Cornell’s speech was returning. The old teammates were optimistic that Cornell would get better and better.
Then in 2002, Cornell suffered a broken hip and had to have hip replacement surgery. “Ruined me,” Cornell said.
The progress stopped. Hobby’s visits didn’t. In fact, for awhile, Hobby came three times a week to work out his quarterback. They found that such a regimen was too grueling, so they cut back to twice weekly.
Twelve years later, Hobby still is coming.
Hobby retired in 2002 and has dedicated his retirement to helping people. Norman’s Meals on Wheels program. Bethel Baptist Church’s nursing home ministry. Driving people to doctor’s visits. Helping out an old golfing partner who could use a hand to squeeze.
“A saint,” Cornell says of Hobby. “He does so many things for people.”
Hobby bristled at the saint reference.
“He impresses me,” Hobby said of Cornell. “He works out but he really hurts. If you ever get to feeling sorry for yourself, look at how he hangs in there. Makes you feel ashamed of yourself. His work ethic, his toughness, he deserves to get better.”
Indeed, Cornell has shown fortitude.
He has written two books and would like to get them published. One is an inspirational story of his battle since the stroke. Cornell has entitled it “CAN DO,” after the words Stan Ward wrote on that whiteboard so long ago.
And Cornell took up painting. He had painted a little before the stroke. He knew colors and shadows. “I had to have something to do,” Cornell said. “I was laying in bed all the time. My daughter said, ‘Get up and do something.’ Cornell’s wife got him a canvas.
The first picture Cornell painted was of Quentin Griffin scoring the game’s only touchdown against Florida State in the national championship Orange Bowl. And today, in OU’s Prentice Gautt Academic Center, hangs a portrait of the namesake, painted by the left hand of Gautt’s right-handed Orange Bowl quarterback.
“Prays for his friends, makes calls, he’s a very encouraging, positive person,” Ward said of Cornell. “He’s in a lot worse shape than they are, but he’s always concerned about them. Tells you a lot about his resolve.”
Cornell doesn’t get out much. His mobility is limited, and he’s susceptible to disease. Cornell’s wife still works to ease the money burden, but old Sooners haven’t forgotten the ’59 Orange Bowl quarterback. Ward comes by. So does Ronnie Fletcher, a quarterback at OU when Cornell coached. Oil man Jakie Sandefer, the other halfback in that glorious photo, has helped Cornell financially.
And every Tuesday and Thursday, and other days when something else is needed, comes that halfback who Cornell first saw at Midwest City’s Rose Field in 1955.
Cornell shakes his head and fights back the tears when he talks about Hobby coming to stretch that arm and lift that leg and squeeze that hand.
“You can’t lay there,” Cornell said. “If you do, you’ll die.”
Cornell’s daughter has watched Hobby with her father all these years.
“It’s like they’re on the football field,” Kim Cornell said. “‘You gotta do this.’ It’s really, really special. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve never changed. It’s a beautiful relationship. They always end with kind of a huddle … always pray together.”
What has made Hobby so faithful? What has made Hobby so committed? What has made Hobby determined to remain a teammate, 55 years later?
“There’s a relationship that goes with guys you play with at the University of Oklahoma,” Hobby said. “There’s a natural love and mutual respect for all the guys you went through that stuff with.
“A lot of guys today, you may not see for a year or two. But you get together, it’s like yesterday. It stays with you.”
The old friends share a story. Back in school days, about 10 p.m. one night, Hobby banged on Cornell’s door. “I’m in bad trouble,” Hobby told him. “Will you help me?” Seems as if 30 mechanical drawings were due in an industrial arts class the next day. Hobby didn’t have the first clue what to do.
Cornell, the architectural student, knew he could figure it out. “Well, give me the book,” Cornell said. “I’ll do ’em.” He stayed up until 4 a.m., completing the drawings. Hobby passed the class.
“He’s paid me back, believe me,” said the quarterback who no longer can grip a football but can squeeze a helping hand.
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.