Remembering good, old days at Ottawa University
Walking across the campus of Ottawa University, I noted that much has changed, yet it remained familiar and serene.
It was almost 50 years to the day that I trudged off Cook Field after ending my long and very average football career at Ottawa University. Last Saturday, we decided to go back and take in a game and see how much has changed on the OU campus.
All I had to do was look in the mirror and see the biggest change. On a cold, rainy and unpleasant November night in 1958, when I played my last game, I was a 5-foot-11, 185 pound linebacker-defensive specialist. Well, 185 pounds is a long-lost memory. In those long ago days, I would have loved to be 210 pounds; now it is no problem.
Let me make the record clear, I certainly wasn’t a star. In fact, I was more of a hanger-on. My main talents were remaining eligible and having a high threshold of pain. I was unlucky to come along in the era of single-platoon football, when you could only substitute once a quarter, and defense was my specialty, which limited playing time. That changed my senior year and I started four games before injuries caught up with me.
I believe that this was the first time I attended an OU football game since the 1960s. Many people are surprised that Ottawa has a football team. Their long history dates back to 1891 and in the early years they had wins over Kansas, Missouri and other name schools. Now, Ottawa is a NAIA school and a member of the KCAC.
The Ottawa University campus is beautiful. All the buildings are limestone or buff brick and there are many large trees with beautiful and colorful foliage in the fall. It remains a compact campus that is well-planned. There are many new buildings including a student union, chapel and other, more modern additions.
Going to the game I noted many changes. Ottawa was playing Bethel College. When I was in school, Bethel was known as the “Graymaroons.” Now they are the Threshers. The stadium has been remodeled and features artificial turf. What was once known as “Cook Field” is now Peoples Bank Field and has a seating capacity of 3,000.
They still wore the black uniforms with gold trim at home. However, the players were much, much bigger than those in the 1950s.
One of the disappointments was that there was no marching or pep band, and the fight song wasn’t played. Some of the spectators told me that sometimes the Ottawa High School band performs at games.
I decided to check on the players wearing the numbers that I wore. The first two years I wore number “65” and the young man in that uniform now an offensive lineman listed in the program at 273 pounds. My favorite number was “55,” which I wore for my junior and senior years. The young man clad in that jersey was a senior who weighed 200 pounds, so he was more in my weight class. He was listed on the depth chart as the number two defensive end. He did what I did a lot: standing on the sideline and hoping to hear my name called.
Quite frankly, I was impressed with the facilities. We sat on the 30-yard line in a top-row seat and had a great view of the game. There was a large number of enthusiastic students in attendance. Admission was only $5 which made it a real bargain when it comes to sports.
Talking with some of the people in the stands, there was a bit of a controversy. The use of the name “Braves” was endorsed by the Ottawa Tribe, as was the mascot “Giego.” According to the program, Giego visits on certain games, but was nowhere to be seen the week I was there. He has been replaced by “Gibby the Otter” which caused grumbling from some of the old-timers in the stands. “He looks like a rodent,” one complained. Gibby wasn’t around long that afternoon either. The program pointed out that otters were symbols of good luck in the Ottawa Tribe.
It was a glorious day and a good game as the Braves won 31-21. I spent most of the time thinking about the old days and remembering the good times. I had a wonderful experience as a student at OU, and it remains an excellent college where you can receive a good education and develop many life skills. Ottawa is a small, American Baptist liberal arts college that provides a good education and I am proud to tell everyone that I am an alum. The final line of the fight song sums it up best: “OU forever more.”
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