As Louisville and the world laid to rest Muhammad Ali today, I thought of one of my favorite Ali stories.
Steve Owens, Oklahoma’s 1969 Heisman Trophy winner, recounted the whirlwind days after winning the award, and Ali was right in the middle of it all.
Among Owens’ activities in New York City was a visit to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
As he sat in the green room waiting for his turn to go on stage with Johnny, another guest arrived with a sprawling entourage.
It was Muhammad Ali.
Owens, a country boy from Miami, Oklahoma, was dumbstruck.
“To sit in that room, to sit next to Muhammad Ali, I mean, he was incredible,” Owens told me a few years back.
Owens said he was too shy to introduce himself, but when one of Johnny’s assistants came in, Owens needed no introduction.
“Mr. Owens?” she said. “The President of the United States would like to talk to you.’
“Muhammad Ali looked at me and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ ”
Ali watched, perhaps himself dumbstruck, as Owens spoked with Richard Nixon over the telephone.
Nixon, a noted college football fan, invited Owens to fly with him and his staff to the Arkansas-Texas game in Fayetteville. On Air Force One, Owens and Nixon exchanged cufflinks.
“To go on the Johnny Carson show, then have a chance to see Muhammad Ali and then fly on Air Force One with the President,” Owens said, “it was incredible.”