NORMAN, Okla. -- The Oklahoma Centennial Commission and the University of Oklahoma will unveil a heroic-size statue honoring the late Billy Vessels, Oklahoma’s first Heisman trophy winner, on Friday, September 9, at 5:45 p.m. on the east side of Memorial Stadium. The public is invited to attend the unveiling.
“Billy Vessels was a loyal supporter of OU all of his lifetime,” said OU President David Boren. “We are honored to celebrate Sooners, like Billy, who during their time at OU carved a place in the school’s proud tradition.”
Born in Cleveland, Oklahoma, Vessels was the first of several OU Heisman award winners and a significant part of Oklahoma’s impressive athletic tradition. While at OU, the Oklahoma native ran 2,085 yards, scored 35 touchdowns and was awarded the1952 Heisman trophy. Thirty years later, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Governor Brad Henry will welcome Vessels’ wife, Susie, and their children to OU for the dedication ceremony. Susie Vessels said, "Billy was always proud to have been a Sooner and would have loved seeing his statue at the university he once called home.”
The bronze statue of Vessels is the first to be displayed in the newly developed Heisman Park, a joint effort of OU and the Oklahoma Centennial Commission that will later feature statues of other OU Heisman trophy winners. A statue of Steve Owens (1969 Heisman) will be added in 2006, then in 2007, statues of Billy Sims (1978 Heisman) and Jason White (2003 Heisman) will be dedicated.
Heisman Park is one of the many projects occurring across the state in celebration of Oklahoma’s first 100 years. “As Oklahoma approaches its centennial in 2007, the Oklahoma Centennial Commission will continue to pay tribute to the Oklahomans and events that shaped our state’s history and have made all of us proud to be Oklahomans,” said Blake Wade, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Centennial Commission.
Sponsors of the Vessels statue include friends and teammates Sam Allen, Claude Arnold, Clayton I. Bennett, Gaylord Graham Bennett, G.T. Blankenship, Edwin W. deCordova, Eddie Crowder, Richard F. Ellis, the late Buck McPhail, Steve Owens, Oklahoma University Football Letterman’s Association, Lee Allan Smith and Gene Torbett.
“We are grateful for the wonderful cooperation from OU with this project and the generous support of these sponsors who make it possible to celebrate our state’s great achievements. This beautiful monument will inspire future generations of Oklahomans,” said Lee Allan Smith, Chairman of Centennial Projects and Events.
Edmond’s nationally-recognized artist Shan Gray sculpted the Billy Vessels statue, capturing the running back’s impressive stride in motion.
“We are proud to have the Billy Vessels statue on campus and as a part of the Centennial celebration. We look forward to continuing to commemorate OU’s tradition of award-winning athletes,” said OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione.