ENID, Okla. —
Thursday will mark only the third time Oklahoma and Alabama have played in a bowl game.
But both previous games — a 17-0 Alabama win in the 1963 Orange Bowl and a 24-24 tie in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl have historical significance.
The latter was the coming out party for the OU wishbone, which rolled up 349 yards on the ground against the Tide offense.
Future All-American Greg Pruitt had touchdown runs of 58 and 25 yards, signaling what was ahead for the future as he set a school record 1,760 yards the next season.
Hennessey’s Leon Crosswhite had 111 yards on 20 carries to lead the Sooner attack that night.
Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who was 6-5-1 that season, was impressed enough that the Tide went to the wishbone the next season when they were 11-1, losing only to national champion Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
The 1963 game might be known more for political reasons.
President John F. Kennedy, who spent part of the winter in Florida, attended the game and visited the Sooners dressing room, accompanied by OU coach Bud Wilkinson. Wilkinson was the chairman of Kennedy’s President’s Council on Physical Fitness.
Ex-Sooner Lance Rentzel, in his book “When All The Laughter Died In Sorrow,’’ wrote while Kennedy was visiting the Sooners, teammate John Flynn’s “retching supplied a grotesque background to this moment,’’ in an adjoining bathroom. Flynn, according to Rentzel, had gone out on the town the night before.
The late Harold Keith, in his book “Forty-Seven Straight,’’ wrote how Kennedy “was wanting to see how his physical fitness man was keeping his own men in shape.’’ He joked with lineman Larry Vermillion, who had a slight paunch.’’
The Kennedys — John and wife Jackie — rose to their feet when Allen Bumgardner caught a 56-yard pass from Ronny Fletcher inside the Alabama 10.
“Big day for me,’’ Fletcher was quoted by Keith.
The Miami Herald reported that was the only time Kennedy jumped to his feet. The story said Kennedy slumped noticeably when OU fumbled the ball away.
But that was overshadowed by the death that day of powerful Oklahoma Senator Robert S. Kerr.
Oklahoma governor J. Howard Edmondson, who had the power of appointing Kerr’s successor, was at the game leaving Lt. Gov. George Nigh as the acting governor back home. Nigh, legally could have appointed a successor.
Nigh had been upset when he was told there was no room on Edmondson’s plane for him to go to the game after he asked to go. Nigh, to his credit, withstood pressure of naming a successor, but Edmondson would still hurry home — even after the plane had engine problems in Alabama.
How the history of Oklahoma would have changed if Nigh was at the game and there was a different acting governor.
Wilkinson, ironically, would resign after the next season, to run for that Senate seat.
Of course, there was some football history to come out of it, too. Future Dallas Cowboys star Lee Roy Jordan had 33 tackles as Wilkinson lost for only a second time in a bowl game — the first being to Bryant’s 1950 Kentucky team, in the Sugar Bowl.
Tide sophomore quarterback Joe Namath hit nine of 17 passes for 86 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown strike to Richard Williamson, which gave Alabama 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Six years later in the same stadium, Namath led the New York Jets to a shocking 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.