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Greatest Sooner Running Backs- Number Ten, Joe Don Looney


Oklahoma back Joe Don Looney gains two yards in first quarter of Orange Bowl game with Alabama in Miami Jan. 1, 1963. Closing in for the stop is Alabama center Lee Roy Jordan (54) and back Eddie Versprille. (AP Photo)



To qualify this ranking of running backs at Oklahoma, I have included only players that I have personally seen in person at the stadium or live on television.  I began watching Sooner football in 1958 and my remembrances go back to 1961.  With that, I have not included any player before 1961. This is the first part of a series of greatest Sooner football players by position.  Please comment on my lists and argue your best Sooners list.  There are no right or wrong rankings.   The lists, starting with Joe Don Looney (10th best running back), will include offensive and defensive positions.  Statistics, abilities, and overall significance to the OU football program are all included in picking the ten, but when all things are equal, my personal preference is the tie breaker. 


Football: Detroit Lions Joe Don Looney (32) in action, rushing vs Washington Redskins at Tiger Stadium.
Detroit, MI 10/3/1965
CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

10.  Joe Don Looney (1962-1963) All-American 1962

At 6’1 and 230 lbs, Looney was a big man in the Sooner backfield, larger than many of the linemen that blocked or tried to stuff him.  Add to the fact that he was more than likely the fastest player on the field, power and speed with adequate moves made him a breakaway threat when given the ball.  Looney’s physical ability was in the class of Marcus Dupree and Adrian Peterson. Yes, he didn’t have the career of an Adrian Peterson or the big college games that Mr. Dupree had in his shortened career at OU.  But he was the real deal when motivated and was the best player on the field in a college game.  Attitude cut his career short everywhere he played, including in Norman as Joe Don was as controversial a legend OU has ever had, including Mr. Dupree. He played on one full season (1962) and three games in the 1963 season as he was kicked off the team by Head Coach Bud Wilkinson for punching an assistant coach.  But he was an original punt, pass and kick man, as he made All-America at OU as the country’s leading punter in 1962. The 12th pick in the 1964 NFL draft told of ability to play on Sunday.
The man could win a ball game for his team at any moment.  Playing 3rd string in a 3-0 deficit against Syracuse in the home opener in 1962 (his first game at OU) he did just that. 

The Sooners took over with four minutes left in the game. Looney, who had been sitting on the bench all afternoon, told Wilkinson to put him in and he would “win the game.” Wilkinson relented and sent Looney in.

Cowan carried around right end for a seven-yard gain on the first play of the drive. Third-string fullback Looney picked up another five yards for a first down at the OU 40. The SU defense then halted Cowan at the line for no gain.

In the huddle, Looney told Deere to give him the ball outside and he would score. On the next play, Deere and Looney swung to the left and Deere pitched the ball to his fullback. Looney then cut inside where he appeared to be stopped for a two-yard gain, swamped by Syracuse defenders.

Suddenly, he sprang free and sprinted down the east sideline into the end zone. Halfback Gary Wylie threw a key block on SU’s Don King, the only defender with a chance of catching Looney.

The new star was mobbed by teammates in the end zone. Jarman’s kick was successful, and the Sooners took a 7-3 advantage with 2:07 remaining in the game.

“I knew what play I was going to call when I went into the huddle,” Deere said in the locker room afterwards. “But as I was walking up to the huddle, Looney leaned over and told me, ‘Just give me the ball and I’ll score a touchdown.’ So I just gave him the ball.”

I watched Mr. Looney in person in Norman, Oklahoma and on live TV.  To this day, I remember the heat of the USC game in LA, Looney, Jim Gresham (All-American fullback), and the cast of characters that gave OU the big 17-12 win, a game that Looney scored on a nineteen yard run.

For more information on Joe Don Looney:  http://goldenrankings.com/footballprofiles5.htm and http://oklahoma.247sports.com/Board/86/Contents/Joe-Don-Looney-am-alternative-view-from-a-friend-1283954 and Photo credit for top photo.  Also:  http://www.pardonpower.com/2010/03/very-colorful-joe-don-looney.html


Joe Don Looney in uniform in at the USC/Oklahoma game in Los Angeles, on Sept. 22, 1963  Photographer not known.

About Fred Pahlke

Fred Pahlke, an Oklahoma native has viewed over 10,000 sporting events in his 65 years. A season ticket holder of the Oklahoma City Thunder, former season tickect holder for the Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma City University Chiefs/Stars, he is an expert in both professional and college basketball and football. A high school athlete at Classen High School in basketball and tennis, he played amateur tennis after high school in the Missouri Valley Tennis Association. A graduate of Oklahoma City University, he taught in the public schools for 6 years before becoming a building administrator in the Oklahoma City Public Schools for 31 years, 28 as the Principal of various schools in the district. He has guided various high school and college athletes in his time as an educator and coach. Fredsportsextra has recorded 101, 410 article views in its first ten months, from August 2015 through May 2016.

16 Responses to “Greatest Sooner Running Backs- Number Ten, Joe Don Looney”

  1. Bruce Ball
    December 19, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    The late Mike Ringer, OU quarterback from Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, also had a big day!

  2. December 27, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    Looney was one of a kind. Somewhat lost soul.
    When motivated he was King Kong!
    Thrilling when he got his hands on the ball.
    Respector of few. Totally his own man.
    Money and or recognition was not motivators for him.
    It was an internal battle. Issues with his father seemed to be the base.
    After a short but successful stint in the NFL, where he literally ran out of his shoes scoring, he went to India for Spiritual clarity.
    Literally cleaned elephant stalls ,studied, & prayed for a number of years, prior to returning to Texas.
    He lived a solitary life in the Hill Country.
    Died in a motorcycle accident.
    He seemed to have found what he was missing as a young man.

    • Robin H. Dobbins
      May 23, 2020 at 8:39 pm

      I saw the run against Syracuse. I also watched The Bud Wilkinson show when he explained the Looney run. I read the book on Looney. he lived with constant pressure from his dad. The greatest back ever when is ‘right’ in the head. I just marveled at his size and speed. Made Look Magazine All-American in his senior year and did not even play. And could kick. Sad book. For some reason I liked the guy.

      • May 23, 2020 at 8:50 pm

        Dobbins, he was as big as most linemen at the time….

  3. Richard
    November 29, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    He could do it all if he wanted to.A pure ATHLETE that could run with speedor juking, punter, & option passing. He just didn’t have his head on right probably because of his dad

  4. Robert
    April 6, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    What about LEON Heath; of course I’m bias….

    • April 6, 2020 at 5:04 pm

      Robert, in my set outline, I have only ranked players that I have actually viewed in the stadium or on TV. It would not be fair to rank a player I did not see actually play.

  5. Mark Wood
    April 9, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    I have argued with many, many OU fans about best running back. I’ve seen, and carefully studied, every back since 1970. To me, Marcus Dupree is the best running back to ever play at OU or, maybe anywhere. What made him different was how fast he could get back to full speed after contact. He could run up the middle, knock a guy off his feet, and be back to full speed in a couple of yards. There is a play on his Youtube clip (best of…) where he is running down the left sideline. It looks like a Kansas, or K-State, player is going to get him. Dupree just out runs him.. then outruns another guy that has an angle on him… only to outrun another guy that has even a better angle on him.

    • April 9, 2020 at 12:57 pm

      No argument on his skill set even as a young man with still much growth to bet better. The run at Kansas i saw in person was one of the greatest ever…thanks for commenting..and yes, he could be the greatest ever…

    • Brad H
      April 11, 2020 at 1:51 am

      I’m afraid the ESPN 30 for 30 on Marcus was titled right. “The Best That Never Was”. I wish a coach could have motivated him. Switzer couldn’t, I’m not sure one existed that could.

      • April 11, 2020 at 11:14 am

        if you watch him play he was motivated….hell, in his last game Texas beat him up on the field but he did not stop running the ball until he just could not. He was immature and not all young guys are going to be the same. A red shirt year would have been good, even if he was the best runner OU had. Barry’s remarks to the public were devastating toward Dupree and Barry missed the boat with him. But nobody is perfect. I give Marcus all the credit in the world to be the man he is today, well grounded, successful, and a fine human being. I have the 5th Anniversary blue ray of 30 for 30 which has the Marcus story. Glad I got it on sale on Amazon for less than $50 as it is now $249 on that platform and going up. It was a limited production and my box set is pristine.

  6. April 9, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Looney could do it all except conform. More talent than anyone except maybe McDonald who was 70lbs lighter. Sad

  7. January 18, 2021 at 12:16 am

    Joe Don was one of the earliest proponents of weight lifting in big time football, definitely ahead of his time.

    • January 18, 2021 at 1:48 am

      with that, Joe Don was as big as most of the defenders at the time. At almost 6’3 and 230 lbs and the fastest player on the field, he was a truly unique athlete. Leading the country in punting says a lot about his abilities….he did punt in the NFL too.

    • Cougar
      June 23, 2021 at 9:33 am

      For SURE!!!

    June 10, 2021 at 10:17 pm

    One of the problems with Looney was, in ’62 & ’63, the college game was still played with limited substitutions. Meaning substitutions could only be made as a full unit. Furthermore, meaning all players played offense and defense. While Looney had his moments as a running back, he was a serious liability on the defensive side of the ball, and really had no interest in playing defense. Much of his conflict with his coaches at OU stemmed from his lackadaisical and unwilling attitude during defense drills, and his presence caused moral issues, especially on the loaded ’63 team.

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