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Life of Riley: More wisdom from former Sooner

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Every Sunday, we do a feature called Collected Wisdom. We talk to sports personalities who we believe have some wisdom to share, then we share it with you. Because our state is so rich in interesting athletes, coaches and the like, we are never at a shortage for possible subjects. You could almost pull a name out of a hat and get a good one.

Last week, when it was my turn to find a Collected Wisdom subject, I decided on Jim Riley.

I’m so glad I did.

The former football player and I talked for 45 minutes, and it could’ve been 45 hours. He has an amazing story, one that started at Bristow High School, then went to Enid High and Oklahoma U and finally to the NFL. He spent six seasons with the Miami Dolphins and was on the roster in 1972 when they became the first undefeated team in NFL history. Unfortunately, Riley, a defensive end, suffered a knee injury before the season and didn’t play a down that year.

For as good as his football career was, he has become better known for his work in the substance-abuse world. He battled addiction for years, but after an intervention by his wife, Robin, along with family and friends 1985, Riley went to rehab. Since getting clean and sober, he has worked to help others do the same.

You can read his Collected Wisdom by clicking here.

But as I mentioned, he had tons to say. He even talked about his son, Blake, who was killed in 1989 in a car accident.

So, here’s some more Wisdom from Jim Riley:

It’s been a good life since (1985). I’ve dealt with tragedy, but it’s still been a good life. I wouldn’t want to go back. I wouldn’t want to change it.

Somebody asked me, “If you could bring your son back to life … ” I said, “I don’t go there. I can’t go there. That’s too painful to try to go there and say, ‘If that wouldn’t have happened.’ It did happen.” In a 20 year span, he became the man I’m trying to become now.

Blake … he told me, “The reason I won’t drink, Dad, is because I don’t want to become what you became.” Oh, he tried it in high school. Senior year, he said, “Neh.” In fact, he made a deal with me — “I promise you I’ll never drink drop of alcohol as long as I live as long as you don’t.” We made that deal on our back patio at our home in Edmond.

I sit out there with Robin sometimes and remember some of the things that Blake and I talked about. We spent hours out there the last four years of his life … talking about stuff. Robin and I spend a lot of time out there. It’s a special place for us.

Probably the guy I have most respect for was a childhood idol of mine — Clendon Thomas. He was everything you would want not only in a player but in a friend, in a man. Getting to know him personally was a thrill to me.

I remember several years ago … Clendon asked me to come over and do a program for the youth at Putnam City Baptist Church where he goes to church. I said, “Well, sure. I’d love to!” I told that story about him right after he introduced me and how much he meant to me. Afterwards, he said, “Quit tellin’ that story. You look as old as I do.”

We just got our invitation to our 40-year reunion of the undefeated season. We’re going in December. We’ll have a four-day stay in Miami at the Doral. We do this every five years. The Dolphins put this together … especially as bad as they are now, they don’t have a whole lot to cheer about now.

We have a company, the 1972 Undefeated Season LLC. We get together and for about half a day we sign hundreds and thousands of helmets, jerseys, posters, everything. And then this company sells all this stuff. The company gets half, and the other half is split up amongst us. It takes about half a day to do all that signing every five years, and it usually nets us about $3,000 a piece. That ain’t bad for half a day of work.

We don’t understand it. Back in the 60s and the 70s, autographs weren’t that big a deal. All this stuff that they do today, it wasn’t like that then.

We’re having dinner over at Shula’s house. I didn’t know he liked us well enough to have us over for dinner.

We give him so much crap all the time.

We have a good time together. We have just enough stuff that it makes it fun. It’s not constantly doing something.

My wife says, “I don’t care about the undefeated season that much. It’s just that if somebody did it again, they might stop having the reunion.”

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Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›