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Oklahoma Memories

Bob Barry Remembered

2011-11-19

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"They tell me that I've done over 500 football games and over 1,600 basketball games in Division I, and that's a lot of blabbing in 50 years. I've really, really been lucky"

That's the voice of Bob Barry, for fifty years the voice of all three major university athletic teams in Oklahoma.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

Sunday, October 30th, Oklahoma lost a legendary sportscaster with the death of Bob Barry, Sr. Bob Barry accomplished something that perhaps no other play-by-play announcer ever has or ever will do. He was the voice, at one time or another, of all three major universities teams in Oklahoma. His fifty year career included calling all of the games of four Heisman trophy winners, beginning with Steve Owens in 1969. In this interview recorded this past spring, Barry recalled that back in 1969, there was no television coverage of the Heisman award dinner, and the candidates didn't even go to New York City for the announcement. That evening, Steve Owens was in OU president Dr. George Cross' office waiting for the phone call from New York City, and Barry was there, too.

"So, this was in Norman, Oklahoma, the president's office. I'm sitting there with a writer from the Daily Oklahoman, and that's it, just the two of us. No hoopla or anything. Phone rang, and President Cross opened the door and said 'He won it!'"

Barry called OU games from 1961 to 1972, Tulsa University basketball games in the winter of '72 to the spring of '73, then Oklahoma State Cowboys football and basketball games from 1973 to 1991. There he called the games of his second Heisman winner, Barry Sanders.

"Here's Gundy, giving to Sanders, over the right side, gets a block, he's at 5, he's at one. Touchdown Cowboys!"

Before Sanders won the Heisman, Billy Simms won it playing at OU. Who was the better running back?

"Barry Sanders, not only by my estimation which is minor, but I heard Barry Switzer just the other day call Barry Sanders the greatest running back he ever saw, and I certainly would agree 100%. Not to belittle Simms or any of the other great running backs Oklahoma had. It'd be real close in my mind between Barry Sanders and Billy Simms."

In 1991 Bob Barry returned to OU for his second stint at the play-by-play microphone and called two more Heisman-winning seasons for quarterbacks Jason White and Sam Bradford. Last year was his final season, and he did play by play for more players who may be high picks in the next NFL draft.

"Shotgun formation, Murray to the left of Landry Jones, white side of the field to the right, looking left and right, Landry Jones fires a pass, open. Touchdown Oklahoma! A great one-handed catch by Broyles! What a great catch at the northwest corner of the end zone!

Through all of his career, Barry tried to create each game in his listener's mind's eye.

"You want to make it live, and that's what I think a lot of the modern-day play-by-play guys lose. You're trying to paint the picture of what they can't see. Television you can see it, but radio you've got to paint it through words. So that's what I try to do because that's what they did in the old days. Curt Gowdy, Bill Stern, years and years ago, those guys, you learn a lot from listening to them, and you hear modern-day kids announcing, and they don't get it as far as that part is concerned, in my opinion."

On March 10, 2011, Barry closed out his final broadcast following OU's loss to Texas in the Big 12 basketball tournament in Kansas City.

"Thank you for everything. God Bless. So long, everyone.Boomer Sooner."

Historian Bob Burke and I had the honor of writing his biography The Voice of Bedlam, the Life of Bob Barry.

The Oklahoma History Center is located on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City.Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past.I'm Michael Dean.