Some think it silly that Oklahoma A&M and other schools were awarded retroactive football national championships for the years preceding the modern awards system.
It may seem that way, but for Oklahoma State, there is depth to the story that led to a trophy 70 years later.
It’s about brave warriors finally getting their due.
Sure, they were figurative warriors on the football field and went undefeated that season. But, like many other young men, they were literal warriors on battlefields first.
The A&M Aggies started the 1945 football season about three weeks after World War II ended. While it wasn’t a situation unique only to A&M, multiple players were WWII veterans. They came home to Stillwater as soon as Uncle Sam’s mission was finished and traded their service helmets for leather ones. They were sent to fight and returned battered, physically and mentally. Yet immediately, they were tasked with entertaining Americans in sport.
They carried our fears and our future on their backs across bloody trenches, in fighter planes and on stormy seas. Weeks later, they carried our hopes and our morale through football stadiums while the effects of the depression and war loomed.
The Greatest Generation, no doubt.
In 1945 and 1946, some of the greatest OSU athletes of all time suited up for their country and then for their school. That resulted in a purely magical time in history for the university — an undefeated football season and back-to-back basketball national championships. Several A&M players in both sports were wounded in war, and the ones who stayed home said they wished they had been sent overseas, too, Heisman finalist Bob Fenimore among them. Basketball starter Sam Aubrey returned with one leg shorter than the other. His teammates said he’d play in immense pain, but a game is nothing when you’ve been shot by Nazis, right?
They were a real-life band of brothers. Being a part of something — a team — when they were safe again on America’s shores likely preserved a little of their hearts after the terrors they witnessed at the hands of enemies.
Yes, it was a retroactive decision for the football title, awarded just two years ago since the Coaches Poll wasn’t around in 1945. The champion the Associated Press chose that year was none other than the undefeated mighty Army Cadets.
But retroactive. The time passed doesn’t dim the light. In fact, it is a shining moment on what was dark times for Oklahoma and America.
Seven Aggies pitched in to save the world from evil domination, and they dominated every opponent during the most meaningful football season in OSU lore. Seven inspiring veterans, and a team of men upholding them, were victorious.
The perseverance of that generation is unmatched. I’m sure they knew they were the best team in 1945, sans Army, but it would have been pretty grand to have seen the Aggie-American heroes being awarded a trophy before they died.
Instead, Oklahoma State alumni carry that pride forward on their backs.
American heroes. 1945 National Champions.
Just American glory.
Gene Fitter: Pilot in Europe
Bob Hargrove: Lieutenant overseas
Jim Reynolds: Piloted 52 missions over Germany
Terry Monroe: Naval Air Corps
Bert Cole: Was shot down over Yugoslavia
Otis Schellstede: Paratrooper who dropped on D-Day
J.D. Cheek: Served with famed 45th Division
P.S. Annual reminder — Veterans Day is Nov. 11. Please tell a *living* veteran how thankful you are for their service. That’s what Veterans Day is about. Don’t wait for taps and a funeral. Salute now. Tell them now. Let them see your love.
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 past posts in the #OKlegacies series.