With a swoosh, the Gulfstream 550 is effortlessly launched into the heavens for the hour-long slingshot from Dallas to Stillwater, the sleek jet headed for Oklahoma State University and the football field bearing the name of our host -- Boone Pickens Stadium. The game against Kansas State University is spectacular, a record 58,750 fans roaring their (now) No. 2-rated Cowboys to an explosive 52-45 victory.
It's hard to believe this stadium was the scene of the crime five years ago.
In 2005, T. Boone Pickens, the energy billionaire tycoon, made a $165 million gift to his alma mater, and in some media circles, believe it or not, people were fit to be tied. "ABC World News Tonight," with Elizabeth Vargas playing Concerned Anchor and Brian Ross in the role of Intrepid Gum-Shoe Investigative Reporter breathlessly disclosed to the nation that this gift was an "audacious" abuse of a "loophole" in that year's Katrina Relief Act. It was an "apparently legal" maneuver to reap an unfair tax benefit.
The New York Times had different reasons to be upset. When OSU re-invested Pickens' gift into Pickens' hedge fund, this was wrong, wrong, wrong. The Times found one lawyer to say Pickens was "a rich man manipulating charity for his own benefit," and another to ask, "Is it a conflict of interest? Well, probably." This after being told Pickens had waived all fees and commissions.
Boone and I chatted about this at the time. "If only I'd used the money to build a couple of yachts instead," he'd sighed sardonically. Boone responded to critics his way: he increased his giving. Reportedly, his donations to OSU have hit the $500 million mark.
So anyway, five years later, we're in Boone Pickens Stadium, in Boone's box -- yep, he has one of those, too -- and there's controlled pandemonium, with family, staff, university officials, friends (including a couple of octogenarian childhood mates), alumni and students swarming. The school is electrified. Boone's money has brought real talent, both in coaching and players, with state-of-the-art facilities that are taken for granted at Ivy League schools, but heretofore unknown to rural communities like Stillwater. It's paying off. OSU is in the hunt for a national championship.
Through all the commotion, I spy a young black man in a wheelchair, clearly crippled. I watch as Boone's wife Madeleine tenderly takes his hand in greeting and they chat: There's a connection there. I make my way over to him to get his story.