Sooners QB remembered as preacher, unlikely star

It was tragic to hear of the death of former University of Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis, a Southern Baptist who was licensed to preach as a high schooler, in a plane crash in South Bend, Ind., on Sunday. The crash also killed Wesley Caves, 58, a business associate of Davis.

The 60-year-old son of Sallisaw, Okla., was an active member of First Baptist Church of Tulsa, and news reports said he was speaking in Sunday School class on the day of his death about how glad he was that he was a Christian, according to a report in the Tulsa World. That afternoon, Davis, Caves and two other people left Tulsa on business for South Bend.

Davis’ was the last scholarship given the year he came to Oklahoma under then-head coach Chuck Fairbanks. Eight quarterbacks were on the roster in the days before scholarship limits. He was a long shot until he caught the eye during a freshman scrimmage of an assistant coach named Barry Switzer. He went on the become the starter during Switzer’s first year as Sooners coach in 1973, guiding Oklahoma to consecutive national titles and a 32-1-1 record from 1973-75. 

For University of Texas fans, that era marked a dry spell against the Sooners—Texas lost five in a row until a 6-6 tie in 1976—and was a thorn in the side of Longhorns coach Darrell Royal, who retired after that season.

The Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City included a link to a video recording of Davis sharing his testimony during a 1975 Billy Graham Crusade. As a 9-year-old and a fairly new Christian, I was thrilled to hear Davis preach at Olivet Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan., in the summer of 1974. He signed the inside of my Bible: “Steve Davis OU #5.”  

Rick Ballard of McKinney, a Southwestern Seminary grad who has pastored Texas churches and was a director of missions here, was a competitor for the quarterback job along with Davis at Oklahoma. They played against each other in high school. Ballard wrote on his Facebook page:

“So horrible to hear of the tragic accident that took the life of my friend, teammate and rival Steve Davis. In HS we went head to head in football and track with his (Sallisaw) Black Diamonds vs. my (Poteau) Pirates. At OU we both wanted to win the starting job while the heir apparent was Freshman Kerry Jackson. By spring of 1973, Barry Switzer became the new head coach, Kerry was a recruiting violation, I was engaged and Steve became the starter and finished as the winningest QB in OU history until this year.

“Steve was a strong Christian who did some preaching. I heard him wrestle Scripture with coach (Ron) Fletcher after practice one day. I was saved and called to preach much later. Steve had a tough family life and lost his bro George way too early but he was a fine example for so many people. I pray his family will have God’s peace through the coming days and people will learn about Steve Davis the man. … apart from being an OU great! RIP Steve! Well done.”

Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said of Davis on Twitter: “I’m saddened by the loss of Steve Davis. Great role model for young people on & off the field. He was my 1st QB & had an outstanding career.”

 

TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce
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