Bob Barry Jr. was driving back from Manhattan, Kan., Saturday night and tried multiple times to reach his legendary father, Bob Barry Sr.
It was a ritual to recount the game they had just witnessed, and Barry Jr. had just seen Oklahoma go on the road and whoop previously unbeaten Kansas State 58-17.
Barry Jr. tried a final phone call around midnight, but didn't want to disturb his father's sleep.
On Sunday morning, concerned neighbors of Barry Sr. noticed the morning newspaper still in the driveway and his mail had yet to be picked up. It was Barry Jr.'s older brother, Frank, who found his father.
“It literally looked like he took a nap, bless his heart,” Barry Jr. said roughly five hours after learning of his father's passing. “I thought it looked peaceful.”
The man who experienced both sides of Bedlam for half a century had passed away at age 80.
Bob Barry Sr. retired last spring after 50 seasons as the voice of the Sooners (1961-72; 1991-2010) and the Oklahoma State Cowboys (1973-90), plus a stint with Tulsa basketball.
Known simply as “The Legend,” Barry Sr. began broadcasting sporting events in 1956 as a salesman, disc jockey and sportscaster at KNOR (now KREF). Coaching legend Bud Wilkinson hired him to be OU's new play-by-play-voice in 1961.
A legendary sports figure passing away shortly after retirement seems to happen frequently. Most notably, Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant retired following the 1982 season and four weeks later died of a massive heart attack.
Barry Jr. said he doesn't think such was the case for his father, who called his final OU basketball game last March.
“He was in great spirits. He felt great,” Barry Jr. said. “I always asked him if he missed doing it and he always said, 'Heavens no.' He didn't miss the travel at all. He enjoyed watching games on TV. I think he was genuinely happy and thoroughly enjoyed going to home games. He loved being a guy hanging out in the press box, just being there and not having to work.”
Barry Jr. worked 25 years alongside his father at NewsChannel 4 (KFOR).
“We had our moments,” Barry Jr. said, “but it was always fun to kiss and makeup, so to speak. He was just a kind, gentle guy who enjoyed what he got to do and was blessed to do that for a half-century.”
Asked if he ever won an argument with his father, Barry Jr. forced a chuckle and said, “Oh, I won several. We were both pretty head strong. I sent him home a couple times from work because I didn't like his attitude. We kind of laughed about it later.”
Barry Jr. said last year's steady stream of tributes honoring his father allowed the entire family to appreciate his accomplishments, as did the book “Voice of Bedlam: The Life of Bob Barry” written by Bob Burke and Michael Dean.
“His tribute year was so flattering and so overwhelming,” Barry Jr. said. “He was actually a little uncomfortable by it because he was getting a tribute everywhere. That gave us a chance to realize what he had done. It was brought more to the forefront and he had a book signing. He really enjoyed that.
“It's strange, but we kind of had some preparation time for this (passing). He was always in a positive nature. He was thrilled his career was over. I didn't know that at first, but I genuinely feel that way now. He rejoined Rotary Club in Norman and he always enjoyed that. He was getting back into stuff and it was great to see.”
Former OU basketball coach Kelvin Sampson often referred to Barry Sr. as Santa Claus — always smiling, always upbeat.
“Santa Claus, that's who he was,” Sampson said shortly after learning of Barry Sr.'s death. “In the 12 years (1994-2006) we spent together, in his eyes I'm not sure we ever lost a game. With his attitude, I always imagined he'd be a great grandfather.”
Barry Sr.'s wife, Joan, passed away in 2003.
“Our priest came over this morning and said, ‘All he ever talked about was sports and your mom,'” Barry Jr. said. “Dad kind of felt like he had done everything he wanted to do.
“I'm very sad Dad's not here, but I'm glad he can be with Mom again and have even more fun.”