TideSports Sugar Bowl QA: WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross
Jim Ross, a WWE Hall of Fame wrestling announcer, is a resident of Norman, Okla., a longtime fan of the Oklahoma Sooners and a frequent visitor at OU football practices. TideSports.com caught up with him for a telephone interview where he talked about Oklahoma, Alabama, the upcoming Sugar Bowl and more.
Q: How did you become an Oklahoma fan?
A: Well, I'll be 62 years old on Friday and I can never remember not being an OU fan. I grew up on a rural, 160-acre farm in eastern Oklahoma where the radio was kind of the gateway to sports in the days before cable and sports channels and the ESPNs of the world and things of that nature. It was all radio back then except for maybe that one game of the year or two that Oklahoma would play on television.
And even though we had farm chores and things to do, we stopped to watch that football game. Some years it was Oklahoma and Texas, more often than not it was Oklahoma-Nebraska on Thanksgiving weekend. I just grew up in that household and I think for my parents and grandparents it was the Sooner football program when my grandparents, especially, lived through the (Great) Depression and the Dust Bowl and all those things, I think it became a win, a source of pride, to see the success of the football program. Everybody could share in that success when there were a lot of hardships that they had to endure.
That's kind of where that started. It was just a family tradition, as Hank Jr. would say.
Q: What are your impressions from where you came up of what Alabama football has been over the years?
A: My dad was a big John Wayne fan, and he always compared "Bear" Bryant to John Wayne, so obviously that translated into something special to me because that John Wayne image in our household, it was Americana, it was a guy that had convictions and his characters that he played in the movies - we all know what role John Wayne played, he played himself in every movie, basically - and that was great.
My dad always thought that "Bear" Bryant, brought up in a small Arkansas town, compared to growing up in a small Oklahoma town, and him being able to play college football and make college football his life - any time you saw the "Bear" on television, he cut to the chase, he told the truth, he stood for what he believed in. So he's in that same conversation with my father that John Wayne was. So I grew up thinking that "Bear" Bryant was the football version of John Wayne.
And the same thing, you'd see that Alabama game maybe once a year, twice a year, and we always tried to make a point of watching them because my dad had a philosophy of how you played football, he played high school ball, and the way "Bear" coached and the way his teams played fit my dad's love for the game. I remember my dad telling me, "That's the way you play football right there."
My earliest memory was I think the '63 bowl game, Oklahoma played Alabama and Alabama shut Oklahoma out, and Lee Roy Jordan seemed like he made every tackle. I don't remember how many he made but it was some ridiculous number like 30 or something. It was like every tackle. So I was an impressionable 11-year-old kid looking forward to playing junior high football and the way Lee Roy Jordan played that day was amazing. That had a big influence on me: the way he hustled, the way he played, the way the team ran to the ball. There were just physical, well-coached, fundamentally sound, and then of course "Bear" was just bigger than life.
We never looked, at least in my household, we never looked at Nebraska being the enemy because of the respect factor and we never looked at Alabama - we've only played them four times - really being the enemy. They were just our opponent that day, but there was no ill will, unlike an OU-Texas rivalry. There was never any of that.
It's been real fun, I've followed Alabama a lot, and Thursday's game is going to be really interesting. I think it will be a lot better time for OU fans than the last time when we were in the Sugar Bowl. We played LSU, which was not a positive experience - not just losing the national championship but just the way that some LSU fans, largely young men who had drank too much, conducted themselves. It was not a fun experience. It was very obnoxious and rude and unprofessional, unbecoming, but I've never experienced that around any Alabama fans.
Q: How excited are you for the Sugar Bowl, especially being that these two teams have played so few times?
A: If you had asked me a month ago, what do you think Oklahoma's chances of playing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl are, I would have said, "Are you in a bar, are you drinking?" Because at time we had to go finish our season with two very tough road games with Kansas State - Bill Snyder's very hard to beat in Manhattan (Kan.) no matter what, he's just a cagey old coach who knows what he's doing - then we had to go to Stillwater and play Oklahoma State. We were underdogs in both those games and so somehow the team kind of rallied together, did what they had to do to win both road games.
I still believe that last play in the Alabama-Auburn game is the darnedest thing I've ever seen. I am of the belief, and your readers will probably not disagree, but I still think that Alabama is the best college football team in the country. They were for 59 minutes and 59 seconds, I can tell you that, and so unfortunately you can't delete one play. That's football.
So I'm excited about the opportunity because I'm anxious to see how Oklahoma's young team stacks up against Coach (Nick) Saban's powerhouse and if Oklahoma can hang with Alabama. You know, we're not supposed to win, we've heard that time and time again, but I know that in a one-game playoff, so to speak, really anything can happen. We've all seen it.
I think it's going to be fun trip. I've been in the Superdome for wrestling matches many times. Heck, Wrestlemania is going to be there this year. It's a unique, a special building. I spent a lot of Thankgivings there over the years back in the day when we were having wrestling matches there in the old territory days, in the Superdome. I'm looking forward to it. I'm not coming down there with any grandiose plans. It's not like when Oklahoma played UConn in the Fiesta Bowl - I felt like we'd win that game pretty handily. I know we're the underdog, we're backed into a corner. I just hope it's a good, entertaining, competitive ballgame.
I think this team has overachieved, speaking of Oklahoma. Against Oklahoma State, our big, in-state-rival - who is really a good team, quite frankly - we played three quarterbacks. You don't normally get into a ballgame where you play three quarterbacks and you win. There's a reason you play three quarterbacks: somebody's hurt, somebody's not doing well, now you're to the third guy. It was just a strange kind of a game.
Coach (Bob) Stoops does a pretty good job himself. He's a great friend of mine. I know the kids are products of, for better or for worse, the social media stuff - Twitter and Instagram - and everybody watches SportsCenter and what have you. They've heard over and over and over that they're going to get mauled on Thursday night, and that could happen, but I think this team is going to have a little chip on its shoulder and at least they're going to do all they can to be competitive. I just don't know if we have the horsepower to stop the Crimson Tide. We'll see.
I look forward to meeting some folks in crimson just like I will be, and I'm sure it will be an exciting time. I was telling someone the other day that Oklahoma is not really big on the gimmicks as far as whiteouts and blackouts, all-that-outs and all that stuff, but they're going to see a crimson-out, no doubt about it, on Jan. 2, because everybody's going to be wearing crimson on both sides.
Q: If Alabama was a WWE wrestler, who would it be? And if Oklahoma was a WWE wrestler, who would it be?
A: Let's pretend, because the Sugar Bowl is going to be in the site of Wrestlemania, I would equate Alabama to being the Undertaker. If anybody follows the sports entertainment genre, WWE, they know that the Undertaker has never lost at Wrestlemania.
So I would say that Oklahoma would be maybe a Shawn Michaels, because I never saw any athlete other than Shawn that had more confidence in their ability to steal the show than Shawn Michaels.
Of course, Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had two epic matches at Wrestlemania that the Undertaker won, by the way, both of them. But, boy, they were great performances, they were exciting from beginning to end, and they took us on a great ride. Hopefully we'll get something comparable to that on Thursday.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
- Photo credit: The Oklahoman