Tramel's ScissorTales: Oklahoma State wrestling legend Jimmy Jackson was a gentle giant

Before the NCAA put in pound limits for heavyweights in the 1980s, college wrestling was the land of giants.

Iowa State’s Chris Taylor, 6-foot-5, 412 pounds, won two NCAA championships as a heavyweight, 1972 and 1973.

North Carolina State’s Tab Thacker, 6-4, 450, won the 1984 NCAA title.

But OSU’s Jimmy Jackson, 6-6, 350, was the greatest giant of them all.

Jackson, a three-time NCAA champion (1976-78) and a U.S. Olympian as a 19-year-old, was a giant in stature and a giant in the history of OSU. The Cowboys’ best heavyweight ever and one of the wrestling school’s greatest competitors, any weight.

And Saturday night, Jackson will be inducted into the National Wrestling of Hall of Fame in Stillwater. The induction ceremony is 6 p.m. Saturday at OSU’s Performing Arts Center. For more information, call the National Wrestling Hall of Fame at 405-377-5243.

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Jimmy Jackson, on top, works on Oregon's Greg Gibson in a 1976 wrestling match.
Jimmy Jackson, on top, works on Oregon's Greg Gibson in a 1976 wrestling match.

Alas, Jackson died in 2008 of at age 51, of diabetes and congestive heart failure. That’s a trend. Taylor died at age 29, Thacker at age 45.

But some of Jackson’s former teammates will be in Stillwater this weekend to hail the gentle giant.

“He was really a big Teddy Bear of a guy,” said Lee Roy Smith, executive director of the Hall of Fame and a 1980 NCAA champion for OSU. “But I’ll tell you, when he was in attack mode, you had a Kodiak bear on your hands.”

Jackson’s career record at OSU was 88-9-2, with 44 pins. Six of those career losses came as a freshman. Jackson in his final three years at OSU was 69-3-1, with three NCAA titles.

In 1978, Jackson and Wisconsin’s Lee Kemp became the first African-Americans to win three NCAA wrestling titles.

For such a big man, Jackson was incredibly agile. Multiple teammates recalled one of the most amazing things they’ve ever seen on a wrestling mat.

Oregon State’s Larry Bielenberg, the 1975 NCAA heavyweight champion, grabbed Jackson’s leg, lifted it and a takedown seemed imminent. Bielenberg eventually got Jackson’s leg all the way to Bielenberg’s shoulder. But Jackson, at 350 pounds, bounced around on one leg for 20 seconds, like a ballerina, before Bielenberg eventually tired. Takedown averted.

“No other heavyweight I’ve ever seen had that kind of flexibility,” said Jim Shields, Jackson’s predecessor as the OSU heavyweight and who, as Tommy Chesbro’s graduate assistant, recruited Jackson to Stillwater out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Everybody marveled. He didn’t panic.”

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OSU's Jimmy Jackson wraps up OU's Jim Cutchall in a 1978 wrestling match.
OSU's Jimmy Jackson wraps up OU's Jim Cutchall in a 1978 wrestling match.

He wasn’t just brute strength. Jackson was a technical wrestler.

“He liked to grab you and play around with you and kind of show you he could do it,” Smith said.

The Jackson stories are legion. He once was pickpocketed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Jackson, at 350 pounds, ran down the thief, tackled him and waited for police to arrive.

Cowboy football coaches continually tried to get Jackson to try the gridiron, but he wasn’t interested. The Dallas Cowboys tried, too.

But Jackson preferred the mat. And he became an icon.

OSU classmate Daryl Monasmith recalled that one of his and Jackson’s first matches and their last match at old Gallagher Hall are two of the most revered moments in OSU wrestling history.

In Jackson’s first Bedlam dual, he and OU heavyweight Bill Kalkbrenner famously got into a shoving match. Kalkbrenner’s brother ran onto the mat like something out of pro wrestling, a Cowboy teammate responded, the Sooner wrestling team charged and out of the stands came OSU football players. Soon enough, a wild melee ensued involving fans and competitors. When order was restored, Kalkbrenner took down Jackson, but Jackson countered and pinned Kalkbrenner. Gallagher went nuts.

