Wahoo McDaniel by Mike Shropshire
Origins of all of the Wahoo folk ballads can be traced to Midland, Texas in the early 1950s. Wahoo was star catcher on a Pony League that advanced all the way to state tournament in Austin. The Pony League coach was a local Midland oil man who played some college baseball himself: George Herbert Bush.
"I remember Wahoo McDaniel well," says the former president. "He was a good kid and a pretty fair baseball player, too. He has had his ups and downs, but I'll always remember him as a wonderful kid who captured the imagination of West Texas in the 1950s. He was idolized and worshiped by everyone who knew him."
"Yeah, Bush was my baseball coach and in high school, Nixon coached me in track," McDaniel recalls. That was Ed Nixon, celebrated at the time as the man with the shiniest shoes in West Texas. Nixon had been intent upon transforming Wahoo (known by that beguiling name since early childhood because his father, Edward, Sr., a welding contractor, was Wahoo as well) into a Jim Thorpe decathlete incarnate. Certainly, Wahoo looked the part. "My father was one-sixteenth Choctaw and one-sixteenth Chickasaw. My mother was German. So you can put the math to it and determine what that makes me," he says. Whatever the mix, Wahoo bears a worthwhile resemblance to the photo portrait of Sitting Bull taken sometime around the time the great chief cut George Armstrong Custer's heart out and ate it.
"I could run and jump, finished second in the state in the shot put with a toss of 58-feet plus, and third in the discus," Wahoo says. "I never met Jim Thorpe, but his times and distances in the 1912 Olympics were scarcely better than mine in high school. But Coach Nixon simply could not teach me to pole vault," he says. In truth, Wahoo was never that fond of heights...
...It was Wahoo's off-the-field deeds, where the legends linger still and reach the clouds, that memorialize his collegiate years, tales of running distances that would wear out the Pony Express, a mythic lore of drinking motor oil as a party stunt. The peculiar aspect of the myths is that they happen to be true.
In the perpetrator's own words: "I'd been running 10 miles a day, training for the OU wrestling team and I accepted a challenge from some people in the athletic dorm. The bet was that I could run from the front steps of the dorm in Norman to the city limits of Chickasha, without stopping. So I put on shorts and a T-shirt and took off right at noon. They followed me in a car to make sure I didn't stop. Uphill. Downhill. God, it was brutal. But finally I reached the top of a hill and below, there was Chickasha. Thirty-six miles in exactly six hours flat. I collected $185 for that. And later, after word of that Chickasha stunt got around, I started running shorter distances, from Norman to Oklahoma City, just 20 miles, against fraternity relay teams. I'd given them a half-mile head start. Bud didn't like the long haul running, either."
And what of the motor oil? Wahoo offers a grim smile.
"That oil made me sick. I finished about half the quart and for
months afterward, every time I'd sweat, I could feel the stuff oozing
out and I smelled like an old pickup truck. Remember this. In those
days, I'd do anything on a bet. Eat a gallon can of jalapeno peppers.
It didn't matter." Wahoo heaved the Coke machine that robbed him
of his change from a fifth floor dorm window, but any third-stringer
at Amherst would have done the same. What Wahoo would later find troubling
was that media historians began confusing his exploits with those of
his successor to the role of the supernatural Sooner, the late Joe Don
Looney. "I was loonier than Looney on his craziest day," declares