NORMAN — Rod Shoate's family spent Tuesday celebrating some wonderful, long-overdue news: The three-time All-America linebacker from Oklahoma was finally elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“We've all wanted him to be recognized for all the good he did, regardless of everything that happened in his later years,” said Charlotte Gordon, Shoate's older sister. “We're very excited. The only downfall is that he's not here to rejoice in this recognition.”
Over the past 12 years, Shoate's loved ones have tried to focus on the positives — like his two Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year awards, Oklahoma's 1974 national championship and his remarkable role in breaking down racial barriers at Spiro High School — rather than the demons that cost him his life Oct. 4, 1999, at the age of 46.
Shoate will become the 20th OU player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at a Dec. 10 awards dinner in New York. Former OU defensive back Randy Hughes and linebacker Brian Bosworth were each listed on the 2013 ballot, but weren't elected.
Contacted by telephone after Tuesday's announcement, Gerald Blankenship, Shoate's high school coach, reflected on Shoate's tremendous talent, but also spoke of his unique ability to ease tensions that still existed as public schools adapted to racial desegregation.
A freshman in 1967, Shoate wasn't part of Spiro's varsity team when 13 black players abruptly quit midway through the season. The next year, though, after those players rejoined the team, the situation improved drastically. Blankenship gives Shoate lots of the credit for that.
“He helped get them back together,” Blankenship said. “Rod was good with those individuals.”
Myron Shoate, two years younger than Rod, always idolized his big brother, even following in his footsteps as an Oklahoma football player. He said Rod related well to both sides, convincing black Spiro students to play football while helping white students get past their prejudices.
“Rod was kind of the go-between,” Myron Shoate said. “He got along with the coaches and teachers very well. People respected him and he respected people.
“People just accepted him as a good person. He didn't cause any problems or anything. That was very much needed at that time.”
From the 1968 season forward, Blankenship said there was never another problem between Spiro's black and white players.
Charlotte, Rod and Myron were the youngest — and closest — of their 10 siblings. All three attended OU together, with Charlotte cheerleading and Rod and Myron playing football.
Rod Shoate became a superstar OU linebacker, recording 420 career tackles, the third-highest total in school history. He was a second-round pick in the 1975 NFL Draft, played six seasons with the New England Patriots and finished his professional career in the USFL.
After his playing career ended, though, Shoate struggled with drug addiction and illness that ultimately ended with his death.
“I think he's one of the finest athletes we've ever had in Oklahoma,” said Blankenship, whose son is University of Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship.
“I think while he was going to college, I think he was clean and did a good job, and when he got out of college, he got into the pros, and I think he got to messing up with some dope and things.”
Conversations about Rod Shoate's life and legacy frequently shift to his tragic downfall, which continues to haunt his family.
His mother, Lulu Shoate, is 95 years old today and lives in Norman with Charlotte Gordon.
“Right now, she's not able to realize what great significance this had on his life,” Gordon said, fighting back tears. “I believe if she did, she would be overjoyed. I think she would need that to settle some things.
“He was a good guy. He was a good guy. We've all been wondering when (his Hall of Fame election) will come to fruition, and now it has, and we're all just so, so grateful.”