Hoag unlucky in ’52

By Bill Mayer, KUSports.com, Friday, June 8, 2007

If Kansas University and Charlie Hoag had been blessed with the medical presence of a Jeff Randall or Oklahoma’s Don O’Donohue in 1952, KU well might have won its second straight NCAA basketball title. Charlie was that good, until … we’ll get there.

Dr. Randall is one of those orthopedic geniuses who can do what he does so well because of pioneering by O’Donohue. Randall figured in basketball player Brandon Rush’s recent knee surgery; progress reports sound good. Hoag should have been so lucky.

In 1950 the Big Seven Conference revealed three of the greatest sophomore football halfbacks ever seen — Hoag of Kansas, Bobby Reynolds of Nebraska and Billy Vessels of Oklahoma. They also could play defense.

The trio tore up the league in ’50 and were en route to new glory in ’51. Vessels, however, ripped a knee; they said he might never walk right, let alone play for the Sooners. Except OU had Dr. O’Donohue. Don was so proactive they joked that if a Sooner hurt a knee in a workout, O’Donohue would be probing to find the trouble before they could get the practice pants off the kid.

Vessels spent much of his junior season in a cast after repairs by the O’Donohue team. Not too bad a job. All Billy did in ’52 was win the Heisman Trophy. Things were going great for Hoag, too; he and Vessels had been picked All-American by Collier’s Magazine and other outlets. But that was before the Nov. 1 trip to Kansas State. Charlie was routinely shoved out bounds by K-State’s Veryl Switzer, stepped on a storm drain and, whorp! — heard something snap.

Sports medicine was pretty primitive then. Local doctors did all they could to get Hoag back into action, but nobody thought of sending Charlie to Norman to see what Don O’Donohue could do. One of the saddest KU sports scenes I recall was the brilliant Charlie limping off after he gave it one final try in the finale at Missouri.

Oh, yeah, the ’53 basketball season? Mongoose-quick Hoag was also a track discus letterman and at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds a key man on the ’51 and ’52 basketball teams. He was one of KU’s seven Olympic champions that summer, and people came home from Helsinki raving about how good he’d be for the Jayhawks.

Then football drydocked this true gridiron great. Yet KU with Dean and Allen Kelley, B.H. Born, Hal Patterson and Gil Reich reached the NCAA court finals and fell to Indiana 69-68 in a game where Charlie Hoag’s quickness and worldwide experience would have made the difference. KU also might have averted most of its other five losses if Charlie Hoag had been sent to O’Donohue, or if there had been a team physician with the expertise of Jeff Randall.

I hope KU athletes such as Brandon Rush appreciate what a phenomenal sports-medicine operation is orchestrated by Dr. Larry Magee with talent such as Jeff Randall at hand. I know Wayne Simien does. And you can’t note the 2007 KU health program without paying tribute to a couple of former Lawrence High and KU football stars who got it started — the late John Wertzberger and “little brother” Ken.

I remember trainer Dean Nesmith thought he’d died and gone to heaven when they bought him a second whirlpool bath. What they’ve got up there now is better than the hospital layouts in a lot of smaller towns.

But, oh, how I wish we could have done a version of “Clap hands and here comes Charlie!” in ’52-53. Look it up, yuppies.