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Injuries and fate helped turn can’t-miss football star Chebon Dacon
Toward a career as an artist that has been no less remarkable
Football was Chebon Dacon’s life. From the time he was old enough to grasp the basics of the game, he was on his way to becoming one of those rare players who dreams the dream and then brings it to life.
As a teen, Dacon developed into a bona fide star who provided sportswriters with great story fodder while capturing the imagination of fans and the attention of basically every college coach in the country.
There was a certain magic in the way Dacon threw the football, and his long, elusive stride helped make him a wizard at running and scrambling. Then, of course, there were the All-American good looks, the unmistakable style and a personality that exuded confidence.
Chebon Dacon had it all, including a unique name (Creek Indian, pronounced Chee-bon Day-cun) that seemed perfectly suited for the player University of Oklahoma fans were ready to embrace as the Sooners’ next folk hero.
In 1965, after finishing off a successful prep career at Capitol Hill High School in Oklahoma City, he was deemed the next can’t-miss kid — the quarterback destined to lead OU back to the promised land.
“Chebon was an outstanding athlete with great quickness and a great arm, and he could run, too,” said Eddie Hinton, who was part of the same OU recruiting class that included Dacon in 1965. “There’s no doubt he was the real deal — just a very balanced quarterback who could do it all.”
One of the top-rated running back prospects in the state, Hinton joined Dacon on the South squad at the Oklahoma All-State Game. It proved to be a coming out party of sorts for Hinton — the Lawton sensation rushed for 155 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 South win — but something completely different for his talented teammate, who suffered a second-quarter knee injury and spent part of the second half at a nearby hospital.
“Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end,” said Dacon.
His damaged right knee required surgery that left him sidelined for almost three months after his Norman arrival that fall. Instead of showcasing his passing skills with the rest of OU’s freshmen, Dacon spent much of his time in the training room rehabbing.
By November, his knee was ready to be tested, and Dacon immediately began turning heads again. In his first freshman game, he ran for 104 yards and completed 6 of 9 passes for 69 yards while leading the Boomers to a 27-7 win over Kansas State.
A week later, Dacon scored his second touchdown in as many games as the young OU squad traveled to Lewis Field in Stillwater and forged a 28-28 tie with Oklahoma State’s frosh.
The OU varsity eventually finished off the ’65 season with a disappointing 3-7 mark, and all eyes turned to the upcoming spring practice season and what promised to be an epic battle for the starting quarterback job.
Dacon figured to be the front-runner, along with fellow sophomore Bobby Warmack, another Oklahoma kid from Ada who had long dreamed of playing for the Sooners. Also in the mix were Jim Burgar and Gene Cagle.
“Chebon and Bobby had very similar skills,” said Barry Switzer, who joined new OU head coach Jim Mackenzie’s staff in time for spring drills in 1966. “They were both very athletic, and both could make things happen either running or throwing the football.”
The two were neck-and-neck all spring, engaged in a spirited battle that had no apparent favorite until Dacon connected with Randy Meacham on a 61-yard TD pass that gave the OU varsity a 7-0 win over the alumni that April. OU faithful hoped it was a sign of things to come.
Instead, Dacon’s advantage was short-lived as he suffered a second knee injury the first week of May. This time, it was his left knee, and it would prove to be another devastating setback.
“Who knows how that quarterback race might have turned out? Unfortunately for Chebon, his injuries kept him from ever having a real opportunity to show what he could do,” said Switzer.
Warmack eventually won the job and went on to enjoy a memorable three-year career as OU’s starting QB, establishing a number of passing records and leading the Sooners to a 10-1 mark and a Big Eight title in 1967.
“You couldn’t help but feel badly for Chebon. He was such a talented athlete and an even better young man and teammate,” said Warmack.
Dacon attempted to come back the following season in 1967, but his knees limited his mobility and never allowed him to regain the magic that vaulted him to the doorstep of collegiate football fame. Over his three-plus years at OU, Dacon underwent four operations — two on each knee.
By the time the 1968 season rolled around, Dacon’s dream to play quarterback for the Sooners was over. Sadly, he never took a snap in a varsity game, and thus his name does not even appear in the program’s annual media guide.
“Football was my whole life at that time. It was all I knew,” said Dacon. “To have everything you worked so hard for for so long get taken away, it was devastating. I was looking forward to doing big things at OU and possibly even playing pro ball at some point, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
“That’s pretty hard for a young kid to swallow. More than anything, I felt like I let a lot of people down, especially the Indian people. And that hurt.”
Dacon left OU after the fall semester in ’68 and spent much of the next decade criss-crossing the country, bareback riding on the rodeo circuit and participating in Native American dance events.
Underneath that rugged existence, there was a softer side to Dacon. He was drawn to his talent and love for art, which slowly helped soothe the pain of his lost dreams.
“The door on my football career closed, but I was blessed enough to possess the ability to draw,” said Dacon. “I found a different purpose for my life. It was a life-altering discovery because the art is what eventually helped get me past the disappointment I had experienced.
“The Lord simply had other plans for me.”
Over the last four decades, Dacon has become one of the most respected Native American artists in the country. His work has been on display in popular galleries from Los Angeles to New York City and everywhere in between.
Dacon’s artistic talents and interest in the great American West have taken him to places like Wyoming, Montana and Colorado, where he lived for various stints until moving his family to Mountain Home, Arkansas, in 2003.
“I’ve basically followed my art. I’ve been so fortunate to have the chance to do something I truly love,” said the 65-year-old Oklahoma City native. “I was blessed to have had sports in my life when I was young. I truly enjoyed it. But for whatever reason, playing at OU just wasn’t meant to be.”
His regrets in the past, Dacon forges ahead into the future with his wife, Ellen, and their son, Florian. His popularity as a Native American artist continues to flourish, as does his love for OU football.
“I still follow the Sooners, and I still have lots of fond memories and great friends from my days playing football,” said Dacon, who has had both of his knees replaced in recent years. “But I really don’t think about what might have been anymore. I quit doing that a long time ago. My focus these days is on my family, my art and what the future holds.”
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the 2012 Spring Football issue of Sooner Spectator, which features a 30-page section that pays tribute to Native American football players at OU. To read more or subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)