OU football: Memories of Highway 9 by Number Niners

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You can roll into the OU campus at least two ways.

From traffic-heavy I-35, you can battle semi trucks from the north or Texans coming in from the south.

For me, and most everyone else from central and eastern Oklahoma, the most memorable way into Norman was State Highway 9.

I knew every yard of it. For a lot of us Okies, it was our highway into OU, untouched by out-of-staters.

Affectionately known as Number Nine, that ribbon of blacktop rolled through towns and hamlets that barely changed over the decades. From the rolling hills of Eufaula to the reddish dirt in Pink, you kept an eye out for greasy burger stops while watching for OHP-manned speed traps.

That was my view of Number Nine. It ran north of my homestead in McIntosh County. From there, it was a 98-mile trip to the campus. In the 1950s, my dad and his pals would load up on Saturday mornings to watch Bud Wilkinson’s teams dominate.

Author Jeanetta Calhoun Mish fondly remembered Number Nine in an essay in Oklahoma Today a few months ago. A group of students’ award-winning entry in a film festival was called Highway 9, although it’s not clear whether it’s Oklahoma’s stretch of the highway. I’m sure Barry Switzer and his assistants knew the road well as they rolled into Eufaula to recruit the Selmon brothers.

Even before I attended OU in the early 1980s, I knew the road like the back of my hand.

My early memories (going from east to west): Dustin and the little burger drive-in that served up burgers from its well-worn grill; Wetumka and the Dairy Queen and greasy spoon diner where you’d pick up a large Dr Pepper; the Seminole speed trap; Tecumseh and a pit stop to evacuate that large Dr Pepper; the speed-inducing straightaway to Pink; more speed traps on the south stretch of Thunderbird Lake; then the final run into southeast Norman.

As you got more familiar with the route, it was like a road race. Most of the time, I was able to cover it in an hour and a half. But others claim to have done better.

Mike Duncan, owner of Soonerguys.com, defied physics and made the 150-mile trek from Wilburton via Eufaula to Norman in two hours. Mike was lucky that all the OHP troopers had abandoned their speed traps (Did I just say that out loud?) and had taken their seats in Memorial Stadium’s south end zone.

“Speeding through Pink at 90 mph was entertaining,” Mike admitted.

Stigler native Ed Godfrey, The Daily Oklahoman‘s sage outdoors editor, has all kinds of coming-of-age memories of Number Nine, including his first traffic ticket on the way back from a Kansas game.

“Trooper pulled me over and said ‘Don’t you ever look in your rearview mirror?’ ” Ed remembers. “Apparently, he had been chasing me a while.”

Speaking of being chased, in high school, I was run out of Dustin by a Hughes County lawman for not dimming my lights. I bolted eastbound on Number Nine before desperately escaping on a country road Dukes of Hazzard style. Whew!

I’m sure Number Niners have similar tales about the highway as they rolled in from the west from Chickasha.

From the east, it was a trip I’ll never forget.

ABOUT THE GAME: K-State has that wily coach factor going for it again. Bill Snyder is 72 years old. He was influential in Bob Stoops’ development. He’s beaten OU six times. He was tutored by a coach named Hayden, which is scary. Snyder also has the home stadium named in his honor for crying out loud. There’s a Texas thing going for this that most people will overlook. The K-State staff probably took a look, if not recruited, most of the kids on OU’s roster. Snyder’s roster includes 20 Texans, which means nothing to us but it reignites old rivalaries that prompt close games. … If OU can use UNT’s strategy of keeping K-State’s grinding offense off the field, the Sooners should win. It’s a matter of OU getting better timing on offense. The Sooners didn’t have that against UTEP and FAMU. It’s really roll-up-the-sleeves time. Based on the latest AP rankings, OU plays five of the nation’s top 17 teams. My prediction: OU 24-20.

STANFORD CONNECTION: Palo Alto can be a crazy place to play. In 2000, I saw Stanford beat Texas, a game in which Tiger Woods was on the sideline cheering the Cardinal to an upset victory over the then-No. 5 Longhorns. My colleagues at the San Francisco Chronicle, believing that I was a native Texan, provided me with tickets. I sat in the UT section (Silicon Valley was loaded with Austin transplants), but I moved to a vacant section of the stadium where an older gentlemen struggled up the bleachers to sit right in front of me. I told him to pardon me if I cheered too loud for a Big 12 team. Without knowing where I was from, he said, “that’s OK … at least you’re not one of them obnoxious Oklahoma fans.” I didn’t let on. … USC haters can thank my Texas city of residence. Mansfield’s own Stepfan Taylor rushed for 153 yards to lead Stanford over USC.


5 thoughts on “OU football: Memories of Highway 9 by Number Niners”

  1. wow, thanks so much for the name-check and for your memories of running 9 which are so much like mine (esp that Pink straightaway, which is referenced in my essay in the part about catching air on the top of a hill). i have found it odd, now that I’m in my fifties, the stretch between Wewoka and Norman seems to have gotten longer. It takes an hour and a little now, and I know for sure it only took 47 minutes in 1976. ; )

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