The Undefeated: The Oklahoma Sooners and the Greatest Winning Streak in College Football [NOOK Book]


For three perfect seasons (1954-1956), the Oklahoma Sooners won every football game they played - home or away - and over the course of five years they won 47 straight games. This awesome record was the product of a genius and masterful coach named Bud Wilkinson and the spirited young men he led. The Undefeated will detail all the thrilling action on the field during this record winning streak, but it will also reveal all the behind-the-scenes tumult and pressure swirling around it. Dent presents an absorbing ...
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The Undefeated: The Oklahoma Sooners and the Greatest Winning Streak in College Football

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For three perfect seasons (1954-1956), the Oklahoma Sooners won every football game they played - home or away - and over the course of five years they won 47 straight games. This awesome record was the product of a genius and masterful coach named Bud Wilkinson and the spirited young men he led. The Undefeated will detail all the thrilling action on the field during this record winning streak, but it will also reveal all the behind-the-scenes tumult and pressure swirling around it. Dent presents an absorbing character study of the brilliant, complex coach who engineered it all - Bud Wilkinson, the on-field genius whoses starched-shirt public persona hid a man of many secrets and an in-depth look at a state and its people still suffering from a Depression hangover and an identity crisis, who took up the Sooners football banner almost as a religious cause. Through it all, the young men who accomplished this amazing feat shine in vivid life.

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Editorial Reviews

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The 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)

Sports Illustrated
Wilkinson was certainly a winner. So is this book.
Wall Street Journal
His Sooners come across as regular guys, 'humbled by droughts, tornadoes, Indian raids, floods, and the Dust Bowl.'
College and Pro Football Newsweekly
an absorbing character study of the young men who produced college football's most amazing winning streak.
Berry Tramel
The Undefeated...ranks with George Lynn Cross' President's Can't Punt and Barry Switzer's Bootlegger's Boy as the best books about the Sooner football phenomenon. —The Daily Oklahoman
Berry Tramel
...ranks with Cross' PRESIDENT'S CAN'T PUNT and Switzer's BOOTLEGGER'S BOY as the best books about the Sooner football phenomenon. —The Daily Oklahoman
Publishers Weekly
The 1954-1956 University of Oklahoma Sooners played heroic, near-perfect football under the Patton-like command of Bud Wilkinson, leaving a towering legacy of college football records: 47 consecutive wins in Division I. It remains, almost 50 years later, "the greatest winning streak in college football history." The characters and the high (and sometimes low, and comic) moments of "the streak" bear recounting in this era of evanescent sports records. Dent (The Junction Boys) conveys different aspects of his story unevenly, but his earnest documentation of the players on their own heartland turf will make the book of interest to nonfans. The Sooners' three seasons unwind in a leisurely haze, a game-film of an America, a brand of college life, and a kind of player that no longer exist. The complex, handsome and stoic Wilkinson, who makes Tom Landry seem like a chorus line director, was known (without irony) by the players and campus officials as "Great White Father," ostensibly because of his regal head of silver hair. Perhaps the backroom reverence for Wilkinson, handed down across the High Plains generations, stops Dent from criticizing Wilkinson's womanizing and blatant recruiting corruption. For Dent and the Sooners, what matters is that Wilkinson's winning teams drew the entire region out of its dust-bowl Okie funk into the bright orbit of national sports respectability. His own booster instincts working against his terse style, Dent barely avoids falling into overwrought nostalgia peddling, and offers college football purists a look straight back at an astounding moment in a bygone era and a good primary-source record of "the streak." 16 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Sept. 7)Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Led by enigmatic coach Bud Wilkinson, the Oklahoma Sooner football team won 94 games between 1948 and 1957, with winning streaks of 31 and 47 games. The team's record of 47 straight victories still stands. According to Dent, to achieve this feat today would require a team to compile four consecutive undefeated seasons, plus bowl games, an accomplishment that appears virtually impossible. Dent, an award-winning journalist and author of the New York Times best seller The Junction Boys, effectively captures the character of Wilkinson and describes how the team evoked the passion of a state that was still haunted by the Depression. Complete with a 16-page black-and-white photo insert, plus bibliography, this publication will be appreciated by college gridiron aficionados. Recommended. Larry R. Little, Penticton P.L., BC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rousing look at the colorful coach and players who achieved an amazing 47-game winning streak for the Oklahoma Sooners. In order to have present-day readers understand the true significance of the Sooners, Texas journalist Dent (The Junction Boys, 1999) gives helpful background information about the state where "Big Oil was a dream. But football was a religion." Oklahomans, still suffering from effects of the Great Depression, also had to contend with the popular perception (perpetuated by Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath) of destitution and dispossession. In an attempt to fight the stereotypic Okie image, the University of Oklahoma decided to answer with a winning football team. And win they did. With coach Bud Wilkinson at the helm, from the second game of the 1948 season to the eighth game of the 1957 season, the Sooners compiled a staggering 94-4-2 record. They had winning streaks of 31 games and the fabled 47, which ended painfully at the hands of archrival Notre Dame. Dent avoids the potentially dry, statistical tone and instead provides atmosphere with snappy dialogue and by fleshing out the team, foibles and all. Wilkinson (dubbed "The Great White Father") believed in a strong team of 22 "lean, fast, hard-boned country boys," including a good group of second stringers. Besides their play on the field, the team, including the coach, played hard off of it, with women and drinking figuring prominently. Some players stand out, particularly quarterback Jimmy Harris, 1952 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Vessels, Gomer Jones, and the first black player, Prentice Gautt, whose personal struggles to be accepted by his teammates and his treatment under the Jim Crow laws provide some of the morepoignant moments here. An epilogue reveals how many of the key people of those teams led, and still lead, productive, successful lives. Like eavesdropping on the team bus, sports enthusiasts will enjoy reliving a time when college football was top national news. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429972864
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 469,880
  • File size: 3 MB

