RINGLING — Several footballs rest on a sofa, all commemorating special games in the football career of Richard Dillon. There are also game jerseys he wore in four Orange Bowls and one Citrus Bowl, as well as pictures, plaques and newspaper clippings, either of him in action, or in group shots with teammates who were also standouts, all in a room in his home on a ranch near Ringling.

RINGLING — Several footballs rest on a sofa, all commemorating special games in the football career of Richard Dillon.  There are also game jerseys he wore in four Orange Bowls and one Citrus Bowl, as well as pictures, plaques and newspaper clippings, either of him in action, or in group shots with teammates who were also standouts, all in a room in his home on a ranch near Ringling.

Dillon spends his time today working for Multi-Chem Oilfield Chemicals and tending to the horses and cattle on his ranch, as well as his pet cat, who is responsible for chasing off mice.

But in the 1980s, Dillon was producing a stellar career as a linebacker at the University of Oklahoma that led to him being a 4-year letterman. Prior to being at OU, he did the same as a high school player for the hometown Ringling Blue Devils.
Dillon is also giving back to his community. He has helped the football program that enabled him to land at OU, and is preparing for his first season as a full-time assistant coach, handling linebackers and running backs. 

Back to the sofa, one ball has the score of 1984 OU-Nebraska printed across. Dillon made an outstanding play in that game that set up the Sooners’ 17-7 victory in that game.

For those who remember, OU had a defense that featured a group of outstanding freshman that year. Dillon was among that group.

Oklahoma had a 10-7 lead against the Cornhuskers and was faced with the task of having to stop Nebraska from scoring a go-ahead touchdown on goal-to-go late in the game. The Sooners successfully stopped the ’Huskers from getting into the end zone and took over on downs with 5:32 left. OU was kept to three-and-out  and forced to punt. As Nebraska’s Jeff Smith received the kick, it was Dillon who popped the ball loose out of Smith’s hands. Teammate Jeff Hake recovered at the NU 43. OU took over again and eventually scored a game-clinching touchdown from Danny Bradley.

“There were so many great games in that period,” Dillon said. “We played those great teams at Nebraska and we were able to go up and beat them in Lincoln. Nebraska only beat us one time when I was there, and that was my senior year.”

Another football has the score of the Texas game from his senior year in 1988. The Sooners won that game 28-13. At the bottom of all the writing, there is a line that says, “Never Lost to Texas.”

Unfortunately, Dillon can’t say that he experienced beating Texas year, thanks to the controversial call that led to the infamous 15-15 tie, which also came in his freshman season.

OU was up by three points, the Longhorns were driving to for a go-ahead score and Keith Stanberry intercepted a pass in the end zone. But the officials ruled him in out of bounds.

That call still sickens Dillon to this day.

“I have never, ever, felt so robbed in my life as I had in that game,” he said.

Needless to say, he is not alone on that matter.

“There was some controversial calls in that game down in the Cotton Bowl. But we were able to beat Texas for the next four years. There were lots of memories against Texas.”

Dillon was at OU from ’84 through ’88, having being a starter his last two seasons. He had to redshirt in ’85 due to an injury.

Dillon has been blessed in his life. He is probably one of very few people who got to live out their childhood football dreams of playing for their favorite team at each level. He played for Ringling in high school, where he learned under Rick Gandy, an Oklahoma high school coaching legend. He followed it up career at OU, playing for the “King,” Barry Switzer. And although it was short-lived, Dillon was a Dallas Cowboy before being cut in training camp in 1989.

When Dillon played as a Blue Devil, Ringling did not have an intense rivalry with Velma-Alma as it does today. That came more with its Jefferson County neighbor.

“At that time, Waurika had some good football teams and a good football tradition. They were our main rivalry.”

Like today, they also had rivalries with Wilson and Healdton due to the close proximity to those towns.

Dillon points out to a first round playoff game against Cache in his junior campaign of 1982, as the most that sticks out in his mind.

“We actually lost to the district championship game that year,” Dillon said. “We were runner-up and we had to play the No. 1 ranked team in the state, which was Cache, and we were able to beat that team. They were supposedly unbeatable and we were actually able to go up there and win that game and move on through the playoffs.”

But the entire experience itself as a high school athlete was what was most memorable.

“Being able to share that with my friends and being fortunate to have a great football coach like coach (Rick) Gandy was special.

“From growing up in Ringling, I always wanted to be a Ringling Blue Devil. I wanted to be able to wear that blue helmet with the white ‘R’ and play for coach Gandy. He does have a very special way with young men and teaching them the game of football and keeping it in perspective with life. He really cares about the young men that play football for him. For most of us, it was only after I had time to grow and get some life and experience behind me, that I realized how much he affected me as a young man.”

Although Gandy remains the coach these days, he conducts his duties from a different capacity. Gandy suffered an injury in a horse-riding accident in February 2005, that caused him to be paralyzed. He has since regained some movement. But now gets around in a wheel chair, doing his play calling from the press box.

“You really do have to admire that,” Dillon said. “Anybody who can face the type of adversity he has faced with his accident, you have to admire. He has overcome much more than any of us have ever had to, and what happens on the football field is so minuet compared to what he lives with on a daily basis and how he has fought to recover. That is something you have to admire in anyone. It takes a special person to be able to do that. So, yes, I do have a lot of admiration for him.”

Just like the rest of the community, news of Gandy’s accident was devastating to Dillon.
“When I first of the accident, I didn’t know of the severity. I knew it was extremely bad and there was a point where we didn’t know if he was actually going to survive the accident.

“Then he spent an extended period of time in the hospital. Of course, we tried to be supportive of his family and be there in whatever capacity we could be.
“It is just really difficult to see someone that has done so much for you in your youth, not only as a coach. but as a mentor, and as a friend, suffer through an experience like that.”

