Tramel's ScissorTales: Why former Miami great Bennie Blades appreciates Oklahoma, despite Sooner rivalry

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Bennie Blades last played a college football game 34 years ago. He last played a pro football game 24 years ago. But his name will live long in Miami, where he starred for Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes, and in Detroit, where he starred for the Lions.

And in Oklahoma.

Barry Switzer’s grand Sooner teams from 1985-87 went 33-3. All three losses were to Miami.

Blades, a defensive back, and his brother Brian, a receiver. Quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh. Defensive tackle Jerome Brown. Receiver Michael Irvin. Defensive end Danny Stubbs. Tailback Alonzo Highsmith. Linebacker George Mira Jr. Fullback Melvin Bratton. Linebacker Winston Moss. Receiver Brett Perriman.

One of the best collections of talent in college football history.

The Thursday ScissorTales check in OU’s basketball upset of Texas Tech and Bill Hancock’s Olympic adventure. But we start with Bennie Blades and the Jim Thorpe Award.

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Lions safety Bennie Blades poses for a photo at the Pontiac Silverdome on Dec. 23, 1995.
Lions safety Bennie Blades poses for a photo at the Pontiac Silverdome on Dec. 23, 1995.

“My older brother went to Miami,” Blades said. “I didn’t have a choice. My mom and dad said, ‘I ain’t driving anywhere else except to Coral Gables.’

“I just loved the fact that we had defensive linemen, DBs, linebackers, and we pushed each other every single day.”

Those Miami teams beat OU 27-14 in 1985 in Norman, 28-16 in 1986 in Miami and 20-14 in the 1987 national championship Orange Bowl.

And a few weeks after that last game, Blades was in Oklahoma City, for the presentation of the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding defensive back.

The Thorpe Award was in its second year in 1987, and the winner wasn’t announced before the banquet. All three finalists were brought in.

The 1987 finalists were Florida State’s Deion Sanders, OU’s Rickey Dixon and Blades.

Blades was back in OKC this week for the Tuesday night banquet in which Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant was presented the 2021 Thorpe Award.

Blades recounted the story of that night.

“When I got here, we had just beat Oklahoma,” Blades said. “We were a bunch of renegades, people just wanted you to lose. When I got to Oklahoma, it wasn’t as festive as for this gentleman,” he said, pointing to Bryant.

The trophy was at the banquet, with the nameplate covered.

Blades figured the decision was obvious.

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“We’re in Oklahoma,” Blades said. “Rickey’s going to win the trophy. I said, ‘Deion, don’t worry about it. Maybe next time. I’ll see you guys in the pros.’”

They removed the cover, and there was Blades’ name.

“I said, ‘I’m not getting out of here,’” Blades cracked.

But there was a twist. There had been a tie in the voting. Dixon won also. It’s the only time in the 36-year history of the award that there were co-winners.

“I didn’t mind that,” Blades said. “Getting to know Rickey Dixon that day, he’s a standup character guy. And that’s why I love the fact, this is more than just stats. It’s about the character of the man.”

Dixon died in 2020 at age 53, of Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS.

Blades talked about the Jim Thorpe Award brotherhood, which was symbolized by the return this week of other former winners: Louisiana State’s Morris Claiborne (2011), Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard (2013), Iowa’s Desmond King (2015), Southern Cal’s Adoree’ Jackson (2016) and Texas Christian’s Trevon Moehrig (2020).

“Getting to know Rickey, my first six years in the National Football League, we’d call each other, we’d compete against each other,” Blades said. “Didn’t matter if I was in Detroit and he was in Cincinnati.”

Blades remains the highest-drafted defensive back in NFL history. He went third overall in 1988. Dixon went fifth.

In 10 NFL seasons, Blades made 134 starts and had 14 interceptions. Dixon played six years, made 32 starts and had six interceptions.

“Every week, we’d compare stats,” Blades said. “It’s not that we wanted to. It was just holding each other accountable, because this trophy brought us together.

