Teammates forever: The story of former Sooner Brewster Hobby's longtime dedication to teammate Bob Cornell's rehab

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Brewster Hobby comes to Bob Cornell’s home and puts his old quarterback through a physical therapy workout.
by Berry Tramel Modified: June 14, 2014 at 9:08 pm •  Published: June 14, 2014
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photo - Former University of Oklahoma football player Brewster Hobby, left, helps his friend and former OU teammate Bob Cornell with his physical therapy at Cornell's home on Thursday, June 12, 2014 in Norman, Okla.  Hobby goes to Cornell's house twice a week to put his former OU teammate through physical therapy after Cornell suffered a 2000 stroke, and suffered a broken hip and hip replacement in 2002. Cornell's progress is slow, but his spirit is strong, thanks in part because of a teammate Hobby who keeps him active.  Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Former University of Oklahoma football player Brewster Hobby, left, helps his friend and former OU teammate Bob Cornell with his physical therapy at Cornell's home on Thursday, June 12, 2014 in Norman, Okla. Hobby goes to Cornell's house twice a week to put his former OU teammate through physical therapy after Cornell suffered a 2000 stroke, and suffered a broken hip and hip replacement in 2002. Cornell's progress is slow, but his spirit is strong, thanks in part because of a teammate Hobby who keeps him active. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

NORMAN — On the wall of Bob Cornell’s den hangs a black-and-white photo.

One of those great old pictures that remind you that heads once were full of hair, and limbs full of vigor, and life full of possibility.

OU’s 1959 Orange Bowl backfield. Halfback Brewster Hobby. Fullback Prentice Gautt. Quarterback Cornell. Halfback Jakie Sandefer. Teammates in rock-around-the-clock days.

They are teammates still.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, for 13 years, Hobby has come to Cornell’s home and put his old quarterback through a physical therapy workout. A 2000 stroke paralyzed Cornell’s right side. A broken hip in 2002 curtailed Cornell’s recovery. The right hand that so long ago cradled the football in that Orange Bowl photo cannot open wide enough to hold the commemorative footballs that adorn his den.

But Cornell’s right hand can squeeze. It can exercise muscles that once led a football team to victory over Syracuse and sketched plans for massive buildings. It can squeeze the hand of an old friend who is not licensed in physical therapy but seems to be well-trained by Philippians.

Without fail, on Tuesdays and Thursdays for going on a decade and a half, Cornell’s Orange Bowl halfback has arrived to stretch Cornell’s arm in all directions and walk him as many steps as he can take and strap him to an exercise bike for a few minutes of pedaling and bend his knee until it hurts too much and offer a hand to be squeezed. Always that hand, for what Hobby brings Cornell is not so much physical therapy, but emotional support.

You can see it on a football field in the fall or in a summer weight room or in the bedroom of a 75-year-old fighting to stay alive. Encouragement matters. It matters much.

“Things have never changed between those two,” said Cornell’s daughter, Kim Cornell. “I don’t think Brewster’s ever missed a Tuesday or Thursday. He takes care of my dad. They just love each other. We’re just really blessed to have Brewster in our lives.”

Teammates 55 years ago. Teammates forever.

* * *

Bob Cornell first saw Brewster Hobby in the 1955 Midwest City-Ardmore game. Cornell was a junior at Northwest Classen and had read about the great Hobby. So Cornell went to the game. He was duly impressed.

“Brewster was a terror,” Cornell said.

That summer, when the All-State football team worked out at Taft Stadium, Cornell walked from his home near Northwest Classen to every practice. Gautt was an all-stater, too. Both were headed to OU. “Everybody wanted to go to OU,” Cornell said.

Hobby was a two-sport star at both Midwest City and OU. “Brewster probably could have played Major League Baseball if they had let him concentrate on baseball alone,” said Stan Ward, who played with both Hobby and Cornell at OU.

Cornell, a year behind Hobby and Gautt, joined them at OU in 1957. But Cornell wasn’t the player they were. Cornell was a solid quarterback, but some great players were ahead of him. In 1958, David Baker was the OU starter, and Bobby Boyd was the backup. Both went on to the NFL as defensive backs. Baker had 21 interceptions in three seasons. Boyd, one of the best DBs in pro football history, played nine years and had 57 interceptions, third-most in NFL history when he retired.

The ’58 Sooners went 9-1, won the Big Seven Conference and made the Orange Bowl. But Bud Wilkinson suspended Baker from the game because of academics. In those limited-substitution days, Wilkinson didn’t like disrupting his units, so he kept Boyd with the second team and elevated Cornell to first team.

With Cornell doing most of the quarterbacking, the Sooners spanked Syracuse 21-6. Gautt had a 42-yard touchdown run, Hobby threw a halfback pass to Russ Coyle for a 79-yard TD and Hobby returned a punt 40 yards for a score.

Cornell wasn’t the athlete that Hobby was, but Hobby wasn’t the student that Cornell was. Cornell was in the college of architecture, which even in the 1950s wasn’t compatible with the demands of football. Hobby often would try to talk Cornell into skipping a class so they could play golf; Hobby was successful enough that Cornell, 55 years later, still remembers the punishments dealt for such crimes.

After that Orange Bowl, Cornell would start three more games in his OU career, winning them all.

Cornell and Hobby were quality enough men that they impressed their coaches. In 1963, Wilkinson added Cornell to his staff. In 1964, after Gomer Jones was promoted to succeed Wilkinson, Hobby was added to the staff. Hobby recruited Eddie Hinton to the Sooners; Cornell recruited Ron Shotts.

Those days as coaching colleagues sealed their friendship, so it didn’t wane even when Gomer Jones was fired and both Cornell and Hobby got out of coaching. Cornell joined an Oklahoma City architecture firm, and Hobby went into banking.

Cornell would stop by the First National Bank in Norman and they’d go outside for a smoke. They’d chat about the Orange Bowl and those old golf games and working for Gomer Jones. And then in 2000, everything changed.

* * *

The stroke didn’t get Cornell down. Stan Ward came to the hospital and wrote “CAN DO” on the whiteboard in Cornell’s room. When Medicare’s rehab payments expired, Cornell’s teammates stepped in. David Baker, whose suspension gave Cornell his Orange Bowl chance, came three days a week to work out Cornell, though Baker soon fell ill himself and died in 2002. Hobby came twice a week and had Cornell walking a quarter of a block or so.


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 Oklahoman,...
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