But not as nuts as the 1978 Big Eight Tournament, when 190-pounder Monasmith upset Iowa State national champion Frank Santana, giving the Cowboys a shot at beating the top-ranked Cyclones for the title. Old-timers still say that’s the loudest Gallagher ever has roared, including stories of popped light bulbs.

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The building shook for 10 minutes, then it shook again when Jackson pinned Iowa State’s Tom Waldon in 22 seconds to secure the Big Eight championship.

“It was an awesome time,” said Monasmith.

But Monasmith said Jackson was so much more than a wrestler. He recalls Jackson as a fun-loving, low-ego personality.

“He truly was a fun guy,” Monasmith said.

Shields recalls taking Jackson to a youth clinic in Alabama, and Jackson participating in a tug o’ war, basically against the entire group, before he turned into the rope himself, with kids hanging onto and pulling both arms and both legs. Shields still laughs at the memory; Jackson was laughing, too.

After his OSU days, Jackson tried some pro wrestling, then returned to Michigan. He was not an extravert. His teammates regret not seeing more of him.

But they remember him. Oh, how they remember him, and old-time OSU fans never will forget the agile giant.

“It’ll be great to honor him and his memory,” Monasmith said. “Jimmy deserves this. That’s the bottom line.”

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SEC future non-conference schedules mixed

As the Southeastern Conference members discuss a football scheduling model, perhaps it’s instructive to look at what SEC teams have scheduled in the future.

Some SEC teams have advocated for tougher non-conference schedules, but others have gone the other way. And now the debates are whether to play eight- or nine-game schedules, and whether to require each non-conference schedule to include at least one opponent from a Power Five league.

Here are the scheduled non-conference, Power Five opponents for SEC (or future) members, grouped by how much of a commitment they’ve made to strong non-conference schedules:

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Programs that are going above and beyond the norm, with two or more Power Five non-conference opponents most upcoming seasons.

Alabama: Texas 2023, at Wisconsin 2024, at Florida State 2025, Wisconsin 2025, at West Virginia 2026, Florida State 2026, West Virginia 2027, at Ohio State 2027, Ohio State 2028, at Oklahoma State 2028, at Notre Dame 2029, Oklahoma State 2029, at Georgia Tech 2030, Notre Dame 2030, Georgia Tech 2031, at Boston College 2031, Arizona 2032, at Minnesota 2032, at Arizona 2033, Minnesota 2033, at Virginia Tech 2034, Boston College 2034, Virginia Tech 2035.

Florida: at Utah 2023, Florida State 2023, Miami 2024, Central Florida 2024, at Florida State 2024, at Miami 2025, Florida State 2025, at North Carolina State 2026, California 2026, at Florida State 2026, at California 2027, Florida State 2027, Colorado 2028, at Arizona State 2028, at Florida State 2028, at Colorado 2029, Florida State 2029, at Central Florida 2030, at Florida State 2030, Arizona State 2031, at Notre Dame 2031, Florida State 2031, Notre Dame 2032, North Carolina State 2032, at Florida State 2032, Central Florida 2033, Florida State 2033, at Florida State 2034, Florida State 2035, at Florida State 2036, Florida State 2037.

Georgia: at Georgia Tech 2023, Clemson in Atlanta 2024, Georgia Tech 2024, at UCLA 2025, at Georgia Tech 2025, UCLA 2026, at Louisville 2027, Georgia Tech 2027, Florida State 2028, Georgia Tech 2028, at Clemson 2029, at Georgia Tech 2029, Clemson 2030, Ohio State 2030, Georgia Tech 2030, at Ohio State 2031, at Georgia Tech 2031, Clemson 2032, Georgia Tech 2032, at Clemson 2033, North Carolina State 2033, at Georgia Tech 2033, at North Carolina State 2034, Georgia Tech 2034, at Georgia Tech 2035, Georgia Tech 2036, at Georgia Tech 2037.

South Carolina: North Carolina in Charlotte 2023, Clemson 2023, at Clemson 2024, Virginia Tech in Atlanta 2025, Clemson 2025, Miami 2026, at Clemson 2026, at Miami 2027, Clemson 2027, North Carolina 2028, at Clemson 2028, at North Carolina 2029, Clemson 2029, at Clemson 2030, Clemson 2031, at Clemson 2032, Clemson 2033, Virginia Tech 2034, at Clemson 2034, at Virginia Tech 2035, Clemson 2035, at Clemson 2036, Clemson 2037.

