John Hoover

Steve Owens’ big moment left Muhammad Ali silent

Steve Owens’ big moment left Muhammad Ali silent
ali 1969

Muhammad Ali in 1969, the year he wondered who Steve Owens was.

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.

Steve Owens

Steve Owens won the Heisman Trophy in 1969.

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.”

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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