By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY —
To say J.C. Watts has lived an interesting life, would be an understatement. From college football quarterback to U.S. Congressman to successful businessman, the former Oklahoma Sooner has carved a wide and diverse career path.
However, Watts said none of it would have been possible without the foundation that was instilled in him growing playing sports in Eufaula.
“Everything that I’ve done, my cornerstone has been my faith and athletics,” Watts said. “My experience as a Eufaula Ironhead, coaches Paul Bell (football) and Perry Anderson (basketball) teaching those old fundamental values of sacrifice, hard work, paying the price, never giving up, making smart choices on and off the field. That gave me my foundation.”
Watts soon will be able to add Hall of Fame inductee to his resume. It was announced Thursday at the Leadership Luncheon in Oklahoma City that he will join Roy Cooper (pro rodeo), Mick Cornett (sportscaster), Leslie O’Neal (football), Darrell Porter (baseball) and Gerald Tucker (basketball) as the newest class added to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. It’s an honor Watt’s college coach saw coming. Porter and Tucker will be inducted posthumously.
“I knew that he would be here some day,” former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer said. “It was just a matter of time for all of the great players at Oklahoma. When I look at J.C., we won eight consecutive Big 8 championships. When I lost J.C. Watts, that run ended.”
While Switzer may have been confident, Watts said it never crossed his mind that he would even be considered.
“I never thought about it actually,” Watts said. “When Eddie Griffin called me, left word on my cell phone, I was floored and quite surprised. But at the same time, extremely honored. Most of my time these days is spent making memories with grandkids and hanging out with kids and traveling and trying to keep all the dots connected in the business world. To get that phone call was quite startling. But quite pleasing.”
Like Watts, Cornett also has a diverse career background. It saw him go from a sportscaster in Oklahoma City to its current mayor. He carried his passion for sports into the political realm. That includes coming up with the idea of the sports hall of fame.
“I still remember how I got the idea of trying to put together a Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame,” Cornett said. “It was about 1984, I was driving down the highway with the radio on. The announcer noted that Joan Benoit had just been inducted into the Maine Hall of Fame. I thought, Maine has a sports hall of fame, and we don’t. I thought that’s a real tragedy.”
O’Neal was a standout football player at Oklahoma State and in the NFL. But he reminded the luncheon crowd that Switzer had recruited him to Oklahoma, but that he was an afterthought to the Sooners. This caused Switzer to jump out of his seat and tell his version of why O’Neal didn’t end up in Norman.
“I got a letter from Leslie O’Neal,” Switzer said. “He wrote wanting to come to OU. I don’t know anything about this athlete from Hall High School. I called a coach in. I’m not going to mention his name. I told him I want you to go check this kid out. Obviously, he went to the race track. He didn’t check this kid out. Because we know what this kid accomplished at Oklahoma State. We didn’t offer him. I had to play against his (butt) for three years.”
The formal induction will take place Aug. 4 at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. The six men will join the rest of the Oklahomans who have left their mark on state’s sports world. It’s something Watts is humbled by.
“It is a special day,” Watts said. “As Cris Carter said when he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, ‘I’m quite honored the NFL thought the story wouldn’t be complete without the Cris Carter story.’ I can relate to that. With people like Jim Thorpe, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Mercer, Leroy Selmon, and all the great ones that have gone before me. They feel like the story couldn’t be complete without the J.C. Watts story. And mine is a minuscule part of Oklahoma sports. Nevertheless, I’m honored to get this honor.”