Oklahoma State booster, billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens dies at age 91

Jackson Lavarnway / Pistols Firing

The most important person in the resurgence of Oklahoma State's football program and athletic department has died. Oil tycoon and businessman T. Boone Pickens, 91, passed away peacefully in his home in Dallas on Wednesday of natural causes.

Pickens lived a magnificent life. From being a scholarship basketball player at Texas A&M for one year before transferring to Oklahoma State (Oklahoma A&M at the time) to sniffing around about a possible presidential campaign in 1988 (he opted not to run), his presence spanned a wide range of industries.

He is probably most well-known in business for his work in the world of oil and gas. He started and sold companies. He worked myriad markets. He was a self-made billionaire. And much of that money was eventually funneled back into his alma mater in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

While the exact figure remains up for debate due to the varied gifts to both the university itself and the Cowboys athletic department, we know that Pickens donated over $500 million to Oklahoma State through the years. The university's geology building is named after him. The football stadium is named after him, too. The $165 million gift he gave at the beginning of 2006 remains the largest single gift to a NCAA athletic program.

"Boone is one of those swashbucklers out of our history -- a great, dynamic person who is a pioneer in multiple areas," former Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn said. "He was a visionary. There are not many of those anymore."

Pickens helped put Mike Holder into the chair as athletic director for the Pokes. Mike Gundy was ushered in at the same time as football coach.

"The greatest Cowboy of them all has taken his last ride.  It will never be the same again," said Holder in a statement released by the school. "We could never thank him enough for all that he did for our university. He gave us everything he had and all that he asked in return was that we play by the rules and dream big.  He was living proof that anything is possible if you're wearing orange.  'Great ride Cowboy, great ride!'"

"Mr. Pickens is a big part of our success and we're all thankful for the lasting impact he's had on Oklahoma State, both athletically and academically. It would have been difficult for us to climb as high we have without him," added Gundy. "You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who has had a greater impact on a university than Mr. Pickens has had at Oklahoma State. He'll be missed, but his legacy here will live on for a long time to come."

OSU has not been the same since Pickens started giving. The Cowboy football team has posted the 13th-best winning percentage since 2006, ahead of more traditional powerhouses like Penn State and Florida State.

They have thrived across the board, and Pickens enjoyed every second of it until recent years when he suffered a stroke and couldn't travel like he used to. He fought until the end, but the end came quickly for so proud a man.

"Last year, at 90 years of age, I vowed to make every Oklahoma State football home game," Pickens recently wrote in a state of the union-like letter to OSU fans. "I made half of them but watched all of them. That's likely to be the case again this year, and each trip to Stillwater will be all the more meaningful for me. Five years ago, as grand marshal of OSU's homecoming, I knocked out pushups on the ROTC's pushup board. Now walking 50 yards to my suite is a challenge. And when I do it, I feel just as triumphant."

That word, triumphant is a good one. It was an outsized, magnanimous life for a boy from tiny Holdenville, Oklahoma. Who could have imagined he'd travel the places he did and meet the people he met?

Pickens was a member at Augusta National Golf Club, where he made a hole-out eagle during one round on the 11th hole. The catch? He was 78 and got to brag about it afterward to none other than Arnold Palmer. That's one of a hundred stories of that magnitude that one could tell about Pickens.

He is gone now, but his legacy beats on and will continue to for decades.

Pickens went into hospice care at the end of last week and was visited by friends and family early this week before he passed on Wednesday. There are plans for a celebration of life in Stillwater later this fall before he is buried. 

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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