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Reviving a memory of Steve Davis

March 20, 2013

The death this week of former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis took me back to a brief intersection in our lives that he most certainly had long since forgotten.
I don’t even recall now what year it was – sometime in the late 1970s – but the picture is vivid in my mind. Davis, who at that time had won more games than any quarterback in OU history, had just preached the opening night of a revival at our small town Baptist church, and he was sunk deep into a couch in my parents’ living room, exhausted.
My recollection is that he made a number of speaking engagements at that time, and ours was at the end of his day. He was clearly spent.
Soon he was surprised to be handed an old OU football media guide, courtesy of my uncle Grady, and he was reading about his teammates Joe Washington, the Selmon brothers and looking over what had been written about him with a smile. Before the night was over, he would be fully revived.
Davis’ visit to our little town – Iowa Park, Texas – prompted my earliest efforts at communications and church work, a precursor to my later life.
I cannot remember whose idea it was to invite him to preach at our church, but my memory is that church leaders were surprised when he accepted. Davis had been 32-1-1 as a starter for the Sooners, won national championships and was MVP of the 1976 Orange Bowl. His teammates also knew he was a licensed Baptist minister – a “Holy Joe.”
The church meetings that week were supposed to be youth oriented. Despite being a solid Longhorn fan, I was made chair of publicity. I wanted to show the adults that I could handle the job even though I was just a teen-ager, so I put up flyers in grocery stores, did mailouts and called area churches and suggested they bring their youth groups. We bought an ad in the local daily paper. I still remember the huge typo next to one of those Heismanish-type posed photos: “Come see Steve Davis, O.V.’s winningest quarterback.”
No one was more surprised than me when the church filled with people, many we had never seen before.
When worship was over the first night, Davis came out for dinner at our place, completely unsuspecting of what was waiting for him – or rather who was waiting for him: my Uncle Grady, trial lawyer, OU season ticket holder, Sooner born and Sooner bred and when he died would be a Sooner dead. Grady probably could have recited details of every big play Davis ever made – and I believe he may have before the evening was done.
My mother, in an effort to save Grady – or at least get him to start going to church – had made it a point to coax him down from his home in Amarillo for church with the promise of eating dinner afterward with Steve Davis. Grady was quite a character and loved to give my Mom and Dad a hard time over religion, even giving me a clandestine wink after some especially egregious remark. But this time, they had him right where they wanted him.
It was a special occasion because my dad put the card tables together, which is what we had to do when people came for dinner. Grady was of course seated right next to Davis at the head of the table. Davis did not begin to fully recover from his day until my uncle was well into one of his many stories. I don’t know which one first caused Davis to look up from near slumber, smiling at my uncle with a look that said, “Are you serious?” But it was like he was splashed with ice cold water.
It might have been the story of Grady and his brother Acie laying claim to being the first streakers, since they would run naked as kids to the mailbox every Sunday morning to get The Oklahoman. Or it could have been Grady’s oft-repeated claim that he drove the first Sooner Schooner, a hay wagon he borrowed from a farmer when he was a student at OU in the 1930s.
There was lots of laughter around the dinner table that night. That’s what I remember most.
Steve, thanks for coming. It meant a lot to me. Rest in peace.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 3, 2013 11:04 pm

    A truly beautiful eulogy, Matt. Sounds like you were a good publicity chair. As you can imagine, the “O.V.” typo tickled me. Wish I could have met your Uncle Grady. I’m sure I forgot that you had an uncle who was an Amarillo trial lawyer!

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