On New Year’s Day, the Oklahoma Sooners will take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoffs semifinal game at The Rose Bowl. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is attempting to become just the second true freshman in history to lead his team to a national championship.
The only man to do so was Oklahoma’s legendary wishbone wizard, Jamelle Holieway. In lieu of the impending matchup and the stakes involved for both teams, along with the historical opportunity in front of Fromm, we’re re-winding our College Football Narratives with the Sooner legend.
On a picturesque Friday evening, October 2nd, 2015, former University of Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway is bouncing around in an expansive banquet room in the Chesapeake Energy Stadium Club, which sits perched atop the east side of one of America’s most revered football cathedrals, Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium.
The Sooners’ 1985 squad has gathered, the night before the current team takes on West Virginia in a key early-season match-up, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their national championship victory over Penn State in the Orange Bowl.
Holieway remains the only true freshman in major Division I football to have quarterbacked a team to a national title. The diamond earrings, Gucci handbags and fur coats that he was once known for, along with the South Central Los Angeles swag that he walked on campus with, are gone. Approaching 50, his look is more conservative, more in tune with the state that has long since become his home. Although the beige cashmere blazer, quite understated compared to his fashion choices 30 years ago, is very flavorful.
But the eyes tell the story. And the electricity behind Jamelle Holieway’s dancing eyes on this night, along with the Cheshire cat’s smile that adorns his full, shiny face and the smooth yet pronounced bop in his walk, it all lets you know that the supreme confidence is still there.
The endless re-telling of stories are all filled with love. And that’s exactly what fills the room. Love.
Sooner legends Spencer Tillman, Brian Bosworth and Tony Casillas, and others who may have been fourth on the depth chart but remain just as much an important piece of the fabric of the squad, embrace one-another with strong, passionate hugs.
They hold onto to one another during pregnant pauses, inquiring about each other’s significant others, their children and life journey.
Laughter cascades and booms around the room in different exploding pockets of small group gatherings
Holieway pings around the well-appointed space like a pinball, ever the quarterback, rallying the former offensive lineman, pass catchers and defenders. A hush blankets the room when their legendary former coach Barry Switzer steps to the podium to say a few words.
The stories that he tells are intimate, private and hilarious, unsuitable to print here because they belong within the Sooner family. But the reverence with which his former players stare at him, the attention they devote, the palpable love that they invest in him, all of it is heartwarming.
None of the guys want the evening to end. They’re home, at a magical place, celebrating an accomplishment and a life-long bond that not many can comprehend.
The next day, they’ll be honored at a halftime ceremony on the field. Later on Saturday night, they’ll bid their farewells after some drinks at the Sooner Legends Inn and Suites bar, talking loud above the halting sounds of bad karaoke.
Holieway runs the option as the night ends, artfully handing off drinks to others that fans have bought for him.
“Hey, you like Long Island Iced Tea?,” he asks at one point. “You take this, man. I’m good.”
The scene is repeated again and again, exemplified by one older gentleman that he’s never met before, in an odd juxtaposition, who walks up to tell Holieway, “Jamelle, I wanted to be you when I grew up.”
There were a lot of kids around the country who wanted to be Jamelle Holieway back when he was known as perhaps the best option quarterback to ever play college football.
If you saw him run the wishbone, if you witnessed that magical run to the national championship in 1985, it’s something that you’ll never forget.