“It’s a brotherhood. I still keep in touch with guys like Terrell Buckey (Florida State’s 1991 winner). Deion’s always going to be Deion (Sanders won in 1988).

“I want to make sure I will come back, because this means more to me than anything,” Blades said. “I have a beautiful wife, beautiful kids. My son is here. He will tell you, ain’t nothing in my house, nothing football related. This (trophy) is the only thing. Almost like a big circle around it. Don't touch it. Don’t go nowhere near it. To me, this exemplifies what my career in football means.”

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Beating Tech huge for OU basketball

Some athletes and coaches claim they pay no attention to other teams or conference standings or post-season projections. Some might even be telling the truth.

But OU point guard Jordan Goldwire admitted his Sooner basketball team surveys the landscape.

“Everybody sees, we all watch the other Big 12 games that go on,” Goldwire said. “We talk about the position we’re in.”

That position was precarious. OU’s Bedlam loss Saturday in Stillwater dropped the Sooners to 1-7 in their last eight games. A once-strong hold on an NCAA Tournament berth was turning a little iffy.

OU had dropped to 48th in the Net rankings, used by the basketball selection committee, and was an 11-seed in ESPN’s updated bracketology, among the teams with the last four byes.

With a tough schedule remaining, it seemed quite possible that OU was playing its way out of March Madness.

Instead, the Sooners appear to have played their way in. Wednesday night in the Lloyd Noble Center, OU whacked ninth-ranked Texas Tech 70-55 with a stunning second half.

Against one of the nation’s best defenses, OU scored 45 second-half points, wiping out a 30-25 halftime deficit. Umoja Gibson made eight of 11 3-point shots and finished with 30 points.

And the Sooners’ outlook changed dramatically.

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The Sooners rose from 48th to 39th in the Net. OU jumped a reported 17 slots in the kenpom.com rankings, up to No. 30. Both metrics carry weight in college basketball.

“We realize, a win here changes everything,” said Goldwire, who was saddled with foul trouble but played a superb floor games, with just two turnovers in 24½ minutes, during which OU outscored the Red Raiders by 22 points.

“We knew this was a big-time game coming up against Texas Tech, coming into our crib. We knew what we had to do. We know each game in the Big 12 is a big one.”

A loss would have dropped OU into a tie with Iowa State for last place in the Big 12. Instead, the Sooners are in a three-way tie for sixth place, with OSU and Kansas State, at 4-7. Big difference.

“It’s huge,” OU coach Porter Moser said. “That’s what I kept on saying. Just gotta stay positive. It’s literally the most elite schedule night in, night out, playing in the Big 12 ... then we had Auburn.

“If we just stay with it, every game’s an opportunity. Every game’s an opportunity. Put this one in the bank and go get another one. We needed that. We needed it. We needed a signature win at this time, losing a handful in a row.”

Speaking of opportunity, eighth-ranked Kansas is next, Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse, where the Sooners haven’t won since 1993.

Victory in Lawrence seems unlikely, but that made the Tech game even bigger. That 1-7 stretch could easily have turned into 1-9.

“I think Texas Tech’s one of the best teams in the country,” Moser said. “I really do. It should give our guys confidence we can play 40 minutes and win. We had our best game of playing 40 minutes in a long time.”

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The List: OSU career passing leaders

Spencer Sanders is moving up the all-time passing lists at OSU. That’s what happens when you spend three seasons as the starting quarterback.

And Sanders is not finished. In 2022, Sanders is likely to rise all the way to second place. Here are the top 10 Cowboys in passing yards:

1. Mason Rudolph 13,618 (2014-17)

2. Brandon Weeden 9,260 (2008-11)

3. Zac Robinson 8,317 (2006-09)

4. Mike Gundy 7,997 (1986-89)

5. Spencer Sanders 6,911 (2019-21)

6. Josh Fields 6,090 (2001-03)

7. Tone Jones 4,812 (1993-96)

8. Clint Chelf 4,277 (2010-13)

9. Taylor Cornelius 4,198 (2015-18)

10. Tony Lindsay 4,002 (1997-00)

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Bill Hancock’s Olympic Adventure

Another Olympics has arrived, and you know what that means for the ScissorTales. More excellent adventures from Bill Hancock. The Hobart native and decades-long college championships director has volunteered at both Winter and the Summer Olympics going back to 1984 (Summer) and 2006 (Winter). His daily dispatches give us a look at what life is like in the Olympic city.

