Pierce has Seen Life Changes and Still Laughs About Truths and Myths on "Toothless in Seattle"
STILLWATER -- The uniforms are ready for the current Cowboys to don on Saturday for the game with Texas Tech. The Cowboys will honor the 1995 Final Four Cowboys by wearing the uniform design that they wore on the road to the Final Four in Seattle in 1994-95 season. Freshman Keylan Boone has all of his front teeth, so that will be one difference in the player that wears number 20 tomorrow and Scott Pierce, who wore 20 back in the day. Pierce is forever remembered on that Final Four team as "Toothless in Seattle." There is plenty to the story before getting into the dental aspect of it.
All credit on this story goes to my radio station teammate and former Cowboy Network radio analyst Tom Dirato, who knew that team really well. I covered those Cowboys and knew all of them as well, including the senior forward from Euless, Texas that had started his collegiate career at Illinois. Pierce transferred to Oklahoma State and to play for Eddie Sutton with two-years left in his eligibility.
That was not uncommon back then as Sutton made good use of the transfer before the portal ever came into being. Pierce was coming off the bench until virtually midway through the season. After a loss to a Kansas State team that was in the lower half of the Big Eight, Pierce was moved into the starting five.
"Chianti (Roberts) became the sixth man, and that was really kind of good for us because he was capable of playing all five, or at least four of the positions," Pierce said in the interview. "He could come in as a great sub at virtually any spot. I was always nervous the first two or three minutes, so starting helped me to calm down and I became a more effective player."
Pierce said there was still no grace. Coach Sutton was hard and used the bench as his motivator, punishment, and lesson promoter. Times were different then.
"I knew if I missed a shot that I shouldn't have taken I was already on my way to the bench and telling Chianti the number of the player I was defending," Pierce recounted. "If I let my player get an open shot, I was on the way to the bench and telling Chianti who he needed to guard."
Pierce averaged close to five points and four rebounds a game and was an excellent defender, dogged defender. He was a great help to Bryant "Big Country" Reeves as Oklahoma State went through a post player who's who to get to Seattle. The Cowboys beat Drexel and Malik Rose, Alabama and Antonio McDyess, Wake Forest and a young Tim Duncan, and, finally, UMass and Marcus Camby.
"I could help Country some," the 6-9 Pierce said. "I was a decent defender."
Defense did not become what Pierce was best known for. In the days long before anybody was thinking of paying college student-athletes for their name and likeness, Pierce had his go viral in sales with a special t-shirt.
"I've heard the 18 versions of the story and most of the time I have to tell people that I never said that," Pierce said.
It was in the Regional Final against UMass as the Minutemen point guard Derek Kellogg was driving into the paint.
"I was getting set up to take a charge and their point guard came in high and caught me with an elbow to the face and knocked the cap on my tooth out," Pierce explained. "It didn't hurt any and it all kind of got blown out of proportion."
It's funny because the other stories out there are all so much more fun and crazy than the truth. Pierce explained the truth is that tooth was knocked out on his driveway back home playing against his older brother. He was 15-years-old and had a root canal on the tooth and then had it capped. Then had ground the tooth down to a nub and replaced it with a cap, which is what was knocked out.
Later, Stan Clark (owner of world-famous Eskimo Joes was talking to me and telling me he had an idea for a shirt, "Toothless in Seattle" off of the movie Sleepless in Seattle. It came out with Eskimo Joe slam dunking a basketball and missing a tooth. I didn't realize at the time, but he was getting by the licensing issue by not using logos or my likeness. Oh but, Joe is wearing the number 20 on his basketball jersey.
Even though Pierce spent much of his time in the Cowboys Final Four semifinal loss covering UCLA's Ed O'Bannon, the former college athlete that field suit against the NCAA over the use of player's likeness and image, Pierce isn't asking for past residuals. Pierce knows the licensing business well as he works for "47" a company that produces college head wear.
The biggest issue with the lost cap came after the game.
"It really wasn't that tough, but after the game I was the Co-player of the Game with Bryant Reeves and I got to do the postgame interview. One of my favorite broadcasters, somebody I looked up to was Verne Lundquist and he's interviewing me. First, when you are missing a front tooth, you can drop 50 points off your IQ. People do, but I'm talking to Verne and I feel this spit come out of my mouth and there was no tooth there to block it and I see the spit hitting Verne Lundquist in the face."
Pierce is happy to be back in Stillwater, always honored to be recognized with his teammates for their Final Four accomplishment. He said he's gone through a change in focus lately. He was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma, but has been clear with his last two pat scans. He and his wife, and three kids at home have downsized and moved out on an acreage and they have seven goats and chickens.
"We are farmers, kind of like Little House on the Prairie," Pierce chuckled.
He has one grown daughter working in Tulsa and he says he wanted his younger children to learn by having chores and tasks at home.
Pierce sounds happy. He'll get a loud welcome from the crowd on Saturday in Gllagher-Iba Arena. Many fans remember him and the younger fans can generally ask their parents and they will tell them the story of "Toothless in Seattle," but the question always is, which of the 18 versions out there they will hear.