As we sit just 69 days away from kicking off the 2017 college football season, we pay tribute to one of the greatest individual seasons by a player in Oklahoma Sooners history. In 1969, Miami, Oklahoma, native Steve Owens etched his name in the history books by becoming the second Sooner ever to hoist the Heisman Trophy after running back Billy Vessels won the award in 1952. Although Owens never won a national championship during his time at OU, the dominant and relentless running back concluded his collegiate career as one of the most celebrated college football players of the era.
Steve Owens as a senior in 1969 led the Sooners into the season with high expectations. Beginning with a preseason AP ranking of No. 6 and high-profile wins over Wisconsin and Pittsburgh, the Sooners unfortunately lost to second-ranked Texas, 27-17, in the Red River and followed up with road defeats at Kansas State and Missouri and against Nebraska at home. Though the Sooners stumbled and missed out on a bowl game that season, they still had Owens, the country’s best running back, who rushed for more than 100 yards in nine straight games and went over the 200-yard mark three times in his landmark campaign.
Owens also owns a remarkable streak of 17 straight 100-yard games stretching between the 1968 and ’69 seasons. At 6-2, 215-pounds, he was the definition of a workhorse back and still sits atop OU's record books in career rushing attempts with 958 — including an unfathomable 55 carries (and a career-high 261 yards) in a win against the Pokes in the 1969 Bedlam game, which The Oklahoman featured online a few years ago.
He finished his standout senior season in 1969 with 1,523 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns and the Heisman Trophy in hand.
The fun didn’t stop there. After receiving the award in New York, Owens boarded Air Force One with President Nixon to attend, of all games, Arkansas taking on Texas in the de facto national championship. He also had the honor of a backstage meeting with the Greatest of All-Time, Muhammad Ali, at the Johnny Carson Show following his award-winning season.
Now I’d call that one hell of a ’69. (Shameless, I know. But had to.)
The great Steve Owens concluded his Sooner career with more rushing touchdowns than any other player in school history with 57 and a total of 4,041 yards on the ground, which ranks fifth all-time in the record books at Running Back U. Owens then went on to play five NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions who drafted him 19th overall in 1970.
Elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 1991, Owens returned to his alma mater in August 1996 where he served as the athletic director at OU until March 1998. In 2006, the university unveiled an honorary statue of the Sooner legend outside Memorial Stadium, where it will continue to grace the campus of the Oklahoma Sooners just as Steve Owens did the football field in his stellar season of ‘69.