We devour our high school, college and professional football information. Who better to talk a little pigskin with than someone who's experienced each level of the game?
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team is on quite a roll these days. Lest we forget, there was another captivating run by the hometown boys. The 1991 squad finished the season ranked 21 in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches polls.
"The Freedom Bowl was a big deal back in '91 but I still think beating 13th ranked at the time Texas A&M at home was a lot bigger," says former TU offensive lineman Jerry Ostroski.
The "Big O" grew up in Philadelphia. Former TU coach Dave Rader's staff used recruiting connections in the Keystone State to reel in the prospect. Offers came in from Rutgers, Temple and Pittsburgh but nothing he felt comfortable committing too.
"I know Pitt was a good program but as a Penn State fan growing up; I couldn't see myself going to Pitt. It's kind of like blasphemy," he says of the decision.
Ostroski's playing career didn't end on the field at Skelly Stadium. His size and skill meant a chance at the next level.
"Draft day wasn't very fun," he deadpans. "If you look at all the days throughout, it was probably the worst day of all of them," he says of the anticipation. It was the 10th round before his name was called by the Kansas City Chiefs.
From the Chiefs he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons "for about three minutes." Then on to Buffalo. He played for the Bills and made his mark on the game.
"It worked out in the long run." Indeed it did. He was a member of the last Bills squad to lose a Super Bowl. He recovered a fumble in the end zone against San Diego for his lone NFL touchdown. He did not do the obnoxious Dr. Pepper guy dance. You know the one.
Of course, there were two other highlights... rather lowlights from his playing days. The two-quarterback tango with Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. "There was no continuity. The team was divided. It probably kept us from reaching the potential that we should have reached," he ponders over a double order of turkey breast.
The other lowlight? The "Music City Miracle." The Bills had just scored the go-ahead touchdown with 16 seconds left in the contest. "I had just come off the field. We had just kicked the game winning field goal and we're celebrating. That's what I was doing," recalls Ostroski.
You know the rest. Titan fullback Lorenzo Neal caught the ball, handed it to tight end Frank Wycheck. Wycheck lateraled the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who then ran down the sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown.
"They had that game on the NFL channel the other day, an hour breakdown of that game. I watched 52 minutes of it and then turned it off. So as far as I can remember, when we left there, we actually won... I think." The Titans went on to play the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl that year.
A knee injury halted Ostroski's playing career. As is the case with most professional athletes, the hardest part about playing at the highest level? When it's all over. What's the next move?
He grew up in Pennsylvania, played ball in Tulsa and Buffalo. All working class towns. He chose to set up shop in T-Town. "I had lived here in college and really enjoyed it, came back here in the off-seasons. Really enjoyed the place," he says of his decision not to raise a family in the northeast.
"That's how it turned out. My wife's from Muskogee and I enjoyed it here and it just kind of fit. Now my mom and dad live down here," he says.
His immediate post-playing career consisted of "The Big O Show". The wildly popular afternoon sports talk gig on AM1430 ran its course. There was an itch that needed scratching. "I missed football enough that I wanted to get back into it."
The "Big O" joined coach Steve Kragthorpe's staff at the University of Tulsa. He worked strictly in the weight room. Two years of pumping up college kids had run its course.
The gridiron was calling. "I have a bunch of friends at Holland Hall that I went to college with. I kicked it around one day," says the assistant coach of the Dutch. He also runs the middle school football program as well as chipping in with weight training.
"Football is football no matter where you go," Ostroski says about the different levels of the game. "It's your job to figure out how to put them in the best position to utilize the talents they have. You just can't blanket coach and say - Hey, do this.
"That's what's pretty awesome. It's challenging actually and it's rewarding," he continued. "High school has turned into a year-round deal. You never stop." He wouldn't be averse to a return to radio one day either. The Big O Nation can only hope.
When he'd not coaching up Tulsa's youth on the intricacies of the game he excelled at, he's checking on his restaurant. "Come eat at Runt's," was his only plug.
Where's Katharine Kelly when you need her? I can't tell you about Runt's but Jerry O can tell you what Runt's is not. "(We're) a little more family oriented as opposed to turning it into a log cabin with dead animals and a beer joint."
His family garners ample attention as well. His wife Jayme and two boys fill the rest of his busy menu... errr... schedule. Jackson, 8, and Owen, 5, are following in his footsteps. "Jackson plays flag football and Owen wants to play flag football. He's 5 going on 16," laughs Ostroski. Neither will likely suit up as a kicker.
State of the TUnion.
How 'bout dem Golden Hurricane. "I think it's pretty awesome. When Steve (Kragthorpe) got here it was basically a dead program," says Ostroski. These sentiments were felt by many at the time.
As long as the head coach of TU understands the program, a modicum of success can be had. Of course, having Paul Smith at the helm doesn't hurt either.
"You're never going to come in as a coach and sit there and say 'where going to turn Tulsa into OU or OSU or Kansas, Missouri, USC, Florida State.' It's not that type of school," he says. Most in town understand. Others have pipedreams.
He praised current university president Dr. Steadman Upham. A supportive president makes progress possible. "(He) has done a wonderful job, an amazing job of supporting the athletic programs and you can see that today," he says.
Crutch questions are lame. So color me lame. If we're talking Tulsa sports we talking the pink elephant in the room. What are we going to do with the magnificent BOK Center?
The Big O would love a NHL hockey team. The reason is unclear. A love for the fast-paced sport? Or so he could be the first and only season ticket holder?
"I think the biggest thing you're going to get out of the arena is you'll get some NCAA tournament games. Maybe not men's all the time. You'll get women's but you'll get some good college basketball," he ponders.
Does Celine Dion float his yacht? "Yeah -- it's wonderful -- I won't be there," in a dose of realistic sarcasm only conjurable by at 300-plus pound ex-NFL lineman.
Random thoughts -- If the New England Patriots go undefeated, 19-0, they'll be the greatest team of all time according to the outspoken one.
"I want them to go undefeated so (Nick) Buoniconti can take that champagne and you know what with it," says Big O of the lame yearly storyline we are subjected to courtesy of the 1972 Dolphins. Of course the war of attrition makes such a task nearly impossible. Even for cheaters.
The NFL needs to do more for ex-NFL players. "If I turn on 'Real Sports with Bryant Gumble' on HBO or 'Outside The Lines' on ESPN, someone is going to tell me how I'm going to die a premature, miserable death.
"There's never any articles about guys who have gone on and live (normal lives). It's about how someone had concussions and shot himself in the face. He had a heart attack cuz he's fat," he groins.
Well, there's one such story on the record books now.
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