broadcast booth Saturday, Oct. 5, providing color commentary throughout Oklahoma's 20-17 win over TCU in the familiar, soft voice Sooner fans have grown accustomed to the past 16 seasons.

Judging purely from Johnson's analysis that night of OU's stellar first-half defensive performance; TCU's second-half rally; and Brennan Clay's electric 76-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run, you'd never know the pain he experienced that very morning when his wife of 53 years, Cindy, was removed from life support.

“I didn't notice any difference at all,” said OU play-by-play announcer Toby Rowland. “Delicately (at the beginning of) the broadcast, I wanted him to know that we were happy he was there and that our thoughts were with him. It was a little bit emotional off the top.

“But after that, it was just a football game.”

Cindy Johnson died the next day, and in the nearly two months since, Merv is still feeling his way through day-to-day life without her.

The OU football icon has found that his work as director of football operations and radio color commentator is a helpful coping mechanism.

Johnson joined the OU football family in 1979, when he accepted a position on Barry Switzer's coaching staff. He remained an assistant coach until 1998, when he assumed his current duties, which include on-campus recruiting and coordinating players' daily off-the-field activities.

He first learned about the healthy distraction his work can provide in late August 2000, when his youngest daughter, Jill Foster, was killed in a car accident at the age of 29. Johnson didn't miss the Sooners' season opener against UTEP less than a week later.

“We've been through this kind of shock before,” Johnson said.

Johnson hadn't arrived back in Norman from the Sooners' late-September trip to Notre Dame when Cindy suffered a stroke in their home. She was alone that Sunday morning, and several hours passed before anyone realized what had happened.


by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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