OU football: Seeing Darrol Ray, missing Steve Rhodes
I had a treat at lunch. And I don’t mean a piece of blueberry pie.
Trish the Dish and I ran an errand in Moore on Tuesday, and we were headed back home a little before noon, and she suggested we stop in at Ray’s BBQ for lunch. Darrol Ray opened Ray’s Smokehouse in Norman years ago, and it’s one of the best barbeque joints around. It’s on the other side of town from my house – it’s on Lindsey Street in southwest Norman, I live in far northeast Norman – but I go by when I can.
But only recently did I learn that Ray opened a Moore location not long ago.
Darrol Ray was one of my all-time favorite Sooners. The safety from 1976-79 was a great player for Barry Switzer; I’ve always claimed Ray was the best Sooner ever to not make all-American. I don’t know if that’s something I could prove under oath, but I could give it a good debate. Ray then played five years in the NFL, all with the Jets, making 69 starts and intercepting 21 passes. A heck of a player.
When my twin brother and I were teenagers – we were born in 1961 – we thought Darrol Ray was the coolest dude in college football. Sharp-looking, quality-acting, great-playing. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Darrol some and he’s a tremendous person.
I remember back in 1994, my church staged a fundraiser by hosting a basketball game against the SportsRadio team. This was the precursor to the Sports Animal, but it was many of the same guys, including Jim Traber. Our church team played a game against the radio guys, who were completely void of sportsmanship and fair play.
For one thing, I made a few baskets early – I was 33 and still had a little bit of game – and suddenly, the radio guys went to a box-and-one defense, with Curtis Fitzpatrick bulldogging me. Curtis, 26 years later, still looks in shape. Back then, he was probably 21 years old and could run all day.
I had no chance of getting off a shot against Curtis. I curse the radio team to this day.
And also, the radio guys brought along Darrol Ray to play for them. Darrol was then probably 35, so he remained a premier athlete; only a decade removed from the NFL. They already had Traber, a major league baseball player from only a few years before.
We got clocked, of course. We had no one to match up on Traber and we certainly had no one to match up on Darrol Ray.
Anyway, the Dish and I went by Ray’s today, ordered our food, I went in to get it and didn’t see Darrol. Bummer. But I returned to the car and we ate our food curbside.
Then Darrol came out with a big order, helping a customer parked right next to us. They started talking football with the customer’s friend, and I could detect that the customer was a former teammate of Darrol’s. Bald-headed white guy, but I had no idea who.
The customer eventually left, and I waved to Darrol, and he came over to say hello. Turns out it was Steve Rhodes, the clutch wide receiver who was in Ray’s 1976 OU recruiting class. Rhodes was the hero of the 1976 Nebraska game – he caught the 43-yard halfback pass from Woodie Shepard and the hook-and-lateral pass from Dean Blevins that Rhodes shuttled to Elvis Peacock, setting up the game-winning touchdown.
Turns out, Rhodes is in the elevator business in Oklahoma City. For all the OU players I’ve talked to over the years, I’ve never met Rhodes. That was sort of a lost opportunity.
Bummer. But it was great seeing Darrol. He said his business is holding up, though he’s looking forward to the re-opening of the economy. The guy I thought was cool when I was 16? I can the same about him now that I’m 59.