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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In 1950, Oklahoma University President George Cross remarked, "Sir, I would like to build a university the football team can be proud of." At that time, having suffered through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the unflattering depiction of "Okies" in The Grapes of Wrath, the state of Oklahoma was in desperate need of a pick-me-up. In The Undefeated, bestselling author and Oklahoma resident Jim Dent recounts how the 1954-56 Sooners reinvigorated the pride of a university and a state by winning every game they played.
Long before Barry Switzer starting bringing home national championships for OU, coach Bud Wilkinson molded a gang of farmhands into the most feared college team in the nation. In 1947 Wilkinson, nicknamed the Great White Father for his shock of white hair and dignified personality, took over the football team at the tender age of 31. Under Wilkinson the Sooners posted winning streaks of 31 and 47 games, going 94-4-2 during an incredible 100-game stretch. The unmatched 47-game winning streak from '54-'56 was, paradoxically, a roller-coaster ride of blowouts and close calls. The pressures that were slowly building on the team inflated the streak like a taut balloon, ultimately popped by an act of student espionage from hated Notre Dame.
Through vivid anecdotes, Dent recounts Oklahoma teams that were hardworking, hard-partying, raw, sometimes divided but ultimately infectious. Quarterback Jimmy Harris never lost a game with the Sooners and was Wilkinson's best player. Dent deftly reveals the complicated personality of the Great White Father -- the handsome family man was a skirt-chaser on the sly, outfoxing his boys in the pursuit of stewardesses and chambermaids. His focus on OU football competed with a weakness for traveling and golf. The positive effect of his character on those he coached, however, is indisputable.
In bringing the midcentury Sooners to light, Dent shows that the more things change in college football, the more they stay the same. Despite the widespread poverty in Oklahoma, the pockets of prized recruits were regularly lined by wealthy alumni and oil tycoons. Writes Dent, "The red earth of Oklahoma and the sands of West Texas produced oil, scrubby crops, dust storms and football players -- not in any order. Big Oil was a dream. But football was religion." (Brenn Jones)