“(Please excuse the typos and bad writing in this friendly message to family members. They are sweethearts and so will not object to sloppiness.)

“Breakfast: Wimpy bacon (but good.) Omelet with soy sauce, cantaloupe, chicken sausage, broccoli, orange juice, milk and mango juice.

“Commute from the Westin Chaoyang to the Main Press Center: 23 minutes by bus. Pretty heavy traffic. Beside the six-lane third ring road are two-lane ‘frontage roads.’

“We were sad to see Mikaela Shiffrin’s slalom run end in disappointment. Then she did an awesome job with the media afterward. Good-guy Cecil Bleiker, who hails from Texline, Texas (population 341, located between Dalhart and Clayton) and works in various capacities at each Olympics, wrote about it: ‘This morning I heard the best mixed-zone interview I’ve ever heard in my 12 Olympic Games. (Shiffrin is) an incredible athlete who is also an incredible human being. Thirty minutes of raw emotion in the most intimate interview setting we are able to provide under Covid guidelines. Plus a full media workroom interview. Tough race day for Mikaela today, but I can’t imagine anyone in this mixed-zone scrum not pulling for her in her next race.’

“Cecil is one of the many happy itinerants who travel from Olympics to Olympics, working with the organizing committee for three to six weeks, making the world a better place.

“Volunteer du jour: Li Xiling, a quiet young woman who is studying international statistics. How these differ from Kansas statistics, I do not know. But Xiling sure was happy about it.

“When it’s 3 p.m. Friday in Evanston, it’s 5 a.m. Saturday in Beijing.

“Our office has four television sets, each tuned to a different Olympics event. I prefer the TVs where Americans win.

“Note from Indianapolis: I agree 100 percent about never seeing the mountains when we were in Beijing in 2008. I remember a lot of days when you could barely see two feet in front of you! Also, you were my next-door neighbor at Biltmore in Los Angeles in 1984. I remember meeting Nicki and the kids when you were off to explore the Games as a family. A fun memory.)

“Lunch: Crackers.

Bill Hancock
Bill Hancock

“News flash from a while ago: Kazakstan is asking to change the English spelling of its name to Qazaqstan. Attention: this is not a joke. Not any kind of a joke. Not even any kind of a joke.

“Golly, you can’t even begin to imagine how hard this USOPC staff works during these games -- day after day after day. I try to get them to smell the roses.

“Covid countermeasure of the day -- we get tested every day, in our hotel. It’s a deep throat swab. The women click on the code that’s on our accreditation, then they record the number on the little test tube where they store our swab. I assume the two go into a master database somewhere. They also write down our hotel room number. These women -- they are always women -- who swab us wear full preventative garb, but we have learned to tell them apart. One is gentle. Another pretty harsh. Surely no one likes them, but I’m sure we would like them, if we could sit together and enjoy a root beer float.

“Today’s Great China Food Experiment: Hot oat milk. We call it ‘cream of wheat.’ It tasted just fine, and even better with brown sugar.

“We threw our hats into the lottery to join the media tour to the Great Wall. We figured the odds were slim. Then I made the cut, but Nicki did not. After a couple of hours of my offering to give my spot to her, she got an email saying someone had cancelled and she would go, too!

“We joined 38 other people on two buses for the hour-long ride to Juyongguan section of the Great Wall northeast of Beijing. We stayed in the closed loop -- the Olympic bubble went with us. We rode on a wide freeway through what seemed to be a big wetlands area that had been partially transformed into an industrial area. We passed millions of trees that had been planted beside the freeway. Oops, it wasn’t a freeway for long, because we stopped at two toll booths.

