McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Sports

June 19, 2010

Former pro football player from Wilburton helped put AFL on the map

WILBURTON —

It was the fabulous and fantastic 1950’s. Wilburton was similar to Mayberry, U.S.A. High school football was king and senior Duane Wood had finished his high school football in grand style.

He was a member of Wilburton’s 1955 Senior Class and had played high school football since he was a sophomore.

“I weighed in at 185 pounds and played halfback for the Diggers,” Wood said. “I didn’t play football until I was a sophomore. After graduation, I was ready for college football and had been contacted by several colleges.

“I chose to go to Oklahoma A&M College, now Oklahoma State. I played halfback for the Aggies,” he remembered. “One of the most memorable things about college football was a bowl game we played in. It was 1958 and I was a senior.

“We were invited to a bowl game in Louisville, Ky.,” Wood continued. “They called it the ‘Blue Grass Bowl.’ We played the Florida State Seminoles. It was so cold, the field was frozen solid just like cement. We had to wear our basketball shoes to get any traction at all. I scored a touchdown and we won the game.”

Good things kept happening to the halfback from Wilburton.

“Two weeks later, I was chosen to play on the Blue Team in the Blue and Gray Game, in Montgomery, Alabama,” he said. “I ran back a punt for a touchdown and was fortunate enough to be named the Outstanding Player of the bowl game.”

It wasn’t long before another great thing happened in Wood’s life. In November of 1957, he married his high school sweetheart, Saundra Callahan.

“I didn’t wait for the National Football league to draft. I signed with the Hamilton Pro Football Team in Ontario, Canada in 1959,” Wood recalled. “That was the year we played in  the Eastern Division against Winnipeg and lost. In the1960 season, we had great expectations, but lost 10 of 11 games. Players were leaving and new ones were coming all the time.  I was released.

“In 1962 I joined the Dallas Texans Pro Football Team in the newly organized American Football League,” he went on.  “Lamar Hunt, a Texas millionaire, had organized the new Football League in 1959 in Dallas. He then put together a football team and called it the Dallas Texans of which I was glad to be on the team.”

Wood said that since the American Football League was newly born, it got no respect at all. The Dallas Texans were equally written off. Then the Texans surprised their foes – they started winning.

On Nov. 18, 1962, with first place on the line, the Dallas Texans met the Denver Broncos on their turf at Bears Stadium. Wood and three more Dallas backs were taking care of their business. The Texans won the game and were now in sole possession of first place in the west.

They held first place until the regular season ended. That set up the first real “Battle for Texas” as they faced the Houston Oilers on Dec. 23. It was a hard-fought game, which went into two quarters of overtime. In the second overtime, Texans’ Tommy Brooker kicked for a 25-yard sudden death field goal. The 37,981 fans were holding their collective breaths, when they saw the referee’s arms go skyward – everyone knew the Texans had won the first championship for the young and under-rated American Football League. Final score was 20-17 and the 25 yard field goal kick was the longest in professional football history.

“I caught a pass in the game, but I can’t remember catching it,” Wood said. Even if he can’t remember catching the pass, being part of the team that won the AFL Championship was probably the pinnacle of his career.

The Texans did not have too long to enjoy their victory. The following year, 1963, the Kansas City Chiefs made an offer that Lamar Hunt couldn’t resist. They purchased the Texans and they became the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I played there through the 1963 and 1964 seasons,” he said. “At the end of the 1964 season, my family and I moved back to Wilburton. Saundra and I now had two daughters, Deanna and Cheryl. I thought my football career was over, but it wasn’t.”

Wood said in August of 1965, he got a call from Neil Armstrong, head coach for Edmonton, Canada’s pro football team. He and his family drove straight through, all 2,200 miles, in two days and two nights. He played one season there and retired again in 1965.

“We came back to Wilburton and I went to work for Kiamichi Electric Cooperative, Inc.,” he explained. “Later I became the manager. Saundra and I had a great 47 years together. She passed away Nov. 26, 2004. I have four grandchildren, Laura and Hayley Myers; Jacob and Jaimie Downing. We attend the Methodist Church.”

Those grandchildren are very proud of their grandfather’s pro football career and will tell anyone about it that hasn’t heard about it. They come to visit him often.

“I signed my first football contract for $10,000,” Wood said, reflecting on his football career. “I think back then we football players enjoyed playing more than the football players do today, even if they do make millions. Some teams I played for only had three coaches. Now some teams have enough coaches to have a football team.”

“During my entire football career I never had one broken bone, but I did have two hip replacements, and a by-pass surgery. Now rheumatoid arthritis has got me using a walker,” he explained.

Wood, however, does not let his disability keep him from enjoying life, family and friends.

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