ENID, Okla. —
Notre Dame brings back some bad memories for Oklahoma fans.
Notre Dame was the last team to beat OU before the Sooners’ 47-game winning streak, and the Irish snapped the Big Red’s streak 7-0 on Nov. 16, 1957, the 50th anniversary of Oklahoma’s statehood.
Looking at the history of the series also brings back memories of the ugliness of segregation.
John Lattner, Notre Dame’s 1953 Heisman Trophy winner, recalled in the book “Wake Up The Echoes,’’ how the Irish had to stay in a non-air conditioned hotel in Guthrie because coach Frank Leahy said the big hotels in Oklahoma City wouldn’t accommodate the Irish’s two African-American players.
“Well, you can imagine 35, 40 kids thinking this way,’’ Lattner said. “I don’t know if it was true or not. Leahy was a psychologist, and he would tell an untruth if necessary to motivate you. Here we were in this dinky hotel, getting madder every day, and right before the game, he tells us this.’’
The Irish won that day, 28-21.
Believe it. This was a year before Brown vs. Board of Education
In 1957, OU had to leave the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City, where it spent the night before home games, according to Dr. George Cross’ book “Presidents Can’t Punt,’’ because of protests from hotel patrons. That was the year Prentice Gautt broke the color barrier on the varsity.
Four years later, the Irish spent the night in Chickasha, “with red dust and an old, dumpy hotel,’’ said Monte Stickles in the “Wake Up The Echoes.’’
“We didn’t get treated very well,’’ Stickles said.
Stickles felt the animosity towards Catholics in Oklahoma.
In the book, Sticles remembers attending mass the morning of the game and having “these little Mexican kids just begging us to win so they wouldn’t have to take all that crap for so long. If we can beat Oklahoma, maybe that would make it easier for Catholics in the state.’’
The Irish pulled the upset 7-0 as future New York Giants defensive back Dick Lynch scored the game’s only touchdown on a 3-yard run with 3:50 left in the game. OU was shut out for the first time in 123 games and held to 98 yards rushing.
“Nobody left the stadium, they were so stunned,’’ Stickles was quoted in “Wake Up The Echoes.’’ “They couldn’t believe that we came down there and finally ended it all. The Oklahoma fans didn’t leave the stadium for some 20 minutes to a half-hour after the game.’’
Nick Pietrosante, who would later star for the Detroit Lions, was quoted after the game as saying “we did it for the Catholics of Oklahoma.’’
Cross wrote many state Catholics took a dim view of the remark, denying they had sought benefit of that kind.
In his book, Cross remembers the crowd rising and giving the Sooners a standing ovation.
But Cross writes of a letter in the Oklahoma City Times a few days later saying Wilkinson should be kicked upstairs to athletic director (he doubled as OU’s AD) and his day “has passed its zenith.’’
The week of the game, Sports Illustrated’s cover story was “Why Oklahoma Is Unbeat-able.’’ Thus OU was one of the first victims of the so-called Sports Illustrated jinx.
Notre Dame was the one black mark of Wilkinson’s career. He was 1-5 against the Irish, and 144-24-4 against everyone else. Yet, OU fans still can brag about the 40-0 whipping the Sooners put on the Irish in 1956.
The late broadcaster Lindsey Nelson wrote in his autobiography he had never seen a “better football game’’ than the Irish’s 27-21 win over the Sooners in 1952.
OU’s Billy Vessels, Cross wrote in his book, might have won the Heisman Trophy that day, running for 195 yards and three touchdowns.
Lattner was quoted in “Wake Up The Echoes,’’ as saying, “Probably if we had played them 10 times, they would have beaten us nine, but on that particular day we beat them.’’
On Notre Dame’s last trip to Norman in 1966, the upstart Sooners and No. 1 Irish were tied 0-0 after the first quarter, thanks to a Herculian effort by OU nose guard Granville Liggins.
Liggins re-injured an ankle in the second quarter. Notre Dame was up 38-0 after three quarters. Liggins only played 17 minutes, but made enough of an impression to be voted to Notre Dame’s all-opponent team.
Now, a personal note: My sister committed the ultimate sin in 1962 when she wore green to the OU-Notre Dame game in Norman, which the Sooners lost 13-7 after being held inside the 1-yard line on a late drive.
Maybe, that’s why she went to OSU.
It may be safe to say no OU fan will be wearing green today.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.