Oklahoma football: The Sooner quarterback who could have been king

KERRY JACKSON — What's it like to have your dreams snatched away just as they're coming true? Ask the former OU quarterback, who 40 years ago on Thursday saw the course of his life — and Sooner football — changed by an NCAA ruling. His answer will surprise you.
by Berry Tramel Published: April 16, 2013

Ironically, Jackson would have been eligible under the rules enacted a year later. But in 1972, scholarship qualification included a scale that balanced class standing and entrance-exam scores. Jackson's class standing had ben changed.

Jackson and Phillips said both then and now that they knew nothing about what had occurred and didn't really even understand it.

Jackson was found by Oklahoman reporters that day back in April 1973, climbing on his bike outside the dorm. “I'm kinda disappointed,” he told them. “That's about all I could say.” He said then didn't know about the tampering and that he intended to stay at OU.

“I had no clue what was going on with that,” Jackson says now. “And still as we speak, I couldn't tell you what happened. Nobody came forth and actually spoke about it publicly. Nobody ever came to me and told me about it.

“It's been a lot of years, and I still couldn't tell you what happened. I heard what happened. But nobody came and told me. Coach Switzer never told me. My high school coaches never told me. Just one of those things. Live and learn.”

Joe Woolley lost his job at Galveston Ball. Michael resurfaced as an assistant at Oklahoma State and head coach at Texas-El Paso. OU was hit with two years NCAA probation (no bowl, no television), but Switzer, with Davis quarterbacking, started one of the greatest coaching careers in college football history. Mike Phillips stayed at OU and ended up starting at defensive end on the 1975 national championship team.

Kerry Jackson? He did what he said he would do.

* * *

Jackson took the news hard. “It was devastating,” Jackson said. “Kind of broke me down. Hard to stay in one piece. It bothered me.”

He thought about a lawsuit. He thought about transferring.

“You know who told me not to, was my mother,” Jackson said. “She told me just to stay. We talked a lot. I'm pleased I didn't. I think it was the right thing.”

During a trip home not long after the announcement, Jackson suffered a broken sternum in a car crash and spent a week in intensive care.

“As a young person, especially guys that play football, we really think we're going to live forever, for the things we endure,” Jackson said. “The broken bones. The concussions. I got a chance to learn how not to take life for granted anymore.”

Jackson says he returned from that injury as good as ever, but who knows? He didn't seem to run as fast or move as well, but maybe that was because the carrot of the quarterback job was gone. Davis had become entrenched as the starter, and while his athletic ability couldn't match Jackson's, Davis' leadership was unassailable and the Sooners were winning.

“I didn't lose any speed,” Jackson said. “Any arm strength. Steve was just on top of his game at the time and he was very consistent with being on top of his game. I just couldn't get back in that groove of being the starting quarterback.”

Yet Jackson did what he said he would do. He stayed a Sooner. Was Davis' backup in '74, when Jackson rushed for 12 yards on 17 carries. His only OU touchdown came on a five-yard run in a 63-0 rout of Iowa State. In '75, Jackson wasn't even the backup. Three younger quarterbacks — Dean Blevins, Joe McReynolds and Thomas Lott — had moved past him.

Kerry Jackson would not be king.

“I learned a lot,” Jackson said of those years. “Learned more about my teammates, about myself. Life in general.”

After the car crash, “every day was a good day for me, even though I wasn't playing. I got a chance to participate with people and teammates. That was a good day. And I still feel the same today. Every day is a good day.

“You know what's good about this? I'm not pissed off at anybody. I'm not mad at anybody. I see it as something that happened, and I must go on with life. And coach Switzer, if he sent me out there to run the option now, I'd run it for him. Who can you be mad at? Who can you hold responsible, if you don't know. I think that's the best way. So I'm just going through life.”

That's just the way Jackson is, said Phillips, best friends with Jackson at Galveston Ball and now a minister at Carver Heights Baptist Church in Dallas. “Just an upbeat, caring guy.”

Jackson lives in Aurora, Colo. Been in the mountains since 1978. He's got a wife in Colorado and grown kids in Houston and Atlanta. He's coached some football on the high school and youth level and still officiates high school, junior college and AAU basketball. Rides his bikes over those glorious Rockies and sometimes lets his mind drift.

Championship OU quarterbacks typically go on to great things. Coaching careers. Broadcasting careers. Political careers. NFL careers.

“I still think about it,” Jackson said. “I wonder, where would I be? What would I be doing? What kind of functional body would I have? Would I be messed up? I've thought about all that stuff. The good thing about it, I can still think about it, every day.

“Those were marvelous days. From Day One, I had never been surrounded by so much talent. It was amazing. To be on the team that the depth chart was six deep, you had five other people that could play that position. I still think about it.

“I laugh. I cry sometimes. I miss the guys.”

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. 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.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
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...
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