In OU head football coach Bud Wilkinson’s second season, 1948, the Sooners came within a three-point loss in their first game of likely winning the national championship. The next year, they made mincemeat of a schedule that included the nation’s 9th, 15th, and 20th-ranked teams. In a decision that helped create the “Eastern Press bias” belief held by generations of OU fans, the Big Red controversially finished second in the nation in the sportswriters’ Associated Press poll to Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish had defeated only one ranked team, #19 Michigan State. The AP rankings landed prior to the post-season bowl games. Notre Dame played no bowl game, while the Sooners routed ninth-ranked LSU, 35-0, before 82,000 Sugar Bowl fans in their first game of the 1950s.
Wilkinson had the Sooners ready to avenge their perceived slight that autumn. They extended the greatest winning streak since World War I to 31 straight victories, while winning their first national championship. Two years later, Billy Vessels of Cleveland, Oklahoma won the program’s first Heisman Trophy as college football’s greatest player. The Sooners won their second and third national championships in 1955 and 1956. From 1953-1957, OU accomplished one of the great feats in the history of sports. They won 47 straight games. That remains the longest college football winning streak ever and is unlikely to be matched.
Forbidden cash payments to players, the first of the program’s series of probations for rules violations, and school president George Lynn Cross’s own budgetary appeal to OU regents in 1951 for the funds “to build a University of which the football team could be proud” also occurred. They did so, however, within the realm of a violent sport played by tough men, many of them battle-hardened World War II veterans, upon which rested vast amounts of revenue and prestige for schools, fans, and entire states alike. School probation and budget challenges failed to eclipse the revered mystique that Bud Wilkinson and his boys, within one decade, had carved out of ashes and disappointment.
When Wilkinson resigned in 1964 to run for the United States Senate, the hallowed tradition sought by Noble and Cross remained behind at Owen Field, draped in crimson and cream. By then, anyone thinking to hurl the “Okie” pejorative, likely did not do so on a football field with the Oklahoma Sooners.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
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