Dillon visits and speaks with coach Gandy frequently.
“He is still the head coach. He is limited physically on how much he can participate and practice. But he is certainly not limited mentally and he has so much experience in coaching” he said.

“Although our interim head coach Tracy Gandy is an outstanding football coach. He’ll be the first to tell you his dad still knows more about football by himself than the rest of the coaches know combined. He has a lot of input in our game planning and how to go about preparing the team, and he is also at every game, with headsets on and that is just invaluable to us.”

OU was another dream come true for Dillon.

“It was a goal of mine from a very young age. I wanted to be a Sooner like most kids in Oklahoma do,” Dillon said. “I was able to watch them play on TV and listen on the radio a lot, and the persona of coach Switzer was bigger than life. Then, all of a sudden, I was playing for coach Switzer, which seemed unreal at the time. But it was a great experience. He was a great football coach, as well as many other coaches up there. Bobby Proctor actually recruited me out of Ringling, and he got to be a close friend of the family. Also at that time, Gary Gibbs was the defensive coordinator and the line linebacker coach. They were just all extremely great coaches, well-respected in their profession, and I was able to play with those guys and I had a lot of respect for them.

So I was very fortunate to have such great coaches.”
Dillon says the thing learned from Switzer that has helped him in life is perseverance and to keep working toward your goals. Another man he has credible respect, is Gary Gibbs, who succeeded Switzer after he resigned in 1989.

“I spent most of my time with coach Gibbs because he was my position coach,” Dillon said. “He stuck with me through being at was considered a undersized linebacker through injuries, and I kept working to become a better football player. When it was my time and I had earned it, he turned the starting position over to me.

Some of the pictures in his room contain group shots of him along with guys such as Tony Casillas, Evan Gatewood, Darrell Reed, Darren Kilpatrick, David Vickers, Sonny Brown, Ricky Dixon, Paul Migliazzo, and Dante Jones.

Then he points out to one guy, “Here is my favorite player,” he said smiling. That would be Brian Bosworth, who was also known as the “Boz,” the radical and colorful standout All-American linebacker from that era.

“There is just a long list of guys, so many great football players on those teams and I was just very fortunate to be in that group, because I was able to learn a lot by watching them, preparing myself to be a successful football player. Those guys that were just standout football players. I would just watch in awe at times the things they could do and I thought, “Wow!, I wish I could do that.”

One of the most common questions Dillon gets asked by most people these days regards the experience of walking down the tunnel of the Cotton Bowl for OU-Texas.
“It’s kind of hard to put it into words because it is just a radical experience with one half the stadium crimson and the other half burnt orange, and everyone is on their feet, both bands are playing, it is probably about an intense rivalry as their is in college football. To be able to be a part of that, it is such an electric feeling when you actually come out of the tunnel, walking out the same tunnel as the Texas players. It is probably too difficult to put into words. I wish everyone could have that experience.”

One team the Sooners could not beat is those days was Miami, and the memories go beyond the defeats.

“Some of my memories from those games was just from how talented (the Hurricanes) were. They had talent all over the field. If you look back at some of those players, Michael Irvin, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Brain Blades, Bennie Blades, Alonzo Highsmith, some of those guys went on to Hall of Fame careers in the NFL. They were just so very talented. They were difficult to beat.”

Unfortunately, because of his injury Dillon didn’t get to play in the Orange Bowl win over Penn State that gave OU the 1985 national championship, and the biggest game he played in came two years later in the loss to Miami in the same bowl, which gave the Hurricanes the title. Still memories are precious and her did get a ring. He also got several other rings from Big 8 Championships to bowl victories.
When his career at OU ended, Dillon signed as a free agent with Dallas, the team he hoped to play for as a pro.

“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “I have had a lot of great coaches and as I look back  on the highlights of my football career, although I didn’t make the squad, I was for a short period of time — a Dallas Cowboy, and got to wear a silver helmet with a star on the side of it, and it was like walking in a dream.”
After being released by the Cowboys, Dillon served as a graduate assistant for OU in 1989.

He didn’t coach again until last year, when his son, Jackson, who enters eight grade in the fall. “He is also very athletically inclined. If you compare myself athletically to him when I was his age, I was nowhere close to the kind of athlete that he is. If it is his desire to follow path, I expect that he is going to lot of success.”
He also has a daughter, Logan, who just graduated from high school and made many accomplishments as an athlete in softball and basketball. She is also moving on a scholarship top play at Seminole State College

“I’m really proud of her,” Dillon said. “She has a strong work ethic and I’m proud of her for her accomplishments. As a parent, I’m even more proud of her as a person. She has become a wonderful person, she deserves the benefits of her hard work as an athlete. She is also an excellent student. It is has been an absolute joy since she was a baby. So she is very deserving of those things.”

With his football career long behind him, yet a coaching career in front, Dillon is grateful for the lifelong support of his family.

“They had a tremendous influence on me as I played the game of football. A lot of my inspiration to put in the hard work came from with my parents, Guy Dillon and Mary Jo White, and my brother Scott Dillon, and my sister Jo Fuller.

“My older brother, Scott, was also an outstanding football player at Ringling. As a young kid, I wanted to be my like my big brother, and looked up to him as my hero and wanted to be like him and wanted to be as good a football player like he was.

“I would like to express my appreciation to the people of Ringling, not only my family, my grandparents, teachers, and just people of the community that supported me so much through my career. As you get older, you’re able to reminisce and actually absorb how the people of the community absorb you and help you. Now that I am older, I do realize that and I appreciate it and I don’t know if I ever got a chance to publicly express that.”

Mike Moguin, 221-6522