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I Love Oklahoma, I Hate Texas
By Jake Trotter
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Jake Trotter
All rights reserved.
Games We Love
Oklahoma 48 | Texas 27
Before the 1970 season even started, Chuck Fairbanks was on the verge of being fired. He knew it. Offensive coordinator Barry Switzer knew it, too. Oklahoma had lost eight games the previous two seasons, and had beaten Texas just once since 1957. In the spring, the Sooners decided to scrap the I formation to compensate for the graduation of Heisman Trophy fullback Steve Owens. Switzer begged Fairbanks to install the wishbone. Instead, Fairbanks put in the Houston veer, an offense Fairbanks was familiar with from his days as an assistant with the Cougars. In Norman, however, the veer proved to be a disaster.
The Sooners slipped by SMU and Wisconsin, but lost to unranked Oregon State at home by two scores. OU gained just 190 yards of offense and got the ball to split end Greg Pruitt just four times. Quarterback Jack Mildren threw for just 87 yards on 20 attempts. "We were an embarrassment," Switzer said. "We couldn't make a first down, and we were so much quicker and faster than them. We looked inept." Everywhere, "Chuck Chuck" bumper stickers had popped up. Switzer felt it was time to try something desperate. "We were doing the wrong thing," Switzer said. "We had speed. We had Mildren. We had Pruitt and [Joe] Wylie. Great Texas speed. Texas wasn't recruiting the black athlete, and we had 'em." With an open date before Texas, Switzer pitched the wishbone to Fairbanks one more time. "I went in and told Chuck, 'We're going to get our asses fired. They're going to fire your ass, which means we're all gone. You need to make a decision,'" Switzer said. "I figured by this point he was ready to listen to any damn foolish idea I might come up with, including changing our whole offense within a few days of playing our biggest rival."
Fairbanks said he'd sleep on the suggestion, but Switzer wasn't confident he'd go through with it. "I knew he would call all his coaching friends at Michigan State and they'd tell him to stick with what he believed in," Switzer said. "I was kinda depressed about it." But the next morning, Fairbanks agreed to give the wishbone a shot, and that same day, Switzer called a team meeting with the offensive players. "We're not going to practice today," he said. "We're going to put a completely new offense in today." The players, notably Mildren and Wylie, were skeptical. "I was like, 'You just don't do this in the middle of the season," Wylie said. "I thought we'd be better off sticking to what we were doing."
Switzer knew better. He explained that the Sooners could continue being mediocre with what they were doing or take a chance at being great. The OU coaches had always marveled at how efficient the wishbone had been for the Longhorns, and how effectively it created numbers mismatches. Because of the speed OU possessed, Switzer believed the Sooners could take the wishbone to another level. "I'm going to coach every position on this team," Switzer told the players. "Every position is going to understand what we're doing across the board."
Over the next 13 days, the offensive backs met an hour before practice and rehearsed the running lanes, exchanges, and pitches of the wishbone option. Switzer taped off the lines on the turf so the players knew where they were supposed to run. "It seemed like we were out there forever following those lines," said fullback Leon Crosswhite. "It was so monotonous — but it would be so worth it."
The next week, the Horns crushed OU 41–9 — UT's largest margin of victory in the series since World War II. The fans were outraged, and the papers slammed Fairbanks for making such a drastic change to his offense in the middle of the season. "Chuck," the Daily Oklahoman's Bob Hurt wrote, "you don't surprise Texas playing the wishbone T any more than you surprise Hoagy Carmichael by playing 'Stardust.'"
Switzer, however, came away pumped. The Sooners had made 16 first downs and gained 212 yards on the ground. Turnovers proved to be OU's true undoing. "We were controlling the ball, getting first downs," Switzer said. "I'm saying, 'Shit, we're growing, we're going to get it.'" Not everyone agreed. Assistant Larry Lacewell relayed the message of hope to federal judge Frank Seay, a diehard Sooners fan, who told Lacewell to tell Switzer, "Any more games like that, and he'll be going down I-35."
The following week, however, OU knocked off 13th-ranked Colorado 23–15. "That was the start of something very, very good," said defensive back John Shelley. "That game was the bell cow for putting us over the hump." The Sooners later took eventual national champion Nebraska to the wire in Lincoln, then closed out the regular season by unloading on Oklahoma State 66–6. "By the end of the year, we were playing really well," Wylie said.
With an off-season to fine-tune the wishbone, the Sooners were a juggernaut waiting to explode. To begin the 1971 season, OU cruised past SMU, Pittsburgh, and USC to set up a showdown with third-ranked Texas. "We knew we were going to kick their butts," Crosswhite said. "We couldn't wait to play them."
Even though the Longhorns had created the wishbone offense, they didn't quite understand how to defend OU's breakneck version of it. Texas lined up eight defenders between the tackles, which allowed the Sooners to have a numbers advantage on the corner on virtually every play.