“The police stopped traffic for our buses. People from the New York Times, Associated Press, Getty Images and Reuters, among others, joined us.

“Brittanica says the most extensive and best-preserved version of the wall dates from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and runs for some 5,500 miles. And about one-fourth of its length consists solely of natural barriers such as rivers and mountain ridges. Although lengthy sections of the wall are now in ruins or have disappeared completely, it is still one of the more remarkable structures on earth. The Great Wall was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987.

“The brochure said ‘Juyongguan, or the Juyong Pass, has been reputed as the most magnificent pass in the world.’ And I couldn’t disagree. The pamphlet also said this part of the Great Wall features “rolling hills, wandering streams, dense vegetation and pleasant scenery.’ I couldn’t disagree with that either, although the vegetation was brown since it is winter.

“The buses let us out in a nice parking lot near the ticket booths, which were closed as was the whole place except for us. It’s clearly an important tourist site because it had everything an out-of-towner would want. Then we began a long climb along the magnificent wall.

“If you have looked at photos of the Great Wall, you have seen that it snakes up and down with the contours of the mountains. At Juyong, the snake goes up the sides of the pass to fortifications at the top, then crawls along a rolling ridge line to a higher fort, then back down to the river at bottom of the ‘V’ of the pass. That was our one-mile loop.

“It could have been a dream; somehow I couldn’t believe Nicki and I were actually walking on the 2,000-year-old Great Wall of China. We loved it.

“Actually, I use the term ‘walking’ loosely, because almost all of our one-mile trek on the wall was climbing on uneven steps – some as high as 18 inches or two feet, others about six inches. I read somewhere that it was like climbing a 12-story building; it seemed more like the Empire State Building. Anyway, it was great exercise although my right knee didn’t enjoy it as much as my soul did.

“Kind volunteers helped us, as did our amazing colleagues. I’m sure we were the oldest people in the group by 15 or 20 years. If this hike had been a baseball game, Nicki and I would have been run-ruled.

“But we made it. The mountains are beautiful and the wall is incomprehensible. We appreciate the Chinese extending the closed loop for our group.

“This portion of the wall was open to tourists in 1998. Thank goodness. We were lucky to have experienced it. If you visit Beijing some day, you definitely should come here.

“Weather: High 47, low 18. A little hazy.

“Hydrangea are called something like ‘hydrogen flowers’ here, according to a British man we met. I don’t think he was correct, but it made me smile.

“Sign beside an escalator here in the press center: ‘No Crossing. No Throwing. No Leaning.’

“Dinner: Peanut butter and crackers. Honey Nut Cheerios.

“What a privilege to be here! Every day is an adventure.”

Mailbag: OU basketball attendance

Lloyd Noble Center was noticeably dotted with empty seats Wednesday night at the OU-Tech basketball game.

Richard: “I’m watching on TV the Tech-OU game. ESPN has shown some camera shots of the stands. They look 85-90 percent empty, vs. the No. 9 team in the country. All of the OU students are back on campus? Is it always like this?”

Tramel: I’m not sure where Richard lives, but I don’t think it’s in Oklahoma. I think he’s an out-of-state Sooner. But here’s my general response to fans who see all those empty seats on television.

Why didn’t you go to the game?

The truth is, people don't go to ballgames like they used to. In certain pockets – Lawrence, Lexington, Durham – the places always are packed. In places like Auburn and Lubbock, the interest swells and it becomes a hot topic, at times over multiple seasons. But generally, college basketball fervor has waned over the decades.

The reasons are clear. People don’t like to go anywhere – the mall, church, school, ballgames – when they can shop, worship, learn, cheer from their sofa. College basketball has an identity crisis, in that the stars haven’t been sticking around, and now even the role players are transferring en masse. And the game itself can be hard to watch; defenses mostly dominate.

But my general advice remains. If you’re worried about college basketball attendance, go to the games.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Bennie Blades appreciates OU-Miami football rivalry & Jim Thorpe Award