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi
Foreword xv
1. Tightwire 1
2. Dust Bowl 11
3. The Curse 21
4. Ground Zero 31
5. Raw Hide 47
6. Great White Father 59
7. Young Gun 77
8. Pipeline 91
9. Buckaroo 111
10. Herman 129
11. Fat Cats 147
12. Crossroads 157
13. Fast Track 165
14. On the Brink 179
15. Dynasty 191
16. Notre Dame 205
17. Jagged Edge 217
18. One for Billy 231
19. Oklahoma Rain 249
20. Beyond the Streak 267
Epilogue 281
Bibliography 287
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Interviews & Essays

Author Essay
The Undefeated is more than a football book. It is the story of passion, resiliency, and love. Mostly, it is the saga of how a state rebounded from the horrific Dust Bowl by casting its faith with the Oklahoma Sooners.

When the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents met at the end of the World War II, they tackled an image crisis that was proportionate to the Black Blizzards that once thundered across the south plains, blanketing the state in dust. They sought a blueprint that would erase the Okie image as portrayed by John Steinbeck in his classic, The Grapes of Wrath. Oklahomans were considered dirty and destitute, and more than a million residents left the state in the 1930s, hoping to evade the impoverished conditions. Long before the Oklahoma Sooners came to dominate the landscape, the land itself suffered through droughts, floods and agrarian disasters. The thirties seemed to last forever as the soil dried up and blew away. Oklahoma became a metaphor for the Great Depression.

So, after the war, the university official went to work trying to boost morale and to erase this stigma, deciding to employ football as their vehicle. Little did they realize they would also establish the gold standard in college football that still exists today. Some 44 years have passed since Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak, engineered by coach Bud Wilkinson, went into the books.

Belief was everything in the era of The Undefeated. On a frigid afternoon in Boulder in 1956, with Oklahoma trailing Colorado 19-6 at halftime, the Sooners' faith was wavering. That is when Wilkinson worked his magic.

"The players before you created the great tradition of Oklahoma," he told the players. "They wore those jerseys. You don't deserve to wear them. Take those jerseys off."

For the next 20 minutes, the Sooners stood shivering in a small, dark Quonset hut in that Colorado icebox. Finally, Wilkinson returned minutes before the second-half kickoff and said, "Nobody in this stadium believes you can win this game. Except me."

Sans jerseys, the Sooners roared down the tunnel, and rumbled from behind in the second half to win 27-19.

Once when it appeared the Sooners were not taking the Texas Longhorns seriously, Wilkinson walked into the locker room minutes before kickoff at the Cotton Bowl and said, "Gentlemen, I think that you know that you didn't practice well this week. But it is no disgrace to lose to a team such as Texas. Even so, when they beat you, just remember that you are still Oklahoma and keep your head held high."

The referee had no more than stuck his head through the locker room door minutes later to fetch the Sooners for kickoff when he was almost stampeded. What ensued was a mad calf scramble down the long concrete tunnel of the Cotton Bowl, steel-tipped cleats throwing sparks and players knocking into each other, the Sooners almost running up the backs of the Longhorns, who had paused at the edge of the field, waiting for their band to strike up the school song. The fired-up Sooners won that day, 45-0.

Wilkinson also had a few surprises up his sleeve. He was different, almost breezy, as he strolled into the quarterbacks' meeting on the morning of the biggest game of the year, a glorious and sunny October afternoon in 1956 in South Bend.

He smiled at quarterback Jimmy Harris and said, "We are going to beat the hell out of these guys today." Wilkinson studied the quarterback's expression of disbelief before he turned and walked through the door. That day, the coach's prediction was on the mark as Oklahoma won 40-0 over Notre Dame, representing his first and only victory over the Fighting Irish.

It seemed that the world had come to end an end when Notre Dame ended the streak a year later, on November 16, 1957, as Dick Lynch scored the winning touchdown from the three-yard line with less than four minutes to play. Sooner fans sat silently in their seats for more than 30 minutes after the final gun, believing the Sooners would somehow come back onto the field and reverse the outcome.

Meanwhile, Wilkinson was telling his players, "Men, the only people who never lose are the ones who never play the game." Later, as Wilkinson trekked 20 blocks to his home, he was passed by a busload of Notre Dame players who yelled, "Happy Homecoming, Y'all" and "Catholics are God." But Wilkinson never looked up. Head down, hat pulled low against the rain, his mind had already traveled above the storm, his focus now shifting to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the next opponent on the Sooners' schedule.

Life would go on for one of the winningest football programs in the history of college football. (Jim Dent)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2012

    Great book

    Kept this bama fan entertained for hours

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012


    King of college football!

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