Legend of the Fall
by Jimmie Tramel, Tulsa World Sports Writer
July 1, 2008

We — media, fans, everybody — underestimated Uwe von Schamann.

We have always treated the former University of Oklahoma kicker like he was capable of telling just one classic story, as if he was college football's Harper Lee.

University of Oklahoma kicker like he was capable of telling just one classic story, as if he was college football's Harper Lee.

But von Schamann has many stories, like the time he hitchhiked from Memphis to Texas as a penniless teenager, and he is searching for an author and publisher who can put the tales in book form.

Of course, the story everyone asks von Schamann to tell - and he happily obliges - is the one that immortalized him in Sooner lore.

Von Schamann booted an onside kick and hit a 41-yard field goal with three seconds left to give OU a 29-28 triumph at Ohio State in 1977.

Why is that game any different than any of the other million games decided by a late field goal? Because von Schamann did something before the kick that seemed just plain crazy. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes called timeout to play mind games with the kicker. Buckeye fans began chanting "block that kick." Caught up in the heat of the moment, von Schamann flailed his arms and led the cheer.

The film clip has been viewed more than 32,000 times on YouTube. Now von Schamann is trying to get the rest of his stories to the masses and some of them - especially the ones co-starring his mother, Karin - rank high on the peril meter.

"I hope my story is good enough for a book and hopefully it might be inspirational for people, focusing on relationships that we have with our parents or a parent," he said.

Von Schamann wants to write the book to honor his mother, who grew up in Germany during World War II and spent a chunk of her life as a refugee. When little Uwe came along in 1956, she raised him as a single parent. He said he never went without food.

Karin brought her son to the U.S. for the first time when he was 14 and neither could sprechen much English. They intended to visit friends in Fort Worth, but had only enough cash for airfare to New York and a bus ride to Memphis. If you want all the juicy details, you will need to buy the book. But they thumbed a ride all the way to Texas, and Karin might have even married one of the folks who offered them a ride.

Reflecting back on the hitchhiking trek, Uwe said, "It's crazy. If you had any sense, you wouldn't want to do that actually.

"But back in the '70s it was a little different. I remember hitchhiking with my mother when I was just a little boy on the autobahn there in Germany. I remember getting a ride with a motorcycle cop, and I am hanging on for dear life. Mom was right behind the police officer, and I was right behind her on the luggage rack, so I'm just holding on. We were going 100 miles an hour down the highway.

"I just remember those days with her. It was always kind of an adventure. We lived kind of a gypsy life and moved around a lot, but she provided for me opportunities that maybe most people would not have had."

Karin and Uwe settled in Fort Worth, where he was discovered by a high school football coach. Uwe was thrilled to learn he could get a college education (and, later, NFL paychecks) just for kicking an oblong ball.

Von Schamann, 52, and his mother put down roots in Norman, where he works as director of development and fundraising for the J.D. McCarty Center for children with developmental disabilities. The center recently moved to a new 80-acre campus and von Schamann said a groundbreaking will be held this fall for summer camp facilities for special needs kids. The camp is named in memory of Sammy Jack Claphan, a former OU lineman who blocked for von Schamann during his famous field goal. Claphan worked with special needs children in his hometown of Stilwell before dying in 2001 at age 45.

Von Schamann said about a million dollars must be raised to complete phase II of the project. His contact information is available at www.jdmc.org.

Meanwhile, von Schamann and his mom are still globetrotting, if not hitchhiking. They returned to Germany last fall and she took photos as he crossed the Berlin Marathon finish line.

Karin turned 70 in February, and Uwe took her to Germany in March for her first ski trip.

It is payback for a woman von Schamann calls the hardest-working and most reliable person he has ever known.

"It wasn't easy for her to raise me because she didn't really have any help from her family," he said. "It was just a hard life for her. But she can live on next to nothing. She is the ultimate survivor. She is tough as nails. She is a tiny woman, but she can outwalk anybody. Even when we were in Europe, I had to tell her 'slow down mom.' "

Apparently, strong legs run in the family.

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