Ranking something silly: Defunct OKC sports memories of my youth

Ranking something silly: Defunct OKC sports memories of my youth

If you didn’t grow up in Oklahoma City in the 1990s, you might’ve missed some of the most interesting sports teams and venues in the city’s history. Let me catch you up.

Todd Lisenbee

By Todd Lisenbee

| Dec 6, 2023, 7:00am CST

Todd Lisenbee

By Todd Lisenbee

Dec 6, 2023, 7:00am CST

I now know how my dad felt.

I remember when he used to tell me about how the college all-stars used to play the Super Bowl champions in an exhibition game. I had so many questions. That thought was foreign to me in 1995. Imagine telling it to a 13-year-old kid today. I remember thinking, “Boy, he sure is old.”

That’s me now. I’m now an old man. Unlike my dad, however, my childhood was spent in the Oklahoma City metro area, so I have many Oklahoma City-specific memories that kids now just wouldn’t understand in this week’s edition of Ranking Something Silly.

The Oklahoma Wranglers

There was a time when the fledgling Arena Football League took America by storm and at the tail end of that time, Oklahoma City snagged a franchise that was relocating. The AFL fit in perfectly as counterprogramming for the also fledgling ESPN2. The league and network formed a symbiotic relationship that made people familiar with the Iowa Barnstormers, Arizona Rattlers, San Jose SaberCats and the Orlando Predators. 

This one caught me right at the tail end of my teenage years. At Luther High School, one of our senior activities was a trip to a Wranglers game. It was a pretty packed Myriad, and for a little while people seemed interested. The franchise disbanded after the 2001 season, but for a moment in time it sure was fun to get rowdy with the Wranglers.

 

BURTON, JOE / HOCKEY: UNKNOWN: Caption reads, Oklahoma City's Joe Burton works the puck with Sylvain Fleury trailing the action during a recent game with Tulsa. Staff Photo by Steve Gooch. Original Photo 01/23/1993. Published on O-2-28-93.

Joe Burton (19) works the puck during a matchup between the Oklahoma City Blazers (white) and the Tulsa Oilers (blue) during the inaugural CHL season in January of 1993. Burton scored over 200 more goals than anyone else in CHL history, spending his entire career in OKC. (Steve Gooch/Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma History Center)

Oklahoma City Blazers hockey

I admittedly am not and was not the biggest hockey fan, but the Blazers were one of the greatest success stories — not just the Central Hockey League but in all minor league sports. Over 17 seasons in Oklahoma City, the Blazers averaged over 9,000 fans per game. Blazers games were electric, especially when the hated Tulsa Oilers came to town. 

For many an OKC sports fan in the ’90s, mulleted Oiler Dougie Lawrence was public enemy No. 1 and Smokin’ Joe Burton was OKC sports royalty. I only went to a handful of games as a kid, but every time I went The Myriad atmosphere was electric.

 

Kelsey Weems (10) is fouled on his way to the basket during an OKC Cavalry game against Wichita Falls in December of 1992. Weems averaged 17 points and 8 assists per game in the ‘92-’93 season. (Doug Hoke/Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma History Center)

Oklahoma City Cavalry basketball

For seven glorious seasons from 1990-97, thousands of people (not all at one time) came to watch the OKC Cavalry at The Myriad. It was your best chance to watch high-level basketball in the city. There were quite a few big-name basketball players who played and coached in the CBA. There were also some interesting officials in the CBA. My old radio boss Randy Heitz used to be a scorekeeper with the Cavalry and he struck up a relationship with a young referee named Tim Donaghy. Ever heard of him?

My fondest Cavalry memories were going to games with my little league basketball team. Once we even got to play at halftime, which was an incredible experience for a fourth-grader. The Cavalry legend of my youth was Kelsey Weems. Weems only started six games during his four seasons at North Carolina State, but in the Continental Basketball Association, he was a fan favorite and one of the best players on the Cavs’ roster. Fun fact: My mom wanted to name me Kelsey.

 

A rare mint condition version of the 1994 Big Eight logo basketball that was part of a Hardee’s promotional campaign. (Photo provided by Alex Gramblin)

Big Eight basketball

College basketball was all the rage in the 1990s with big characters on the sidelines, big names on the court and Saturday afternoons spent with Doug Bell in the Phillips 66 Big Eight Studio. It may be crazy to think about now, but Oklahoma City cared a lot about Big Eight hoops, and Bedlam was amazing in the ’90s with legendary coaches Kelvin Sampson and Eddie Sutton trolling the sidelines.

