Oklahoma State football: Why Boone Pickens' mark on OSU will last a long time

Boone Pickens has become as known for funding the OSU football program as he is for oil moguling and corporate raiding
by Berry Tramel Published: June 1, 2013

— Glorious Western art and various Ronald Reagan memorabilia adorn the walls and tables of the BP Capital lobby on the second floor of the Preston Commons Center.

But paintings and presidents share the stage with OSU football.

Two hundred sixty-six miles south of Stillwater, sits a tribute to Boone Pickens' impact on his alma mater's ball team.

A Christmas ornament with a hand-drawn “I love OSU Game Day.”

A replica 2011 Big 12 championship trophy, a gift from OSU president Burns Hargis.

A 2011 Bedlam game ball.

Aerial photos of Boone Pickens Stadium, including one signed by Hargis, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy.

Also in the lobby is the book cover of Leslie Haines' “100 most influential people of the petroleum century.” Boone shares the cover with, among others, Winston Churchill.

Write a similar book for college football at the turn of the next century, and Boone just might be on that list, too.

Heck, he might even be alive to enjoy it.

On May 22, Boone Pickens turned 85. Sounds old until you're around him. Sounds old until you learn a personal trainer arrives at Boone's home most mornings at 6:30 a.m. to lead a workout. Sounds old until you learn Boone's family genes.

Boone's father lived to be 90. His mother died of a brain aneurysm at age 77, when she was in better health than her sister, who lived to be 95.

Boone's retirement plan is the same as his burial plan. Take him away in a box.

Boone has made a few concessions to age. He no longer golfs, because while he can still hit a shot 200 yards, “I can't hit two shots in a row.” And he no longer hunts quail on his beloved Mesta Vista Ranch in the Texas Panhandle, because his peripheral vision has lessened, and hunting is no fun when you have to look down while walking.

Boone doesn't like looking down. That's why he gave all that money to OSU football in the first place. Too many Homecoming games, traipsing back to his car after a defeat.

“I'm very competitive,” Boone said. “I guess I got tired of getting beat. I hate to go to a game, lose, walk back to the car looking down at my feet.”

Boone recalls a game from decades ago, when the Cowboys lost late, maybe 21-20 to Kansas State in 1983.

Boone was in Lewis Field's VIP section, in those days long before luxury suites in Stillwater. He was sitting around other donors and stood up at game's end.

“Let me say something,” Boone said he pronounced. “We all love this school. If we're going to get competitive, we're going to have to raise some money.”

Someone asked, how much? Boone suggested $100,000 each. “I didn't get much response,” he said.

Boone says he gave the $100,000 then but still was tired of losing more than two decades later, when he donated $165 million, which resulted in the glittering stadium that bears his name.

Boone's message then was clear. Get competitive. Over the years, the message has changed. Win.

And the Cowboys have.

“I think I got my money's worth,” Boone said of his $500 million donations to his alma mater, half of which has gone to athletics. “I have no regrets at all.”

OSU football has given Boone some muscle in the braggadocio talks of Dallas board rooms, where for decades he's run into Aggies and Longhorns and Razorbacks and Sooners.

“They all know who we are,” Boone said. “They know we did it over a short period of time.”

Boone takes pride in telling the story of big-time Texas A&M booster J.L. Huffines, who before he died attended an OSU-A&M game in Stillwater and told Boone that the Aggies had to have something as nice as Boone Pickens Stadium.

OSU football also has warmed Boone's heart as he's heard stories of renewed pride in the old school.

Boone knew one of two things would happen when he gave all that money. Either OSU's wealthy alums would say “Let Boone do it,” or they would join him in the cause.

The latter has happened, from Sherman Smith's $20 million donation for an indoor facility to Hargis' recently completed Branding Success campaign, which brought in more than $1 billion, a year ahead of schedule.


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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