Before Sept. 14, half a century had passed since the last time Arkansas’ former No. 44 set foot on Frank Broyles Field, named after the coach that recruited and guided him to three excellent seasons with the Razorback football team in the glorious era of the 1960s.
Former running back David Dickey is one of 15 Razorback greats inducted into this year’s Hall of Honor.
“(It means) the world,” Dickey said about his induction. “After 50-something years to get that recognition, it’s really awesome.”
Dickey is no stranger to waiting for his special moments to come. He has had to endure that more times than he liked.
A member of the 1964 National Championship team, Dickey did not play a single snap during that year due to a debilitating knee injury he suffered in the first play of a high school all-star game his senior year.
“I said, ‘There’s my career, I’m done. I’m history’,” Dickey said.
He was not done. Luck would be on his side when Dickey was treated by the famed Dr. Don O’Donoghue, the Father of Sports Medicine in the United States, as some call him, because of his groundbreaking work treating knee injuries. As Dickey remembers it, this was the same doctor that treated New York Yankees legendary center fielder Mickey Mantle.
After missing all of his first season, rehabilitating his knee and going through spring practice, Broyles came up to talk to him before the 1965 season opener against Oklahoma State. What the legendary coach told him was something he said he dreaded more than anything.
“I had a pretty good spring,” Dickey said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. The weekend we were supposed to play Oklahoma State, coach Broyles said ‘David, I’m going to redshirt you’ and I was just crushed.”
It was another long wait for the Texas native who had not seen a down of football, at that point, in over two years. But as his induction to the Hall of Honor indicates, things would get better for Dickey once he was freed from the shackles of his injury.
Almost exactly one year after the news that he was to redshirt the 1965 season, Dickey finally graced the field for the first time in three years. The opponent was once again Oklahoma State, and fellow 2019 Hall of Honor inductee and former offensive tackle Dick Cunningham, Dickey’s college roommate at the time, was there to witness his friend’s college debut.
“I was returning the opening kickoff and (Cunningham) said, ‘Dickey, I looked back at you and your eyes were the size of dinner plates,’” Dickey said.
Cunningham continued, “I don’t know what was going through your mind,” to which Dickey replied, “Man, I was excited.”
That day would be the beginning of a storied career for Dickey, filled with accomplishments and record-breaking games. More than a month after his debut, Dickey was again approached by Broyles prior to a big game against Texas A&M, but with some better news this time: Dickey would be replacing the injured Bruce Maxwell and making the first start of his career against the Aggies.
“My heart went up in my throat and I said ‘oh boy’,” Dickey said. “I remember Broyles said to me, ‘A&M is just like everybody else. They put their pants on one leg at a time’.”
Dickey, desperate to prove himself in what would be the biggest game of his life up to that moment, said he saw an opportunity from that point on and he took it.
“I thought, “Well, there’s an opening for me’,” Dickey said. “From that moment on I would sit down in my locker and put my football pants on (with both legs) at the same time.”
During that game, Dickey scored a school-record-tying four touchdowns against the Aggies. He finished the season with a then-sophomore rushing record of 447 yards and eight touchdowns.
The next season would be even better for Dickey. He was moved to wingback by Broyles and thrived in his new position. He tied a school record by scoring 16 touchdowns, the second most in the NCAA that year. Dickey would be named to the All-Southwest Conference first team in his first two seasons, and as a senior, added four rushing and three passing touchdowns to finish his college career with 31 total scores.
During his time with the Hogs, Dickey won a SWC championship as well as helping Arkansas to a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia in his final year. Despite his myriad of accolades, those are not the reasons why he said he gets emotional being honored this year of all years.
While more than 55,000 fans at Razorback Stadium cheered for him prior to kickoff, up in the stands amongst the marching band was Dickey’s grandson, Robert Stewart, a journalism major in his freshman year at the UofA.
“For (my grandfather) to be inducted this weekend, the first year of all the years that I’m here (at Arkansas), it’s incredibly special,” Stewart said. “I’m glad I decided to come here, and I’m glad that whoever decides who gets inducted decided this year was the year to do it.”
Dickey described his grandson as a having the UofA “in his DNA” and said he was “thrilled to death” when Stewart decided to come to school in Fayetteville over his home state school of Virginia.
“For a brief period of time, for us to be on the field at the same time, it’s tremendously emotional for me,” Dickey said.
Stewart was recruited to attend the School of Journalism and Strategic Media at the UofA by professor Gerald Jordan, a former sports writer who covered Dickey for The Arkansas Traveler during his playing days and who, before last week, had not seen Dickey in 50 years.
“I remember being a little apprehensive going up and interviewing, and (Dickey) was gracious with his time even though he was a mega star then,” Jordan said. “When I met Robert, it seemed like all those years melted away. He came up to me on Welcome Day that we have in the journalism school and it was gratifying to see that circle close like that.”
Dickey said he is grateful to have played for and attended the UofA, but not for any athletic reasons.
“If I hadn’t come to Arkansas, I wouldn’t have this young man (Stewart) right here,” Dickey said. “It would be another young man but it wouldn’t be this one and I wouldn’t trade him for all the other possibilities.”
The bond Dickey shares with his family and grandson is more important to him than any athletic achievement he may have had during his time at Arkansas, and he showed that when he gave Stewart the most valuable athletic possession he had.
“I gave him my championship ring when he graduated from high school,” Dickey said, holding back tears. “It was pretty impactful for me to give it to him.”
Stewart said he was very excited to be given something so dear to his grandfather.
“The familial bond that we share now, it almost materialized that in a way,” Stewart said while also fighting back tears in his eyes. “I was like, ‘I know exactly where this is going.’
“I’m proud to display this and I brought it to school because it’s so important. It means a lot to me. It’s tough to put into words, but it really does.”
It has been over 50 years since Dickey last came out of the player tunnel at Razorback Stadium in a cardinal and white uniform. But even after all those years, the Dickey family legacy will continue at the UofA through Stewart for as long as his grandfather’s 1968 SWC championship ring is inside the desk in his room.