J.C. Watts All Smiles Over Son’s Success
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
FOOTBALL GREATS: Tulsa’s Trey Watts holds the Conference USA Championship Trophy with his father J.C. Watts after the Hurricane defeated Central Florida Dec. 1 at Chapman Stadium. J.C. Watts was a football star at the University of Oklahoma and also a former congressman from Oklahoma.
HARRY LENTZ for GTR Newspapers
J.C. Watts has known his share of celebrations.
As a wishbone quarterback, he directed the Oklahoma Sooners to a pair of Orange Bowl victories and twice was named the game’s most valuable offensive player.
As a rookie quarterback, he lifted the Ottawa Rough Riders to the 1981 Canadian Football League championship – the Grey Cup – and was named the game’s most valuable player.
As a Republican from the 4th Congressional District in Oklahoma, he won four elections and served eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The enduring image of J.C. Watts is that of a man with a smile the width of a football field.
Yet his handsome and still-youthful face could barely contain the broad smile that illuminated and defined the celebration that erupted inside H.A. Chapman Stadium in the wake of the University of Tulsa’s electrifying 33-27 victory over the University of Central Florida in the Conference championship showdown.
It was his son who was being hailed as the conquering hero.
It was his son who was being hailed as the toast of the town.
And J.C. Watts could not have been happier if he himself had been the player who had turned the game around.
But on this first Saturday of December, it was Trey Watts who made the game-defining play. It was Trey Watts who was selected the game’s outstanding player. It was Trey Watts who possessed the most high-voltage smile this side of J.C. Watts.
“I’m excited for him,” J.C. Watts was saying as he stood outside the players’ post-game dressing room, shaking hands with wave after wave of TU supporters and Trey Watts believers.
With five minutes to go in regulation, and TU trailing, 27-21, Watts fielded a punt and returned it 54 yards for the tying touchdown.
A Central Florida coverage-unit player slapped the high-bouncing football as it was beginning its final descent toward the turf. Although the ball was live, several players appeared to stop in their tracks.
Not Watts. Scooping up the ball and finding running room along the TU sideline, he stunned the crowd – and Central Florida – with a dash into Golden Hurricane immortality.
A blocked extra point cost TU the lead at that point, but Watts had returned the momentum to the Golden Hurricane. In the overtime, after Cory Dorris blocked a field-goal attempt, Alex Singleton leaped over a scrum of plunging linemen to score the touchdown that sent the Golden Hurricane into the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
In the celebration that erupted and spread across Skelly Field, it was suggested that Watts’ punt return should be viewed as the play of the year for the 10-3 Golden Hurricane.
It could be viewed as the most intelligent play of the year.
“Trey was so smart to notice (the ball was alive),” TU coach Bill Blankenship says. “Trey’s just a smart, smart, smart kid and a playmaker.”
J.C. Watts was seated in the west stands of Chapman Stadium, near the 20-yard line. Trey Watts ran right past his father, sitting some dozen or so rows from the field.
“I saw him pick it up and run right toward us and right down the sideline,” the elder Watts says.
“I think it proves what old fogeys like us believe, that hard work, sacrifice, commitment, that it pays off,” he says.
“I text Trey before most games, all the games, actually, and I’ll say, ‘play hard and play smart.’
“I know that wisdom and being smart on every down matters.
“I think that (the punt return) is a great example of just being smart and having the presence of mind to know that the ball’s not down, that (the play) is not over.
“He picks it up, and with his teammates, he sees a couple of blocks, and we’re thinking “help me Rhonda!’ It’s a tie ballgame.”
J.C. Watts laughed. And the Beach Boys appreciated the plug.
“It’s a real feather in the cap for a smart play,” J.C. Watts says.
Blankenship was in total agreement.
“He saw what happened and took a shot. Big, big play,” he says.
Trey Watts says he was “just thinking to get as many yards as possible.”
“The ( player) just jumped up and hit the ball, and once he hit it I knew I could go wherever. If I fumbled or lost the ball, it didn’t matter because the ball would go back to where they first touched it. Coach (Scott) Downing talks about that in special team meetings all the time.”
Blankenship then added: “The neat thing about (Watts) is that if you teach him something, if you tell him something, he remembers it. I heard two or three coaches say if they’ve been around a smarter football player in terms of just being, having the savvy and the instinct, Trey does that. He gets it.”
Watts, a junior, earned the individual award as the outstanding player after rushing for 134 yards, and gaining 76 yards on two returns.
His father, who lives in Texas, has attended each of the Golden Hurricane’s 13 regular-season games this year and plans to close out the schedule at the Liberty Bowl against Iowa State on Dec. 31.
“These are fun times,” J.C. Watts said. “When your son’s on the field, it makes it extra special.
“It’s been fun watching Tulsa. They’ve done well. They could easily be 13-0.”
For Watts, a native of Eufaula where he earned All-State recognition before signing with OU, his football calendar is crowded.
He follows from a distance the results of his former Canadian Football League team, the Rough Riders, along with the Sooners and the Eufaula High School Ironmen.
That is in addition to his business interests that include public speaking, consulting and working with the John Deere Co.
But nothing compares with spending a Saturday afternoon with his son, who has become a star on a bowl-bound football team.
J.C. Watts recalled a conversation that included his wife, Frankie, before last year’s season-opening game at Oklahoma.
“We were asked who we were going to root for. The Sooners or Tulsa? My wife said, ‘If our kid’s playing for Iraq, we’re rooting for Iraq,” he said with a laugh.
J.C. Watts has had many opportunities to laugh, to display that trademark smile, during TU’s run to Memphis and the Liberty Bowl.
“I’m in and out of Memphis quite a bit on business,” he said.
“Memphis is a great city. Great culture. Very diverse. Great food.
“And every now and then you even see Elvis!”
What the people in Memphis – even Elvis – will be a Golden Hurricane team that has won 10 football games for the ninth time in school history.
Only once before has TU won 11 games – in 2008.
One more win, one more celebration, and J.C. Watts’ smile will stretch from Memphis to Tulsa.
Notes on Trey Watts and TU
Trey Watts finished the game with 134 yards on 25 carries. He has five career 100-yard rushing games. He has rushed for more than 2,000 career yards. …
Trey Watts was born in Norman, but graduated from high school in Fairfax, Va.
Tulsa is the smallest Division I Football Bowl Subdivision school with 3,090 undergraduate students. is the largest school with 59,767 undergraduate students. …
TU defeated , 23-21, at home two weeks before the conference championship game. …
The Liberty Bowl will present TU another opportunity against a regular-season opponent. On Sept. 1, TU opened the season with a 38-23 loss at Iowa State. …
The Liberty Bowl is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., Dec. 31, in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis. Television coverage provided by , radio coverage by .