The passing of the great Billy Vessels hit all that have been a part of Sooner football hard. Vessels was the grand ambassador of Sooner football and one of the most loyal Sooners ever. Sooners loved him from coast-to-coast and his love for Oklahoma was equally returned.
Vessels was the Sooners first Heisman Trophy winner in 1952 after rushing for 1,072 yards and scoring 108 points.
Noted for his great speed, Vessels was known as the Cleveland Comet, because he could run a 9.4 100-meter and he grew up in tiny Cleveland, Oklahoma.
"I am always recognized for my football ability, but I will let you on a little secret, I would have gone to OU even if I wasn't an athlete," said Vessels in an interview in 1987.
"Oklahoma provided me with an education that is taking me further than anything I did on the football field. I had the privilege of playing for the greatest coach in college football history in Bud Wilkinson, and he laid a foundation of success into me that I will never forget. We played hard, played with poise and played with a fundamental soundness. Playing at Oklahoma, making the friendships with my teammates is truly the greatest experience of my life."
Vessels had been suffering from a lengthy illness. He had been battling prostate, heart and lung problems. Despite living in Miami, Vessels was too ill to attend the Sooners Orange Bowl victory over Florida State. However, the next day Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops took a game tape to Vessels home where they watched the game tape.
"It was the first time I ever met him and it was such a wonderful day," said Mike Stoops. "It was a great evening for me and one that I will always remember. It was very soothing and very relaxing. I felt very comfortable around him. He was such a likable person and I could see his personality. He was a guys, guy. Billy was very easy to speak to and I enjoyed his company."
"It is really sad for Coach Vessels family and all of his friends," said Bob Stoops. "He was a good friend to all of us and we always enjoyed seeing him. Our prayers will be with his family. In Sooner Country, we will always have a place for Billy, that is for sure."
Vessels was the first of three to win the Heisman Trophy. Steve Owens followed in 1969 and Billy Sims in 1978.
"I think Billy Vessels was the greatest running back to ever play at Oklahoma," said Owens. "Now, he would tell you that he wasn't even the best player on his own team, but that was just how humble he was. Billy had tremendous speed, was a tough inside runner and had the ability to make defenders miss. However, Billy was a better person than a football player.
He was a consistent ambassador for the University of Oklahoma and would do anything for a former teammate, the football program or for his family. The biggest complement given to me coming out of high school was that someone compared me to Billy. He was truly one of the great Sooners of all time and will be surly missed."
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