The Hall of Fame life of Jim Holder

by Berry Tramel Published: August 11, 2012
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The College Football Hall of Fame staged its 2012 enshrinement festival last month.

Clendon Thomas, the regal Oklahoma halfback, went in. So did Will Shields and Deion Sanders and Eddie George and Russell Maryland and Darryl Talley and Gene Washington and Lloyd Carr and Fisher DeBerry.

All kinds of names you've heard all your life.

And one name you haven't.

Jim Holder slipped through the cracks of history, even in Oklahoma, where he played college football 50 years ago.

But some stories are so good, they pull themselves off dusty shelves. Some people are so special, they remain vibrant in the memories of those who knew them, even decades later.

Jim Holder played in the shadows, at Panhandle A&M, which neither then nor now (as Oklahoma Panhandle State) is on the main drag of even small-college football.

But the Aggies once were a force. In 1961, Holder's sophomore year, Panhandle won nine straight games and beat Langston in a bowl at Taft Stadium. In the regular-season finale, Holder, playing wingback, fired a touchdown pass to J.B. Flatt in the final seconds to give the Aggies a 27-26 victory over Central State.

By 1963, Holder was playing tailback and set single-season NAIA records for carries (275) and rushing yards (1,775).

“Every time Jim touched the ball, you felt something exciting was going to happen,” Panhandle radio voice Jack Williams told the College Football Hall of Fame. “He was one of the most exciting athletes I've ever seen.”

And to think, Holder almost never even made it to Panhandle.

A NEW PAIR OF GLASSES

Holder grew up poor in Wichita Falls, Texas, just across the Red River. He broke his glasses as a kid and there was no money to get them replaced.

“He was overlooked,” said one of Holder's Wichita Falls coaches, Bill Carter, now 90 and living in Marlow. “He finished his senior year. He wasn't dumb, but he just fooled around, didn't have good enough grades to go to Texas or anywhere else.”

Panhandle wrote recruiting letters to everyone who played in the Greenbelt Bowl all-star game in Childress, Texas. Holder signed on.

But he stayed just a year and went back to Wichita Falls.

Carter and Holder had developed a good relationship. Carter coached the junior high on the other side of town from Holder but coached him in track, then coached him on the 1955 Wichita Falls High School junior varsity, which Holder was on since head coach Joe Golding didn't let sophomores on the varsity.

“He was something else,” Carter said of Holder. “Best player I ever coached.”

Carter tells the story of the Wichita Falls JV trailing Fort Worth Paschal's JV 14-6 at halftime. Carter told a teammate to give his eyeglasses to Holder. In the second half, Holder ran wild and Wichita Falls won 55-14.

Soon enough, someone in the football-mad town bought Holder a new pair of glasses.

“Boy, he could really play,” Carter said. “Just a real athlete. He was deceiving. He didn't look like he was running that fast. But he was.”

Holder led Wichita Falls to deep playoff runs in 1956 and 1957, losing both seasons to eventual state champions, Abilene and Dallas Highland Park.

“He was the humblest guy you've ever seen,” Carter said. “Stuttered. Didn't talk much. Now, he was ornery. But he was all right. I really liked the guy, loved him. We just had the most wonderful relationship.

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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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