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Status quo

Programs that are mostly following the traditional SEC model of one Power Five opponent per year.

Arkansas: Brigham Young 2023, at Oklahoma State 2024, Notre Dame 2025, at Utah 2026, Oklahoma State 2027, at Notre Dame 2028, Utah 2029, at Texas Tech 2030, Texas Tech 2031, at Oklahoma State 2032, Oklahoma State 2033.

Auburn: at California 2023, California 2024, at Baylor 2025, Baylor 2026, at UCLA 2027, UCLA 2028, at Miami 2029, Miami 2030.

Kentucky: at Louisville 2023, Louisville 2024, at Louisville 2025, Louisville 2026, at Louisville 2027, Louisville 2028, at Louisville 2029, Louisville 2030.

Louisiana State: Florida State in Orlando 2023, Southern Cal in Las Vegas 2024, UCLA 2024, at Clemson 2025, Clemson 2026, at Houston 2027, Arizona State 2029, at Arizona State 2030, at Utah 2031, Utah 2032.

Mississippi State: Arizona 2023, at Arizona State 2024, Arizona State 2025, at Minnesota 2026, Minnesota 2027, Texas Tech 2028, at Texas Tech 2029, Washington State 2030, at Washington State 2031.

Missouri: Kansas State 2023, Boston College 2024, Kansas 2025, at Kansas 2026, at Illinois 2026, Illinois 2027, at Illinois 2028, Illinois 2029, Colorado 2030, at Colorado 2031, Kansas 2031, at Kansas 2032, at Illinois 2032, Illinois 2033, at Illinois 2034, at Brigham Young 2035, Illinois 2035.

Ole Miss: Georgia Tech 2023, at Wake Forest 2024, at Southern Cal 2025, Wake Forest 2025, Southern Cal 2026, Oregon State 2027, at Brigham Young at 2028, Brigham Young 2029, at Oregon State 2030, at Virginia Tech 2032, Purdue 2033, at Purdue 2034, Virginia Tech 2037.

Tennessee: Virginia in Nashville 2023, North Carolina State in Charlotte 2024, Syracuse in Atlanta 2025, at Nebraska 2026, Nebraska 2027, West Virginia in Charlotte 2028, Washington 2029, at Washington 2030.

Texas A&M: at Miami 2023, Notre Dame 2024, at Notre Dame 2025, Arizona State 2026, at Arizona State 2027, Louisville 2028, at Louisville 2029.

Vanderbilt: at Wake Forest 2023, Virginia Tech 2024, at Virginia Tech 2025, North Carolina State 2026, at Stanford 2027, at North Carolina State 2028, Purdue 2029, at Stanford 2032, Stanford 2033.

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Programs that have a lot of holes in their non-conference schedules and could go either way with future opponents.

Oklahoma: Michigan 2025, at Michigan 2026, Nebraska 2029, at Nebraska 2030, at Clemson 2035, Clemson 2036.

Texas: at Alabama 2023, at Michigan 2024, at Ohio State 2025, Ohio State 2026, Michigan 2027, at Arizona State 2032, Arizona State 2033. 

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NCAA baseball has hotel problem

Stillwater hosted an NCAA baseball regional last season and suffered from horrific public relations regarding lodging accommodations.

Now a much-bigger city, Lexington, Kentucky, is causing the NCAA headaches over hotels.

Welcome to the NCAA Baseball Championships, where sites are selected just a few days before the competition, and sometimes it’s a scramble to find lodging not necessarily just for fans, but for teams as well.

Kentucky is hosting a regional this weekend that includes three relatively-close schools – Indiana, Ball State and West Virginia. But Lexington is home this weekend to the Railbird Musical Festival, a major event that includes country music stars Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers.

Kentucky state high school championships in baseball, track and softball also are in Lexington this weekend, plus the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, 35 miles south of Lexington, an event that draws about 40,000 people each year.

So it’s understandable that the hotels are booked solid. Indiana and Ball State have chosen to stay in UK dorm rooms – albeit nice dorms, which are suite-like – rather than stay an hour away in Louisville. To be fair, the hometown Wildcats also will stay in UK dorms.

The NCAA released a statement saying it knew of the hotel challenges and was satisfied with the dorm alternative.

