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OKLAHOMA SPORTS HALL OF FAME

Guerin Emig: Steve Owens' pride in brother Tinker as obvious as the siblings' shared fame

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Tulsa World sports columnists Bill Haisten and Guerin Emig preview all levels of football in their latest podcast. Which local players are turning heads in NFL camps? Who is the favorite to win the Big 12? What is going on with the quarterbacks at Jenks and other area high schools this offseason?

Steve Owens was going on and on about his younger brother, Tinker, when he told a story he has shared probably a thousand times, but it never gets old because his adoration of Tinker never does.

“His real name is Charles Wayne Owens,” Steve said Sunday, the day before Tinker’s induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. “When he was a kid, we used to watch a TV show called ‘Pinky Lee.’ Pinky was a character on the show. Tink was little and he couldn’t say ‘Pinky.’ He’d say ‘Tinky.’

“And that was it. He was ‘Tinky’ to us. … Until ‘Tinky’ became ‘Tinker.’”

Tinker found fame just as Steve did, first as a Miami High School multi-sport virtuoso and then as an Oklahoma Sooner. It’s still happening — Steve entered the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.

The big brother by seven years relishes that it’s still happening.

“I tell ya, seriously, I couldn’t have had a better brother than Tinker. We were so close. We still are,” Steve said. “We talk or text daily. He’s just a class act. He’s the type of guy that doesn’t want to be recognized. He’s so humble.

Tulsa World sports columnists Bill Haisten and Guerin Emig preview all levels of football in their latest podcast. Which local players are turning heads in NFL camps? Who is the favorite to win the Big 12? What is going on with the quarterbacks at Jenks and other area high schools this offseason?

“But what a great athlete. So proud of him.”

If Steve’s football and track feats remain conversation starters at Miami Wardog reunions, Tinker’s should be. Just ask Steve.

“I used to play a lot of ball with all my brothers and Tinker was special,” the elder Owens said. “I used to throw the football to him, baseball, play basketball, and he was such an athlete. He was a competitor, man.

“We’d play tackle football in this dirt field and you couldn’t hurt him. We tried to, but you couldn’t. I knew then that this kid was gonna be something.

“He was totally different than me. I was big. He was much smaller. But his heart was the biggest I’d ever seen. Football, basketball, track, everything he did was awesome.”

Tinker’s admiration of Steve is more documented. In the 2005 first-person compilation “What It Means to Be a Sooner,” Tinker spends the first 385 words of his chapter reflecting on Steve, and the “idol” he was to the Owens siblings, before he gets around to himself.

The last of those words: “I was always proud to be Steve Owens’ ‘little’ brother.”

It is Steve’s privilege to reflect as boastfully about Tinker.

“I wanted him to come to OU so bad,” Steve said his brother’s recruiting process. “But Arkansas was recruiting him hard. Tinker said I told him, ‘If you don’t come to OU, I’m gonna kick your butt.’ Which was true.”

At the same time …

“He thought seriously about going to Arkansas and doing his own thing,” Steve said.

You were sympathetic to the shadow you cast then?

“Well yes. Sure,” Steve said. “When you have a big brother who is fortunate enough to win a Heisman, people put labels out there. ‘Your brother this or that.’

“But Tinker understood, and I understood, he had his own path.”

Tinker’s path at OU would lead him away from running back, his brother’s position, to wide receiver after Chuck Fairbanks saw him catch passes at practice early his freshman season. Steve knows full well how that season ended.

“I was playing for Detroit and one of my teammates was from Penn State. So we went to the OU-Penn State Sugar Bowl in ’72,” Steve said. “I’d never seen Tinker play live. This kid caught everything they threw to him. He was voted Most Valuable Player of the game.”

Steve can recite the rest of the story, how Tinker became a two-time All-American and two-time national champion with the Sooners, then a New Orleans Saint, then a partner in Steve’s insurance business before making it big with his own company.

“When Tinker was a kid he never stopped. He was busy all the time. It was incredible. So much energy,” Steve said. “He took that to the playing field. He’s like that today.

“He’s got this wonderful nature about him. He’s always happy, always upbeat. Just got a great outlook on life, a tremendously engaging personality. Everybody loves Tinker.”

Nobody more than Tinker’s big brother.

Feels pretty good to share in this, doesn’t it?

“Feels great,” Steve said. “I’m so fortunate.”

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Sports Columnist

I'm the proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the OU Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.

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