Silver, sleek, lightning-fast striped bass prowl the Arkansas River below Keystone Dam, not far from Tulsa. Sometimes anglers happen upon schools of 10- and 15-pound torpedoes feeding with such ferocity the fishing is frenetic.
And sometimes they get squat.
Tuesday morning I fished the river with James “Doc” Geiger and Seattle Seahawks legend and former U.S. Congressman Steve Largent and we were straight-up skunked.
Geiger and Largent, who also starred at the University of Tulsa, go to the same church, and apparently Doc has helped everyone in that congregation catch a mess of stripers except the greatest Seahawks receiver of all time.
But looking at a day of fishing and calling it an attempt to catch fish is like looking at Steve Largent’s career and calling him a simple football player — the NFL Hall of Famer has an award named for him and given annually by the Seahawks to the player best exemplifying his kind of “spirit, dedication, and integrity;” a guy who went on to serve three terms in Congress for his home state.
Our morning started at Swiftwater Park boat ramp with the three of us standing alongside Geiger’s weather-faded red Bass Tracker waiting for the sun to rise and the water to rise enough to launch.
Geiger said that after days of regular water releases, the Corps of Engineers changed things overnight and that the altered flow can make fishing tricky — but he had plenty of tricks of his own.
As we finally motored upstream, daylight crept in without the kind of sunrise typical of that east-west stretch of river, but Geiger lit things up with a praise psalm medley and rolled into the inspirational prayer by W. Heartsil Wilson, “A New Day” that famed Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant carried in his pocket.
To balance the boat for navigation through the rocky waters, Largent and I sat in the middle, facing the stern. I was next to the steering transom and looked up through Geiger’s outstretched hands to see his face looking to the heavens and a flock of large dark birds circling in gray clouds above him, illuminated by the faint dawn.
“This is the beginning of a new day, God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it …” he continued.
Looking back now I have to say it may have been a prophetic moment for our fishing — the birds circling overhead were black-headed vultures.
We learned that for 30 years Geiger has been giving inspirational talks before games to college and high school teams, something that started at Oklahoma State University with then basketball coach Leonard Hamilton and assistant coach Bill Self. He always starts with that prayer.
We fished hard for four hours and didn’t get a single bite, but our conversation was full and we had a great time.
Largent treated us to some insights about football, in particular the play(s) for which he is often remembered; the illegal hit by Mike Harden of the Denver Broncos and his “revenge hit” — a legal hit 14 weeks later after Harden intercepted a ball and Largent laid him out on the return, knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble.
Harden was fined $5,000 for the hit that broke Largent’s face mask and knocked him out for five minutes. “I didn’t know where I was after that. I was out of that game,” he said.
These days he likely would have been out for a couple of weeks under concussion protocol. “Oh yeah I was back playing the next week,” he said. “It was different then.”
Years later the two players exchanged messages. “No hard feelings, part of the game,” he said. “Except mine was a legal hit.”
Largent serves on several boards, does promotional work with the Seahawks and gives inspirational talks.
“Mostly about leadership and how our country is in need of great leaders,” he said. He is out of politics now, completely out.
“I don’t miss it,” he said.
He has hope for the new administration, largely because of the people around President Donald Trump. He knows Vice President Mike Pence from his time in Congress. “He’s a good man,” he said.
During his football career it was said that if the ball was anywhere in range of Largent that he would find a way to get his hands on it.
I figure if the legendary Seahawk wasn’t catching them Tuesday the fish just weren’t in range.
Geiger said his father always told him a good day of fishing is when you get to go, and an excellent day is when you catch fish.
I might amend that to say an excellent day is when you have good company on the boat — the fish are just a nice bonus.
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