Columnist Berry Tramel is a lifelong Oklahoman who grew up in Norman and worked 13 years at The Norman Transcript. He has been at The Oklahoman since 1991. He has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, and sports editor.
Tramel has lived and written through different eras of Sooner football gives him a deep sense of the sports traditions throughout Oklahoma. As Oklahoma City booms again, likely to be the next city in the Swampland Footprint to get a pro team, Tramel is perfectly suited to put it all in the proper Oklahoma context with his humor and insight.
He lives in Norman with his wife, Tricia. They have a 23-year-old daughter.
Swampland Sports Interview
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Norman, Okla., on inauguration day. Jan. 20, 1961. I was 7 pounds; my twin brother was 7-6. We were the biggest set of twins at Norman Municipal Hospital until sometime in the '80s.
I grew up in Norman and graduated high school in 1979.
What was your definition of "big time" sports as a kid?
Big-time sports? College football. We rarely missed OU home games. My dad even took us up to Stillwater for an occasional OSU game. We also hit Oklahoma City for the All-College basketball tournament and the 1977 NCAA regional in which Marquette won on its way to the NCAA title.
When did you decide you wanted to write about sports?
I decided I wanted to write about sports at a young age. 12 or 13. About the time I saw my first curveball and realized I had a lot better chance of writing about sports than I did playing them.
What writers inspired you to become a writer? Who are the writers that inspire you now? (This doesn't necessarily have to solely include sportswriters. It would be great if the writers were southern, but that’s not necessarily important.)
My favorite writer as a kid (and for years after) was Blackie Sherrod, the legendary Dallas columnist. His twist of a phrase is unsurpassed. He worked at the Fort Worth Press (before my time) and the Dallas Times Herald and the Dallas Morning News. Today, my favorite writer is Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star. I love the work of SI's Gary Smith and Steve Rushin, but the guys who write 3-4 times a week are most impressive to me.
Can you compare the allure of pro vs college sports inside the markets you've covered?
We're a college market, except in 2005 the NBA Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City, which fell in love with the team and the product. And major-league sports were a wondrous surprise; the accessability, the honesty, the overall cooperation. We remain primarily a college market, but the NBA is expected back soon, and I'm looking forward to it.
As a sports columnist vs a beat writer, what do you see as your duty to the sports fans in your market (Oklahoma City/Oklahoma)?
My job is to entertain and enlighten. Red Smith once said that fans go to ballgames to have fun, then pick up the paper the next moring to have fun all over again. So that's my first duty. Help readers enjoy their sports. But I have a duty to be one of the voices of Oklahoma sports. Sometimes that means criticism is necessary. I have to be willing to give it and receive it.
You’ve recent pointed out Nebraska’s struggles [see video below]. In many ways that reflects the disappointing performance of the entire Big 12 North in football. It seems that culturally, Oklahoma, Texas, as well the rest of the Big 12 South, have programs that are much closer in intensity to the SEC, or at least the old Southwest Conference in its glory days. Considering that the Big 12 North seems sort of like the Big Ten “light”, would Oklahoma and the rest of the Big 12 South be better off leaving the Big 12 Conference?
I don't believe the South schools would be better off leaving the Big 12. The Big 12 is a solid conference across the board, and every school except Baylor has contributed in major ways to big-time success in either football or men's basketball or both. First off, there is no place for the South en masse to go. Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M would be welcome in bloated forms of the SEC and maybe even the Pac-10. But the Pac-10 makes no geographic sense, and there are political problems with trying to leave behind Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor, and basketball has to be a consideration, and the North has Kansas, and if we keep talking, we could list 100 reasons to keep the Big 12 together. I could see the Big 12 changing in some form, but not an exodus.
Oklahoma City seems destined to get an NBA franchise after their die hard support for the Hornets. Since the likely candidate seems to be the Sonics from the Northwest Division, isn’t it a shame that Oklahoma’s first pro team would not be able to establish natural Texas-based rivalries within their division?
If the Sonics come to OKC, I think initially they would stay in the Northwest Division, which would be unfortunate. But depending on the eventual fate of the Hornets, that could change. If the Hornets don't make it in New Orleans, a slot in the Southwest Division could open, and there's the OKC franchise. If the OKC Sonics had to play in the Northwest for awhile, it wouldn't be disastrous. Rivalries with Utah and Denver, while not exactly Dallas and San Antonio, would not be interesting. Colorado is a border state, and Salt Lake is the city perhaps most like Oklahoma City in the league. The big problem would be the excessive road games with late start times. That's not good for local broadcasting.
Why does Oklahoma as a state root for the Dallas Cowboys when they come from Texas, a state that is Oklahoma’s rival?
Oklahoma is Dallas Cowboys country because we -- and everyone else in America -- distinguishes college sports from pro sports. New Mexico loves the Broncos. Mississippians love the Saints. Iowans love the Bears. Dallas is only three hours from Oklahoma City. That makes OKC closer to Big D than many Texas outposts which are die-hard Cowboy locales. San Antone, El Paso, Amarillo. Major-league sports aren't defined by states. Heck, we've got two New York teams that play in New Jersey.
Do you think the Texas/Oklahoma game should stay at the Cotton Bowl beyond its current contract? Do you think it will?
I think OU-Texas will remain at the Cotton Bowl for the foreseeable future, and I think it should. No sport is as wrapped in tradition as college football, and no game this side of Army-Navy is so steeped in tradition. The Sooners and Longhorns have been meeting at the Texas State Fair since 1929. We're coming upon 80 years. The environment is like no other. Moving this game to Jerry Jones World in Arlington would sap the game from all its pre-game and post-game atmosphere. In-game, it would be fantastic, and the plumbing at the new stadium could be counted on to work. But if Dallas comes through on its promise to update the Cotton Bowl to acceptable standards, then the game should stay. The Cotton Bowl doesn't have to be a 21st-century stadium. But it can't be a circa 1950 stadium.
Visit Berry Tramel at the Oklahoman's website
Berry Tramel's video commentary page
Watch Berry discuss Nebraska's declining football program