Loyaux et fidèles.
As my alma mater Oklahoma State University returns to New Orleans for the 2016 Sugar Bowl, here’s a throwback photo of the “Blond Bomber” Bob Fenimore tearing it up in the 1946 Sugar Bowl victory.
To me, that era was the most glorious for sports in all of school history, and not because of what happened on the field — but why.
The Sugar Bowl — a college football bowl game that long has been thought of as the crown jewel of the South. Hopefully it will be a celebration in the French Quarter again, for the second time in 70 years.
The 1940s Oklahoma A&M athletes built such a strong bond that the surviving ones have been having combined-sport annual reunions for decades. The group gets smaller every year because no one lives forever — not even heroes. Thankfully, their words do.
When I was working for the Daily O’Collegian as an OSU student journalist, I got to interview some of those men. I wanted to sit wide-eyed and listen to their WWII stories forever. They were real-life sports heroes, but more importantly, real-life American heroes.
The late Sam Aubrey, who was shot in the war, came back with one leg shorter than the other and *still* started on the 1946 national championship basketball team, told me at the 2002 reunion: “We were a close-knit outfit. We didn’t separate ourselves by sport. We were all friends, basketball, football, wrestling, everything…
“And Uncle Sam didn’t give us any choices. He said, ‘We would like for you all to join us’ — and we did and we were glad to.”
The Blond Bomber, a Heisman finalist and one of the best halfbacks in the country, was devastated when he was turned down by every military branch due to calcium deposits in his leg. He wanted to help his friends overseas in France. But along with the other student-athletes in several sports left behind, he went to work at home, helping produce much-needed celebrations and successes in Stillwater that will stand for the ages.
And none other than Mr. Iba led the way as the athletic director.
“It was a very serious time, and we took our athletics very seriously,” Bob Kurland said. “We felt like we had an obligation to do a good job, if for no other reason than morale purposes.”
Joe Pitts said: “We were so totally unified as a country; we had a focus that hasn’t happened since. It came through in everything we did, sports and everything.”
Looking back through those old quotes, it made me think. You know how you hear the affectionate term “OSU family” a lot? Well, it isn’t a new catch phrase. Its roots are at least 70 years old, and I’m convinced Mr. Iba is the patriarch of that family attitude and that his ’40s-era students are the ones who got the ball rolling.
Another quote from that 2002 reunion story, (which you can find here):
“Mr. Iba looked at us all and he said, ‘Look around this room — these are the guys that you will be with the rest of your life,'” Aubrey said. “Which is true, because here we are still together.”
Those folks really were the Greatest Generation in every way possible.
Dieu bénisse l’Amérique.
My “Oklahoma Legacies” series is dedicated to chronicling life in my great home state, because ol’ No. 46 makes my heart beat pretty steady and strong. Every person and every place has a story — past and present. These are Oklahoma’s. Click here to see all the posts in my #OKlegacies series.