Midway through OU's first drive, Mildren pitched left to Pruitt, who, with Roy Bell providing the lead block, raced 46 yards down the sideline. "We were running downhill from then on," Shelley said. Even without Wylie, who missed the game with a sprained ankle, the Sooners racked up 435 yards on the ground — the most a Darrell Royal defense at Texas had ever allowed — en route to a 48–27 pasting of the Horns. Pruitt alone rushed for 189 yards in the first half, and Mildren finished with 111 yards and two touchdowns. "It was as if the light company turned the electricity off on Benjamin Franklin," wrote Hurt, whose tune had changed from the year before. "Oklahoma turned Texas' own invention on Texas. And the wishbone offense never looked as lethal as it did on the artificial floor of the Cotton Bowl. The Sooner wishbone struck with a flourish and a fury."
OU jumped to No. 2 in the polls and would remain there until facing Nebraska in the "Game of the Century." The Sooners lost 35–31. But the second great Oklahoma dynasty was firmly in motion.
Oklahoma 63 | Texas 14
After almost a decade of relative mediocrity, the Sooners had returned. It was more than just a singular beatdown of Texas. It was a launching pad of the third Sooners dynasty. It charted the path to the school's seventh championship. It helped ignite a fund-raising drive that built the upper deck of Gaylord Family–Memorial Stadium and erected an indoor practice facility. It was the impetus for what became the program of the decade. "The way they dominated the game in 2000 jump-started them," Texas coach Mack Brown would later say. "It gave them great confidence and national attention."
Going into the season, the Longhorns were overwhelming favorites to win the Big 12 South and a sleeper pick by national pundits to contend for the national title. Texas returned 16 starters, including quarterback Major Applewhite, the 1999 Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year. Also at quarterback was "prodigy" sophomore Chris Simms, who would eventually unseat Applewhite for the starting job. Defensively, the Longhorns featured future Pro Bowl defensive tackles Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers. Other future NFL starters littered the lineup, including cornerback Quentin Jammer, offensive tackle Leonard Davis, and wide receiver Roy Williams. OU entered the game 4–0, but the Sooners were untested and unproven under second-year coach Bob Stoops. It didn't take long, however, for the Longhorns to fail to live up to the hype, losing to Stanford 27–24 the second week of the season. The Horns still entered the Cotton Bowl with a 3–1 record and No. 11 ranking. OU, meanwhile, arrived with far less fanfare. The Sooners were undefeated, but their four wins were against UTEP, Arkansas State, Rice, and Kansas. The Longhorns had won three straight in the series and were expected to win again. "Nobody really gave us any respect," said Derrick Strait, a four-year starter at cornerback beginning in 2000. "Everybody gave Texas the hype. We had to earn it."
What no one outside the program could account for before the Texas game was the extraordinary chemistry of that OU team. Sure, there was talent. But it was also a ragtag conglomeration of passed-over Texans like Strait and Brandon Everage; holdovers from the John Blake era like J.T. Thatcher and Josh Norman; and junior-college nomads like Torrance Marshall and Josh Heupel. Because they had never had anything, the 2000 Sooners played as if they had nothing to lose. And, as a result, they didn't. "We were really emotional, really played with a chip on our shoulders," Strait said. "We had so much to prove."
That became quickly and painfully clear to everyone on the Texas side of the 50-yard line on a rainy afternoon. On OU's opening drive, Heupel fired a 29-yard touchdown to Andre Woolfolk over Rod Babers. Then an option pitch to Quentin Griffin made it 14–0. "They kept scoring, we kept punting," Simms said afterward.
"They ran basic lead to the open side, and Rocky Calmus goes in there, takes on the fullback, Torrance comes over and destroys the guard, and everyone else murders the running back for a two-yard loss on third-and-1," said Teddy Lehman, a freshman linebacker that season. "After that, you just knew this is what it's going to be like the whole game. And it was." Griffin's two-yard and four-yard touchdown plunges gave the Sooners a 28–0 lead. And turning the ball over. Calmus picked off Simms and returned it 41 yards for another touchdown, before the Sooners capped the scoring barrage with a Curtis Fagan eight-yard touchdown on an end-around. By halftime, OU led 42–7.
"There was no cheering in the locker room," Marshall said. "Nobody was satisfied. We wanted more."
Out of the locker room, the Sooners scored. And scored. And scored again. Had Stoops not called off the Schooner, OU might have dropped off what wide receiver Fagan was hoping for — "70 or 80." The Sooners piled up 534 yards — a record against Texas — with 245 on the ground and 289 through the air. Brown's postgame remarks said it all: "I want to apologize to all of the Texas fans, our players, and assistant coaches because I obviously did a poor job this week." Brown had plenty to apologize for. Texas was held to 158 yards total, including –7 yards rushing. OU scored on its first five drives, while the Sooners defense held Texas to one first down and forced punts on five of its first six possessions. "I thought we'd win the game. That shows you how far off I was," Brown said as he pushed his ball cap above his brow. "I felt very confident coming into the game, and we didn't do one thing right."
