By Steve Davis
This past Saturday, Landry Jones became the winningest quarterback in Oklahoma history.
“Landry, you are a champion who has been blessed with incredible athletic skills and an exemplary personal history. You will leave Norman owning virtually every passing record as well as being the winningest quarterback in the 117-year history of Oklahoma football. You have made sacrifices and commitments that few OU quarterbacks have ever made, and you deserve the recognition/respect because of your discipline and determination. And, there are legions of former Sooner players supporting your efforts and applauding your personal accomplishments.”
Excerpt from my October 1, 2012 letter to Landry Jones
My name has been recently and too frequently connected with Landry Jones even though we are decades and offensive philosophies apart as being the starting quarterback of the University of Oklahoma Sooners. I have been a big admirer of Landry since his first game and have been amazed at his poise and calm throughout his career. He is an amazingly gifted athlete and quarterback.
But, I have also mentally time-traveled back to November 8, 1975 when, after quarterbacking the Sooners and committing 8 turnovers, 7 of which were in consecutive drives, heard the pronounced boos and jeers from the disgruntled Sooner faithful. It was a defining moment in my life and the entire offensive team that were huddled prior to one of the last inept drives of that unforgettable day in Norman. That day we lost a football game to the University of Kansas. The Jayhawks were not without talent or potential, as they showcased a tall, Greek god-like quarterback named Nolan Cromwell, a gifted running back Laverne Smith, and a host of no-name players, who today, are forever considered a part of KU football lore. After the game, 35-year old Jayhawks’ Coach Bud Moore said, “This isn’t the greatest victory of my career or of our players careers, it’s got to be the greatest victory in football. We beat a fantastic team.”
In contrast, the Sooners’ dressing room was solemn and silent, as few words were spoken and many heads just shook in disgust. We had never been in a loser’s locker room and didn’t know how to behave or what to expect. Our coaches did their best to express understanding without projecting the disappointment we all knew they felt. Coach Switzer shared a few moments with us after we gathered in the meeting room. His main point has stuck in my heart since the moment it left his mouth. He said, “We have ridden this train a long way and the trip has been the ride of your lives, don’t forget who you are and what you have accomplished as a team. We’ll stick together and get better. We will finish what we started…..don’t forget who you are!” I cried in the privacy of the back row after everyone had left the room.
The Kansas defeat of that 1975 season galvanized our team and gave each of my teammates their own story of what it meant, and how they reacted. For me, it empowered me and gave me a new attitude of toughness and defiance I cannot really explain 37 years later. But, I do know it changed the spirit of our team, in that it caused us to ‘close ranks’ and be completely dissatisfied with our performance and unmet goals. The week’s following practices were brisk and tensions were relieved, we were again having fun. A week later we beat Missouri in Columbia after a brilliant day of offense and defense performances under pressure. Next would be a 35-10 victory over Nebraska and a trip to the Orange Bowl against Michigan. We would defeat the Wolverines 14-6 and, thanks to UCLA beating The Ohio State Buckeyes, we would win our second National Championship. The 1973, 1974 and 1975 teams would have a 32-1-1 record and OU National Championships numbers 4 and 5. Coach Switzer’s words rang true as, “we finished what we started.”
Now fast-forward through 36 seasons and 3 games of OU Football, to Norman, Oklahoma after the loss to the Kansas State Wildcats. The season had started with great expectations but as the red Oklahoma dust settled this team would be questioned whether it was ‘good enough’ to compete at the level of previous Sooner championship teams. The Sooner Nation would question team toughness, defensive line play, an inconsistent running game, play calling, an inexperienced receiver corps and a 4-year starting quarterback. At the KSU game you could hear the grumbling and a smattering of boos directed at Landry Jones while cheers echoed within the corridors of Memorial Stadium when his understudy entered the game. The media hotlines were burning with much of the criticisms being directed to Landry. He heard it all, people were challenging him for having “no heart, no emotion and making no effort”, and it was a resounding ‘no-confidence vote’ of his leadership of the Sooners.
I heard the opinions everywhere I went…..restaurants, churches, meetings, parties, high school football games and other gathering places. I listened to the talk and felt those old feelings from 1975 when my team struggled and I was floundering in my performance as a quarterback. And, the more vivid those memories became, the more important it was to reach out to Landry and let him know that he was on a road previously traveled. On the Sunday afternoon after the Kansas State game I wrote Landry a 2-page letter of encouragement and support. What I said to Landry was from my heart, most of which could have probably been written by several of my teammates from the ’75 team. But, there was one section no one but me could have written, as it dealt with how I dealt with those days of discouragement and disappointment.
To paraphrase, I told Landry to do four things, 1) draw strength from his teammates and do not be swayed or affected by the media and the opinions of others, 2) let your courage and strength feed the confidence and spirit of the team, 3) never forget who you are and what you and your teams have already accomplished, and 4) a portion of a Bible verse I have cherished my whole life, when God shared with Samuel, “Don’t be judged by appearance or height. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Landry could not have been more appreciative or kind in his receipt of the letter. He is that kind of guy, a team guy who knows how to lead and win. The University of Oklahoma and the fan-base should be incredibly grateful to the Jones family that their son and former Artesia Bulldog chose to be a Sooner. His command of the offense, the respect of his teammates/coaches and the accomplishments of his resume’ speak louder than any boo ever voiced. His efforts of the past two weeks against Texas Tech and Texas have thrusted these Sooners into the heart of the National Championship discussion. Goals remain in sight for this team to make great strides towards big wins in October, November, December and January. There is still much football to be played, but with Mr. Landry Jones in command, Oklahoma is doing just fine. Watch and wonder!
Finally, I believe that great teams are special because of a relentless dissatisfaction with their performance……great teams are never content or satisfied, as they are committed to achieving a level of unobtainable excellence. I told Landry this team’s story has yet to be written, and that I trust he and his teammates are focused on how that story will read. And, I encouraged him to lead the team through the remainder of this season in that spirit. But, as I have gotten to know Landry’s story, and the person he is, I’m confident he’s well on his way, executing his plan……a very special plan for his life and his team.
In the coming weeks I will be interviewing other former OU Quarterbacks who will tell their story in leading Sooners’ teams past. Maybe then, a special few will understand the pressures of the position, and the great tradition we all have felt the responsibility to continue.