John E. Hoover: Steve Davis was a gentleman and friend even to critical columnist
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
3/19/13 at 5:12 PM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
Related Story: Former Sooner great Steve Davis was a man of faith above all else
Original Print Headline: Davis remembered as leader, friend and lifelong Sooner
Many know the story of Steve Davis reaching out to comfort Landry Jones.
But no one knows the story of Steve Davis reaching out to comfort John Hoover.
Davis, the two-time national champion quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, took it upon himself to be a champion of the underdog, a quarterback of the downtrodden.
He did it for Jones, writing Jones encouraging letters last fall after Jones fell on hard times and felt the lusty boos of Sooner Nation.
He did it for me, as well.
I have no idea why.
Why would one of the most decorated players in the long, colorful history of a college football powerhouse reach out to a newspaper columnist after said columnist wrote a series of columns critical of his team, his program and the sitting head coach?
Actually, I do know why. It's because that's the kind of person Steve Davis was.
He was a fine gentleman, he was a strong Christian, and he was a leader of men. And he was my friend.
And that's why I mourn with the rest of Oklahoma today at the news of Davis' death in a plane crash Sunday afternoon.
Our man Eric Bailey interviewed Davis last fall to ask him about the eventuality of Jones overtaking his long-standing school record for victories by a quarterback. But the conversation got really interesting when Davis revealed that he had been writing letters to Jones offering encouragement through the tough times.
Turns out Davis, who went 32-1-1 in three seasons as a starter in Barry Switzer's wishbone offense from 1973-75, heard a chorus of boos as he left the field following his one defeat, a shocking loss to Kansas.
"He thought they were just booing him," Switzer told me through the tears late Sunday night. "I said, 'Hell, Steve, they're booing both of us. But they don't know. They don't understand. All they want is a win.'"
It makes terrific sense why Davis would put an arm around Jones. They're crimson and cream warriors fighting for the same outfit a generation apart, brothers in arms. Davis was Sooner in his bones. He loved OU football growing up as a kid in Sallisaw in the 1960s, and he loved OU football just as much as a 59-year-old alumnus living in Tulsa.
So why then, after I wrote columns critical of OU's current talent level, the team's mental and physical toughness and various coaching foibles, did Davis put his arm around me?
I had never met Davis before last fall.
Yet, by the time Oklahoma returned home from a Cotton Bowl whipping at the hands of Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel, Davis and I had become good friends.
Turns out, he was concerned that I was now the one being booed by Sooner Nation, and he wanted to do what he could to make sure I was holding up OK in my first year of writing sports opinion pieces.
Amazing grace, indeed.
In an email, Davis told me he thought OU comparing itself to Texas was no longer an adequate standard. He also feared that OU players and coaches had lost their competitive edge due to entitlement and complacency. Producing and promoting a series of historical videos was bad form, he said, for a school that has just one national championship over the past 27 years.
Davis' comments on the state of the program do not serve to illustrate an old man's embitterment. Rather, they clearly define his passion for Oklahoma football and his ingrained desire for the program to be great again.
I was awed by what Davis told me over lunch one day in January.
"Keep doing what you're doing," he said. "Keep telling the truth. And keep writing with conviction. Bill Connors would be proud of you."
Bill Connors hired me at the Tulsa World in 1992, and he died in 2000. He wrote award-winning columns for most of his 47 years at the World. He was in the inner circle of Bud Wilkinson and Henry Iba, best friends with Barry Switzer and Eddie Sutton - and countless other sports luminaries. Davis said Connors was "a great friend" to him as well, dating back to his high school days in Sallisaw.
Steve Davis knew people. He knew what people cared about, and he knew what motivated them.
He told me my mentor would be proud of my work. Nothing in my career has ever motivated me more than that.
I am devastated by the loss of my friend. But his words will live on with me.