The Sooners did everything right. For Griffin, it was a performance for the ages; his six rushing touchdowns were a school record. Heupel proved just as brilliant, completing 17 of 27 passes for 275 yards.
After the game, Ryan Fisher and Reese Travis swiped the Ruf-Neks' oversized OU flag and planted it midfield. Al Baysinger rode the Sooner Schooner. And Stoops did something he hasn't done since. He cut his players loose for a couple of hours to hang out with their families at the Texas State Fair. "I had a burger there outside on the bench," Stoops said. "We sat on the bench for about two hours while the players tooled around. Sat there with our wives and coaching staff, and that was about it. We were off and back. Nobody really noticed us there."
The nation had taken notice after that. After a memorable run through "Red October," which also included victories over No. 2 Kansas State and No. 1 Nebraska, the Sooners knocked off Florida State to capture the school's seventh national championship. From there, OU became the dominant program in the Big 12. Since 2000, the Sooners have claimed seven conference titles — to just two for Texas — and captured nine of 13 games in the series going into 2012. "That game was a turning point for the whole program," OU safety Roy Williams said. "Changed everything."
Oklahoma 52 | Texas 13
With their flashy offense and even flashier coach, the Sooners flirted with greatness in 1971 and 1972 only to fall a game short of the national championship. Little did they know that in 1973 they were about to launch OU's second dynasty.
It's hard to believe now, but the Sooners entered the '73 season unsure of just how good they were. Gone were running backs Greg Pruitt, Joe Wylie, and Leon Crosswhite, who ushered in the wishbone era in Norman. Lightly recruited Steve Davis was a complete unknown at quarterback. And Barry Switzer was embarking on his first season as head coach.
Some pieces were already in place. The three Selmon brothers were about to start together for the first time on the defensive line. Joe Washington had shown flashes of brilliant running as a freshman the year before, and linebacker Rod Shoate had garnered All-America attention as a sophomore. But the voters were skeptical and in the preseason tabbed OU to finish fourth in the Big 8 Conference. The Daily Oklahoman's Bob Hurt wrote that if the Sooners didn't get past Baylor in the opener, they could easily head to conference play 1–3.
OU got past Baylor. But as the Sooners prepared for their second game at top-ranked USC, the NCAA slapped the Sooners with two years probation for recruiting violations, banning them from appearing on television in 1974 and 1975, and bowl games in 1973 and 1974. As OU traveled to Los Angeles, a cloud hung over the program. Some predicted that the Sooners would get run out of the Coliseum.
Instead, the opposite happened. The Sooners completely outplayed the defending national champions, despite numerous self-inflicted mistakes. OU fumbled on its first three possessions, and later handed the Trojans their only score with a fourth turnover. OU more than doubled USC in total offense but missed two critical field goals and had to settle for the 7–7 tie. "They had some of the most premier players on that freaking team, and they weren't able to do nothing against us," said Washington, referring to Pat Haden, Anthony Davis, and Lynn Swann, USC's star-studded triplets. "We didn't realize how good we were until the USC game. We should have beaten them 35–0. That game just solidified what kind of team we had." The Sooners couldn't wait for another shot on the national stage. They would get it two weeks later in the Cotton Bowl.
Opposite its Red River rivals, Texas entered the season with immense hype. Sports Illustrated branded the Longhorns preseason No. 1, and Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine projected the national championship would come down to the Horns and Notre Dame. But after hanging tough with USC on the road, the Sooners realized the best team in the country resided in Norman. It didn't take long for them to prove it.
After forcing Texas to punt, the Sooners quickly went to work. Washington sliced through a huge hole to the right 28 yards into UT territory on OU's first offensive snap. Five plays later, Switzer dialed up a halfback pass.
In August, Switzer had hired Jimmy Helms away from Texas to be on his staff. Helms brought with him a precious piece of inside information that the Longhorns overlooked in preparing for the game. After the Sooners went to the wishbone, Texas' secondary had been taught to key on OU's center. If the center showed run block, the defensive backs would fly up to the line of scrimmage. "Because of that edge, we knew they'd be susceptible to the play-action pass," Davis said.
With center Kyle Davis showing run, Davis flipped the ball to Washington, who had never thrown a pass in college. As the UT defenders pursued, Washington rose up and lobbed the ball 40 yards downfield to Tinker Owens, who was all alone. "It was the hardest catch I ever had to make," Owens said, "because there was nobody around." The trick play gave the Sooners an early 7–0 lead.
Texas hung around the first half with a pair of field goals. But like USC, the Longhorns failed to puncture OU's imposing front line defense. The Selmons — Lee Roy, Lucious, and Dewey — who together would finish with 17 tackles, plugged all holes up the middle, and Shoate ran down UT halfback Roosevelt Leaks whenever he tried to escape to the outside. "Once we stopped Roosevelt, it was pretty easygoing," said end Jimbo Elrod.
Excerpted from I Love Oklahoma, I Hate Texas by Jake Trotter. Copyright © 2012 Jake Trotter. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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