Oklahoma football: Hunting with Bennie Owen & Barry Switzer
Bobby Bell called me Tuesday. Bell, 77, is the half-century friend of Barry Switzer. The “official Oklahoma hunting and fishing coach,” is how Switzer dubbed Bell. They met not long after Switzer arrived in Norman as an OU assistant coach in 1966, soon became fishing buddies and Bell eventually was on the sidelines for most of Switzer’s games with the Sooners and the Dallas Cowboys.
Bell grew up in Seminole, the son of lawyer Dick Bell. Bobby Bell related a story. When he was young, either about to graduate from Seminole High School or early in his college days, his dad brought home a friend and asked Bobby to take the friend hunting.
Bell, then as now, loved hunting. “Quail hunting is all I ever cared about,” Bell said. “Been quail hunting since I was damn near seven.”
So Dick Bell brought in the friend, an elderly man who turns out was in his 80s.
“You take him hunting and you be good to him, because he’s a great guy,” Dick Bell told his son. “I remember dad told me, ‘don’t be shooting ‘em out from under him, let him shoot,’” Bobby Bell said. “I remember I did. He was one of the few guys I did.”
The old man had only one arm. That was about six decades ago, and Bell still marvels at the sight.
“He’d take that gun and put it up on that stub and shoot that gun,” Bell said.
That one-armed man? Bennie Owen. Yes, the Bennie Owen. The football coach at OU from 1905-26. The man who was born in 1875 and participated in the 1893 Cherokee Outlet land run.
I blogged about Owen a few weeks ago and his place in OU history, as not only the football coach and athletic director, but the baseball and basketball coach, too. Then I received an email from Mike Whaley of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, who reported their archives show that Owen was hired to run the state high school athletic association in 1921. Amazing. So I blogged about that update and eventually put the two blogs together, and we ran that content in the Monday Oklahoman.
Which prompted Bell to give me a call and share the story.
Think about it. Bell has been hunting with Bennie Owen, born in 1875 and the Sooner football coach starting 115 years ago, and is best friends with Barry Switzer, who is 82 and still vibrant and still an Oklahoma icon.
As a young man, Dick Bell hitchhiked from Mississippi, eventually went to OU and played on the baseball team, where he missed Bennie Owen and Bennie’s brother, Bill, as coaches by only a few years. Bell went to law school and settled in Seminole.
“He was a dandy dad,” Bobby Bell said. “I promise you that. When he said something, you jumped.”
When Dick Bell got older, he used one of Switzer’s parking spaces at OU, to watch practice or a game. A Seminole judge would drive Dick Bell over. “First time I ever heard of a judge driving a lawyer,” Switzer cracked.
What a remarkable connection. Owen and Switzer combined to coach the Sooners for 38 years, with 46 years in between. And Bobby Bell is linked to both.
“You be good to him and slow down,” Bobby Bell remembers his dad saying about Owen. “I said, ‘OK. I’ll do it.’ He’s the only one-armed guy I ever hunted with. He was a good one.”