Stillwater, with a population of about 50,000 – Lexington's metro population is 10 times that size – routinely has lodging challenges when hosting NCAA events. Last season, a Missouri State player tweeted out disgusting conditions at his team hotel, including bugs and left-behind underwear in his room.

The NCAA’s challenge is rewarding host sites to top 16 seeds so quickly to the competition. Perhaps the NCAA needs to better monitor the bidding process to require more lodging assurances.

Most years, schools like OSU and Mississippi State and Auburn, which are relatively far removed from major metros, know they will at least have a shot at hosting NCAA regionals. More advanced planning might be needed.

And the same with more-populated areas. There’s no excuse for the University of Kentucky to not be better prepared. Maybe instead of sending teams to spend the night in Louisville, moving the entire regional to Louisville is a better idea.

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The List: Most successful expansion franchises

The Miami Heat is in the NBA Finals for the seventh time in its 35-year history. Is that a good ratio? That’s an outstanding ratio.

Using the metric of making the championship game or championship series of the sport, the Heat is the second-most successful franchise in North American sports.

Going back to 1960, when expansion franchises started appearing in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the NBA or the National Hockey League, here are the 10 most successful expansion franchises, based on years divided by championship appearances:

1. Las Vegas Golden Knights 3.0: It’s a tiny sample size, and the Golden Knights aren’t like to keep it up, but Las Vegas just made the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in its six NHL seasons.

2. Miami Heat 5.0: The Heat began in 1988 and have made seven NBA Finals, winning in 2006, 2012 and 2013.

3. New England Patriots 5.6: The Boston Patriots were born in 1960, but just counting from 1966, when the American Football League champion started playing in the Super Bowl, the Patriots have made the ultimate game 11 times in 58 seasons, winning six.

4. Edmonton Oilers 6.33: Thank you, Wayne Gretzky. The Oilers were born in 1979 and have made the Stanley Cup Finals seven times in 44 years, including titles in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990.

5. Denver Broncos 7.25: In the same 58-year timeline as the Patriots, the Broncos have made the Super Bowl eight times, winning with their 1997, 1998 and 2015 teams.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning 7.75: The Lightning formed in 1992 and has made the Stanley Cup Finals four times in 31 years, including titles in 2004, 2020 and 2021.

7. San Antonio Spurs 7.8: The Spurs were an American Basketball Association that joined the NBA in 1976. In the 47 years since, the Spurs have made the NBA Finals six times, winning five -- 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.

8. Dallas Cowboys 8.0: The Cowboys formed in 1960 and have made the Super Bowl eight times in 64 years, winning with their 1971, 1977, 1992, 1993 and 1995 teams. The Cowboys often are punching bags, but that’s a good ratio.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins 9.33: The Penguins formed in 1967. They’ve made six Stanley Cup Finals, winning five – 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016 and 2017.

10. Chicago Bulls 9.5: Thank you, Michael Jordan. The Bulls formed in 1966 and have reached six NBA Finals in 57 years, winning them all – 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998.

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Mailbag: Women’s College World Series tickets

Tickets for the Women’s College World Series has become a hot item. Some say too hot.

Pat: “How about a story on tips for getting WCWS tickets? From what I can tell, all tickets are mobile tickets. That is OK, I guess. Next is who to buy from. The NCAA site sends you to a vendor. The Hall of Fame Stadium box office sends you to a vendor. Plenty of the usual ticket outlets seem to have tickets. So no problem there. Ticket prices seem reasonably consistent. So no problem there. Then, as you check out, you find service fees of anywhere from $12 to $40 a ticket. Some charge taxes and some don’t. Buy on the NCAA site and they will mail you a commemorative ticket after the event. That’s a big problem to me. Kind of hard for me to consider that a service charge if paying a service charge is the only way to get a ticket. Wish I could have gone up to the box office yesterday or today and bought a ticket the old-fashioned way. If not sold out, I guess there will be a sign on the box office window directing folks to a website address and a service charge? I guess it keeps the scalpers away, but I think the real scalping is from the service charge. I could afford the service charge but feel so strongly about it that I will be watching on TV.”

Tramel: I would go to StubHub and the secondary market. There are running debates about Ticketmaster and what some call its monopoly in the ticket business. Congress conducted hearings back in January over the issue.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma State wrestling heavyweight Jimmy Jackson was a gentle giant