But then, we should not really be surprised at any of this because OU football is inextricably woven into the fabric of the state. As publisher Engleman says, "We're a young state, striving for excellence, and football has been the one place where we have achieved excellence."
According to Larry Merchant, a sports journalist who attended OU as a football player and is writing a book on Sooner football, the gridiron powerhouse was purposely contrived by businessmen as a way of combating the negative "Okie" image created by writers like John Steinbeck. Coming on the heels of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who had given Oklahoma an exclamation mark. Bud Wilkinson's successful postwar Sooner teams provided the state with a bright and recognizable new face. Says Abe Lemons, the University of Texas basketball coach, who is an Oklahoma expatriate, "I used to admit to ev'rbody that I was from Oklahoma, but I'd be sure to add real fast, 'but from down near the Texas line.' Wilkinson's teams were important to the whole state. They undone all the things Steinbeck did. Frank Boggs is the finest guy I ever knew. He's never written anything cruel about anybody. But, you see, he's attacked the Pope."
Boggs understands well enough. He has spent much of his life in Oklahoma. He is, anyway, an observer. Like a lot of sportswriters, he is not even much of a sports fan. "I'd rather rake leaves than just go see a game," he says. The two events he most prizes having watched are the Neil Armstrong moon shot and a Harvard-Penn game where most of the fans drank wine and one team or the other won. He cites these two events because each in its own way puts big-time football in perspective.
Boggs tried to explain himself as a writer right after the trouble started, when the threats and letters were pouring in, when old friends ostracized him. He wrote in his column: "Maybe sports-writers are gullible, perhaps naive. We exist in a world of excitement and Sousa music and beautiful cheer-leading girls who surely will wind up in tears whether their team won or lost. We often become good friends of the coaches and of their wives, and when a coach is under heavy attack, we feel doubly saddened.... But sportswriters are also newspapermen, and they must be newspapermen first and sportswriters second."