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Clay Henry

CLAY HENRY: Barry Switzer knew when to look away

Ignoring a curfew violation the night before didn’t affect Sooners in big Orange Bowl over Razorbacks the following day.



The Hogs+ cameras were rolling as I set the stage for Barry Switzer to confirm a curfew break the night before Oklahoma thrashed Arkansas, 42-8, in the 1987 Orange Bowl.

As was often the case, I was a tag-along for a dinner with Switzer at a bowl game. Bill Connors, my boss at the Tulsa World, generally dined with the Oklahoma head coach several times during the week’s festivities. They were extremely close, a relationship that reminded of the way Frank Broyles hung out with my father, Orville Henry.

I knew my dad’s relationship with Switzer from his days playing and coaching for Frank Broyles was probably the reason I could join the dinners. My father spoke at Switzer’s high school football banquet at Crossett. He also went to Barry Switzer Day with Broyles in Crossett just a few months after the Gator Bowl to end the 1959 season. Switzer was a senior captain.

It was a mad house scene in the lobby of the Fontainebleu Hotel at Miami Beach, Fla. That’s where the Sooners were staying and it was past the 10 p.m. curfew that Switzer had imposed for New Year’s Eve. Players were told that if they were not in their room, they wouldn’t play the next day.

I couldn’t get more than one sentence out about that elevator trip to a party for the Sooner brass before Switzer ran with his version of the story.

“We were coming back from dinner and the elevators at the front of the hotel had a long wait,” Switzer said. “So we went to a service elevator. We’d stayed there for so many Orange Bowls that I knew the back way.”

So did his players.

There were four of us coming back from dinner, Switzer and line coach Merv Johnson along with the two sportswriters.

“We went in first and I thought we’d be all by ourselves,” Switzer said. “Then another group got in and held the door for two more people running for the elevator.”

It was All-America tight end Keith Jackson, a Little Rock product, and his backup, Duncan Parham. Parham played a lot because the Sooners often ran their wishbone from sets with two tight ends.

Immediately, my thought was that we were about to see two potential regulars suspended from the game. The Sooners had not really played a third tight end that season.

“I knew it was past curfew,” Switzer said. “So I told Merv to turn around and we faced the back of the elevator. I knew it was Keith and Duncan, but I just wasn’t going to have any sort of confrontation.”

We were headed to a New Year’s Eve party on a floor well short of where all of the players quartered. The door opened and off we went. Switzer did acknowledge their presence as we turned sideways and away from the massive players, but there was no eye contact.

“I can tell you what I said,” Switzer said. “My back was to them and I was looking down but I said, ‘Ya’ll didn’t see us and we didn’t see you.’ And it never came up.”

I guess a reporter would run with that kind of story these days — if they saw it. But no reporter goes to eat with a head coach now. At least, I can’t imagine any I know doing that.


It was a different world. Coaches would sit with a reporter from the state paper at practice. Switzer did. He was never in a tower at practice like Broyles, his coach and mentor at Arkansas.

Switzer was bigger than life. If you watched an Oklahoma game on network television — and they seemed to be on every week — you saw him fill the TV in your living room. And, it seemed like every time the band was playing Boomer Sooner.

There was a great story from my living room to open the Hogs+ interview. I covered a Tulsa game on a Thursday night and had a rare weekend off to spend with my wife and two daughters, both in preschool.

It was probably a romp over Kansas — there were many — and we were all piled on the couch when the Sooners scored. The band played and there was a tight shot of Switzer on the sideline.

Becca, our youngest, jumped out of my arms and began to run around the living room with a song in her heart. It wasn’t Boomer Sooner, it was her own rendition that fit the music.

I told the 86-year-old coach the lyrics sitting in his living room to start our three-hour interview and he smiled from ear to ear. No one enjoys being the old ball coach like Barry Switzer.

Becca’s words fit perfectly as the band played on. She sang only two words, over and over. As if it was written like that a century earlier, her song: “Barry Switzer, Barry Switzer, Barry Switzer, Barry Switzer.”

I have not seen the final cut for the three-part movie that will air in a few weeks on Hogs+, but it will be fitting if my rendition of the Barry Switzer song makes it.

Switzer has been good to me for the last five decades. I met him on the Big Eight Skywriters Tour in August of 1978 just a few days after starting work at the Tulsa World. I covered the Sooners a lot over the next 14 years.

It was like old times in May when he welcomed me into his home to tape the interview. It had been a long time since I heard Becca sing the Barry Switzer song, but I thought a great Razorback should hear it.