The games, the venues and the TV graphics were all memorable, but nothing stirs up a childhood memory like the souvenir basketball that you could get with all of the team logos on it. It was a very bright color of orange, had a very distinctive smell, and was not the best quality basketball you would ever use, but if you got one of those bad boys, you were the talk of the neighborhood. The logos were gone after about 10 or 12 dribbles, but when you first held that Big 8 basketball, it was like holding a gold bar.

 

Pete Maravich was honored during the All-College Tournament at The Myriad in 1987. Maravich died of a heart attack six days later at the age of 40. The Myriad was OKC’s biggest sports and concert venue from 1972-2002. (Steve Sisney/Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma History Center)

The Incomparable Myriad

Honestly, The Myriad was kind of a dump, but as a kid it was the place to be if you wanted to see any big sporting event. Off the top of my head, these are sporting events I attended at The Myriad: NCAA basketball regionals, the All-College Tournament, OKC Cavalry games, OKC Blazers games, Oklahoma Wranglers games, and even a gymnastics exhibition from the 1996 gold medal team.

I remember walking to the top of The Myriad. There was a walkway where you could walk around the top of the arena above all the seats. I watched many All-College games from up there with a friend. I also remember my second best part about going to events at The Myriad, it meant there was a great chance that we could swing by Spaghetti Warehouse before or after.

 

Fans take in Oklahoma City 89ers on the hill down the third-base line at All Sports Stadium in May of 1993 (Doug Hoke/Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma History Center)

The Oklahoma City 89ers at All Sports Stadium 

The late, great (not really) All Sports Stadium was the home of the Oklahoma City 89ers Triple-A baseball team from 1962-1997. For you youngsters, it was right where you see all the livestock trailers parked when there’s a big event at the State Fairgrounds. It seemed an ironic name for a stadium because, for its whole existence, it only had one tenant, the 89ers. It was named after the All Sports Association, but it also got the nickname One Sports Stadium, and then-No Sports Stadium as it sat dormant growing weeds from the bleachers for years.

All Sports had character. I remember great ice cream in the upside-down helmets from different MLB teams. I always wanted to collect the whole National League, which had less to do with collecting and more to do with me being a fat kid and wanting more ice cream. I remember the press box which was akin to a single-wide trailer on stilts. I remember watching great players like Scott Coolbaugh and Juan Gonzalez. Most of all, I remember the hill in left field. You could bring a glove and a ball and play catch and if a foul ball went that way, you were smack dab in the middle of a mosh pit of people chasing after a souvenir.

 

Oklahoma’s Jeff Webster is presented the championship trophy at the 1993 All-College Tournament by John Philbin, the president of the All Sports Association. (Steve Sisney/Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma History Center)

The All-College Tournament

Coming from a family that loved basketball, I could bank on one of my Christmas presents every year being tickets to the All-College Tournament at The Myriad. The first All-College was played in 1935 at the time it finally ended its tournament format in 2000, it was the longest-running annual Division I basketball tournament in the country. The NCAA tournament didn’t even start until 1939. The NIT in 1938.

From 1984 to 2000, Oklahoma basketball headlined the All-College Tournament. It’s a big reason why I became an Oklahoma basketball fan. The first years I remember going were when Carl Albert High School’s Jeff Webster was manning the post for the late Billyball-era Sooners teams. I saw OU play Texas in 1993, my first-ever experience of the Red River rivalry. I remember watching Calvin Curry shooting half-court shots in pregame and Ernie Abercrombie grabbing boards for the Sooners.

What I remember most though was watching Shea Seals from Tulsa in 1996. Earlier in the summer of ’96, Seals had torched the second iteration of The Dream Team in an exhibition before the 1996 Olympics. He scored 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting in a game that the College All-Stars led by a lot at one point. He didn’t disappoint when I saw him in late December of 1996, leading the Golden Hurricane to a 76-72 win over Oklahoma in the championship game.

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Todd Lisenbee is the host of The Todd Pod with Todd Lisenbee on the Sellout Crowd network. He has been a producer/talk show host at WWLS, The Sports Animal and 107.7 The Franchise during a Oklahoma broadcasting career that spans to 2002. Todd has broadcast high school basketball, football and soccer play-by-play since 2003 and is currently the voice of the UCO Bronchos, a role he has been in since 2018. He can be reached at @ToddOnSports on Twitter/X or Instagram or via email at [email protected].

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