Washington: "It's a tribute to everybody involved"

Former Sooner Joe Washington (pictured above during the Oklahoma Legend's Reunion in 2003) talks with James Hale about being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. (Photo by Jim Hagan)

When I attended school at the University of Oklahoma, I went during one of the greatest time periods in Sooner football history. I was an undergraduate from 1975 to 1979 and then went to graduate school from 1980 to 1983. I just missed on a National Championship in 1974, but I was at OU during their back-to-back run in 1975, and then went to four straight Orange Bowls from 1977 to 1980 while also taking in a Sun Bowl berth and a Fiesta Bowl.

Some of the greatest players in Sooner Football history played football during that period, and as a student I got to know many of them. The first week on campus I started working at KGOU, the student radio station, and as a reporter/anchor I had to go interview football players. The great Joe Washington was in his senior year in 1975 and was on his way to back-to-back All-American years. Washington was one of the Heisman Trophy favorites in 1975, but the Sooners were on probation and were never on television, which killed his chances at the award.

I would see Joe all the time on campus. He was still a very shy college student that would say hi to anybody that would say hi back, and then he would put his head down and move on. As a young reporter, I was able to develop a relationship with Joe by interviewing him after practice. I think the fact that I was a fellow student that he saw around campus and in the dorms appealed to him, and we talked several times during the season.

While Washington was in the pros, I was beginning in the talk-show circuit and Joe would come on the show two to three times a year. My relationship with Joe is one of the biggest highlights of my broadcast career because he is truly one of the greatest people that I have ever met. A true superstar at OU, but even a better person off the field, I don't think I have ever seen Joe pass up an autograph, and he has taken so many pictures in his life that it is second nature to him.

I have a lot of favorite running backs that I have enjoyed watching at OU, but most of you know my two favorites of all-time are Steve Owens and Joe Washington.

On Thursday, Little Joe was finally named to the College Football Hall of Fame, and I couldn't wait to give him a call. He was at work, but it didn't take long for him to call back. As always, Joe was very gracious. And despite a 100 calls coming in for him, he quickly agreed to talk to his old college reporter about his latest accomplishment.

JH: Joe, your running style was so unique that even today there isn't a running back that ran the football like you did. So this honor has been to long in coming, congratulations.

JW: Thanks you, James. I really appreciate your nice words.

JH: What are your feelings about going into the College Football Hall of Fame?

JW: I am a little shocked because I guess I thought that it would be a little later than it is. I am thankful for the honor because it is something that, maybe you don't dream about it all the time, but you are certainly aware of it. You are aware of what it means and you see the guys that are already in and they deserve it. Then you think of your ex-teammates — players that you have played with and against in the pro ranks — that are in the Hall of Fame, so it is obviously a place where I wanted to be also. I am lucky enough to be able to see that day thank goodness.

JH: I bet the first thing you remember are your teammates when you think back to what his honor means to you?

JW: Absolutely. I think when you have athletes, or ex-athletes now, that receive rewards it is really a reflection of the guys you played with. That may sound a little ‘cliche'ish' but that is the reality of it. You are talking about a team sport. If it wasn't for the other guys out there, such as John Rouse, the (Gerald) Arnolds, Buchanan (Dennis), Fosters (Ed), Pruitt (Greg), Peacock (Elvis), Grant Burget and Tinker Owens, all of these great guys that we had on offense. Then on defense we had the Selmon's (LeRoy and Dewey) leading the way.

To really be able to receive any kind of award like this you have to play on a great team. I was fortunate because I played on a great team. However, you also have to look at the fact that we weren't on television. We had to have an outstanding program for these kinds of things to take place because, for the most part, people outside of the Big Eight Conference didn't get a chance to see us play much our last couple of years.

That in itself within the tradition that OU possesses, and the fact that we always had and always will have the greatest fans around, is just a great honor. It is a tribute to everybody involved."

Then you have the people that I played for that appreciated my playing. I can't ever mention anything about OU football without taking about Coach Switzer. His list in this regard goes on and on and on, but just mentioning his name with me is something that I know people know what that means.

JH: Coach Switzer still says you are the most unique running back to ever play college football. What about your style of running within Coach Switzer's wishbone system?

JW: I have to say the same thing about coach because very few people would have allowed me to flourish in the college ranks like Coach Switzer did. I am forever grateful that I was fortunate to come along at a time to play for a guy with vision and who understood athletes to the point to where he allowed a kid to wear silver shoes and carry the football in one hand.

JH: He just allowed all of you guys to be yourself, didn't he?

JW: He really did. I think we were a little ahead of our time. Plus, you are looking at a time when you had real good kids — not that you don't have good kids now — but you are looking at real good people like the Selmon's, the Owens family and kids like that. He recognized that. I think one of Barry's greatest attributes is to be able to recognize a lot of things in people that other folks don't initially see or don't ever see. We were all fortunate to be able to be at Oklahoma at that time together and to be able to accomplish the things that we did. At this particular point in my life, I am able to reap the benefits of being able to be around very good people and good football players.

JH: What was the reaction of your family?

JW: "My daughter is graduating this year so we didn't want to do anything to upstage her. And believe me it didn't, even as great of an honor as it is. It didn't upstage my daughter Brandy graduating. However, she was really excited. What is funny is that she has some players on her floor at her dorm that are football players. She said that, ‘I just want to tell them who my dad is and that these guys couldn't touch him,' — stuff like that.

It is something that we are all celebrating. I wish my mom could have been here to witness this day, so that is bittersweet. I know she probably had a hand in it anyway, so we are all excited about it. My dad is excited about it, and my brothers and sisters all are happy for me. They are my biggest fans. It has been just a great day for me and it is going to be a great week for me.

JH: Joe, if it means anything to you we need you to apply for an extra year of eligibility. We need you to suit up and play. AD needs a partner?

JW: No, believe me A.D. can do it. I have no ifs, ands or buts about him. He is a good kid and he is from the mold that we are accustomed to at Oklahoma. Believe me, it is kind of hard to say anything negative about a guy who rushed for almost 2,000 yards, and he was only a freshman. Wow.

JH: But Joe, you would provide a change of pace. You would make them all miss for about six straight plays and AD would run them all over and run away from them for the next six.

JW: Let me tell you something. I got a chance to meet this kid about a month back and he was the nicest unassuming guy you would ever want to meet. He is going to go far. I know people have a tendency to try to change his style, but when you are 6-2 with the weight and the speed that he has and the size and quickness that he has, then AD do what you do man.

JH: Joe, congratulations and God bless you.

JW: Thanks James. God bless you and God Bless to all that love OU football. I am so proud to be a Sooner on this very special day for me.

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