Tinker Owens sure would like a cold beer right now, but he's not going to get it. He sure would like to sleep past 6:45 tomorrow morning, but he's not going to do that, either.
"Preseason practice is the worst part of football," Owens says. "It turns your whole life around. But most of us put up with it because it works. When the season starts next month we'll be ready to play."
Tinker is always ready to play. He's always ready for anything. "Tinker," says a duly impressed teammate, "is the most hang-loose guy I know."
Being hang-loose is sticking with it in the sweltering heat of August while a dozen teammates steal away in the night. It is ignoring the frustration of being the best receiver on a running team. And, finally, it is accepting the fact that good as that team may be, it must reside in purgatory—ignored by television, bowls and the UPI weekly ratings. Just as last season, when the Sooners won 10 games and tied one, Oklahoma is shackled by the punishment of its own deceit—a two-year probation caused by serious recruiting irregularities.
"Probation bothered us more last year than it will this year," Tinker says. "There's nothing we can do about it, so nobody has much to say. People can look at our record and know how good we are. It will be obvious to everyone that we should be ranked. We know we can win every game. We may even run up the score if we have a chance just to make the UPI look stupid."
These are not bitter words; they are spoken matter-of-factly. If Owens has any regret at all, it is the television proscription. "I play my best games on TV," he says.
Wishbone offenses do not often provide high moments for pass catchers, but Tinker has enjoyed some nonetheless. As a freshman he was the Most Valuable Player in the Sugar Bowl, and last year he caught two touchdown passes in a 52-13 blitz of Texas. Both games were televised, of course.
His best catch—"the most important pass I ever completed," Quarterback Steve Davis said at the time—came against Miami. It brought the Sooners from behind in the third quarter and spurred them to a 24-20 victory.
Owens' well-run patterns and sure-handedness have enabled him to achieve career totals of 35 passes for 815 yards and six touchdowns. Defensive Coordinator Larry Lacewell says he has never seen a receiver make so many great catches with so few opportunities. Offensive Coordinator Galen Hall calls Owens "the best damn receiver in the country."
Even so, Tinker had to share playing time last year with another gifted end, the bigger, faster Billy Brooks. Competition between them was so great that they hardly spoke—even though they were roommates on the road. Brooks threatened to transfer if he did not play more and Owens felt frustrated because he was playing less.