TULSA — Don Jimerson called Chuck Bowman more than 40 years ago with a request.
Jimerson then was the University of Oklahoma freshman football coach. Bowman was Oklahoma's director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“Chuck, you need to come over here and meet this kid from Sallisaw,” Jimerson told Bowman. “This could be the next Billy Graham.”
Davis never became Billy Graham, though Davis did, as a college quarterback, speak at a Graham crusade. And he affected Oklahomans in ways that still resound.
From football fans who remember gridiron glory to aging baby boomers who remember how a mop-haired preacher/quarterback touched their soul decades ago, Davis' impact has resurged in the week since his March 17 death in a South Bend, Ind., plane crash.
“I knew he was popular,” said Joe Davis, Steve's younger brother. “I didn't know he was that popular.”
Which is how the First Baptist Church came to be filled with an estimated 1,700 people Monday.
“We didn't really realize the significance and the impact of what he's done for the state of Oklahoma,” said another brother, Todd Davis. “What he's done in life in general.”
A spiritual version of the OU Chant flowed from Rhonda Roush's fingers on the grand piano as Davis' family entered the sanctuary.
To paraphrase the Sooner alma mater, a thousand strong joined in heart and song, in praise of a man who was many things.
Part quarterback hero, part preacher, part broadcaster, part businessman, part pilot, part father, part sinner, part saint. And all extraordinary.
“He was really special,” said Bowman, one of three who eulogized Davis and who related the Jimerson story. “Steve came into our lives two years after we started FCA. Steve Davis became our poster child. He was FCA before we were FCA.”
Dozens of former Sooners attended as the stories flowed about the man who quarterbacked OU to a 32-1-1 record from 1973-75. But few of them were about football.
The stories were about Davis' smile and charisma and world-class hair. About his depth of spirit and quality of leadership. About overcoming dark times later in life to find the victory he had found as a younger man.
“We all have problems,” said First Baptist pastor Deron Spoo, who delivered the memorial message. “Greatness is not defined by the heights we rise, but the depths from which we recover.”
Rossi Robinson became friends with Davis in 1972, while both were OU students. Monday, Robinson — the uncle of former OSU quarterback Zac Robinson — also eulogized Davis.
“He had an inner joy, a contagious smile,” Robinson said.
Robinson held up a Bible, given to him by Davis on Feb. 28, 1975, with the inscription: “Two things God promises will last forever: the souls of men and God's word. This is the only thing I could ever give you that will last. May God print it deeply in your heart.”
Four decades after Davis quarterbacked the Sooners, his effect on teammates is still felt.
John Roush, an all-American lineman in 1974, married Rhonda 37 years ago. Davis officiated the ceremony. Both Roushes were part of the funeral Monday.
John Roush termed Davis a “mentor, confidant, friend. A guy that was our leader.”
Billy Sims, who eventually would win the Heisman Trophy, was a freshman in Davis' senior year of 1975.
“First preacher I ever had for a quarterback,” Sims said. “You couldn't get him off his beliefs. Amazing. Especially in the '70s, for a guy like that, being true to the Lord.”
Davis became a mentor to Brian Bosworth, who played at OU more than a decade after Davis.
“Not many like him on the planet,” said Bosworth, who has become an avowed Christian. “We spent a lot of time having good conversations. I wasn't as deep at that point in my journey.”
Bo Davis, Steve's son and a former baseball player at the University of Missouri, said he agrees with those who call his dad a legend. But not because Steve Davis was a championship quarterback or Baptist preacher or ABC football analyst.
“I never saw him play a down,” Bo Davis said. “Can't remember a single game he called (on television). Never saw him preach a single sermon.”
But Steve Davis taught his son to ride a bike and hit a curveball and throw a spiral. “He taught me how to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat,” Bo said from the pulpit. “And because he instilled in me the value of outworking your competition, especially when you appear to be overmatched.
“He is a legend because he urged me to thoughtfully consider the choices that I make in life. ‘Choose wisely,' he would say. All he ever wanted to be was a good dad.”
Pastor Spoo told the story of Davis' Jeep, bought while he was at OU. Davis' brother George borrowed it and turned it over on sand dunes. Steve Davis had it repaired. Joe and Todd Davis also borrowed it on separate occasions — and wrecked it.
“Most of us would fix our brothers,” Spoo said. “Steve fixed the Jeep.”
In the hallway of First Baptist after the ceremony, Steve Owens, another Heisman winner, shook his head and said, “We lost a good one.”
But Pastor Spoo prefers a different word choice. Steve and Joe Davis were off-roading one day when Joe was forced to admit he was lost. Steve got behind the wheel, quickly got them back to the main road and all was well.
Later, Steve told Joe, “Brother, I was never lost.”
And so, Spoo told the thousand strong, “Today, Steve is gone, but even now, he's not lost.”
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 FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.