The Day Woody Discovered the Sooners

September 8, 2017

“Columbus Day – Sept. 24, 1977 – The Day Woody Discovered the Sooners.” Half the state of Oklahoma plastered that bumper sticker on their vehicle at the beginning of the summer of 1977. I did, too, on my 1968 327 Chevy Malibu four barrel V-8. It was the summer before my senior year at OU and we didn’t have social media, cell phones, a thousand TV channels, and so many other entertainment options like we have now. Our school had won two national football championships in the previous three years, but we had never played the Ohio State Buckeyes, nor their legendary coach, Woody Hayes, though we were going to, in their house, on September 24th.

Uwe VonSchamann and "The Kick."

Looking back now, I can see why Woody told his team in the locker room before the game that they were upholding the honor not only of their team and school, but their entire conference against a team like us. Our coach, Barry Switzer, was a swashbuckling, riverboat gambler (figuratively and literally), whose father was murdered and whose mother committed suicide and died in his arms when he was seventeen. His New York Times best-selling autobiography would later be named Bootlegger’s Boy and he was a generation younger than old school Woody. I played basketball with most of the guys on our team and hung out with many of them. Most were good ole boys never meanin’ no harm, rakes and ramblers, many with funloving habits for which the chickens would come home to roost in later years, but I never heard of one of them who committed a mean spirited act or physically hurt anyone off the field. What acts they may have committed that today might be considered felonies, back then, as my Duncan friend, retired Judge Joe Enos, says, would have been considered pranks.

 

Anyhow, most of us had been looking forward to this game not just all summer, but the entire time we had been at OU. I don’t know if that is how it is now at the school, but that is how it was back then. And so twenty-two of us Delta Tau Delta fraternity boys convoyed north and east for the big game, my old Chevy Malibu in the vanguard. No offense to my friends from the North, but back then, nearly all of us at OU were actually from Oklahoma and very few of us were National Merit Scholars. Ohio was like a foreign country to us, especially when we sat down to a formal dinner with our Ohio State Delt “brothers” the Thursday night before the game and rather than welcoming us, they began to make fun of us, calling us hillbillies and hicks (Could it have been my $25 calfskin boots I bought at Draeger’s in Chelsea, Oklahoma, and which lasted me twenty years, through a few soles and heels?), making fun of how we talked, and shouting, “What the h---‘s a SOONAH!!” Not to mention their constant and loud boasts of how badly they were going to crush us on the football field.

 

OU Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims leaping over the Buckeyes.

This hospitable behavior continued the next day, so a bunch of us took off walking across Columbus to avoid a street brawl with our own fraternity brothers. Thinking in our blissful ignorance that Columbus was another modest little Elm- and Maple-bedecked college town like Norman—which was then maybe half the size of today’s clogged city—we were shocked to crest a hill on High Street and see skyscrapers arrayed before us. Turned out it was bigger than Oklahoma City, our idea of a really big city!

 

Unfortunately, when we returned to good old D-Tau-D, the wise guys—some of the same ones holding up cards numbered from 1-10 in front of their frat house, which they flashed like Olympic judges at each coed who passed—were still smarting off to us. Admittedly a bit overheated in the midst of a “spirited” pick up basketball game that evening between some of us and some of our venerable hosts, when one particularly irksome little peckerwood—who wasn’t in the game—shouted from the sidelines, “We gonna CRUSH you crackers tomorrow!” I finally asked him to put his money where his mouth was or shush up. “Well gosh, I don’t wanna bet!” he replied.

I guess I forgot the part where a few of us went to the OU team hotel Thursday afternoon to say hi to our good buddy, Sooner quarterback Dean Blevins. We didn’t find Dean, but—most of us being a big larger than average size—a bunch of (apparently inebriated) big shot Sooner boosters, poolside, asked us were we football players ready to beat the peewotten out of Woody and the Buckeyes and would we like to eat and drink on their tab. Full of school spirit, we decided not to offend them and said yes we would like that.

 

We finally caught up to Dean at the hotel Saturday morning just before the team got on the bus to head to the stadium. Right before we did, as we walked through the hotel bar toward the bus, we spotted a couple of OU’s assistant coaches downing beverages on the rocks that did not appear to be cokes. It was forty years ago, so maybe Gatorade was not as prevalent as nowadays. Anyhow, those fellows seemed tense and like they needed their own brand of energy drink. When we found Dean, wearing his white letter sweater, carrying his bag, and getting ready to step on the bus, I wished him good luck and he looked at me forlornly and said, “I probably won’t even get to play today.”

 

Back then, OU students got to the game WAY early and stayed until the end. As I said, we did not have all the fancy entertainment options and most of us had no fancy girls awaiting us. I was reminded in YouTubing the game this week that in addition to the other contraband we lugged into the game, nearly all of us had HORNS! Those long necked hard plastic sort of horns that everybody but the one blowing it gets sick of hearing real quick. I guess they didn’t have stadium rules against those back then, either, because we blew the doors off those things all day long. If you watch that game on YouTube, you will know I speak truth.

Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes, winner of two national championships.

That is the first time I was ever in a stadium that shook like an earthquake when the home crowd got fired up. Not just rumbled—shook. And that is what happened when their band came onto the field before the game and did that march where they dot the “I” on Ohio at the end. And did I mention it was THE nationally televised game of the week back when there was exactly one of those on Saturday, and they were ranked #3 in the country and we were ranked #4.

 

The sun never peaked out that day and it rained through a big part of the game and it was like no game I have ever seen before or since and it has been forty years. You could tell these people hated us for some reason, which we loved, especially when our team came out of the gate beating the stuffing out of them. Before you knew it, we were up 20-0!

 

But then our key skill players started going down with injuries, including Thomas Lott, perhaps the greatest running quarterback in OU history, fullback Kenny King, who would be an All-Pro with the Raiders for several years, and tailback Billy Sims, who won the Heisman Trophy the next year. And by the fourth quarter, these rude Yankees were up 28-20 on us!

Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, winner of three national championships as well as one Super Bowl as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Watching that game on YouTube brought back just a few memories. Ohio Stadium shaking the most it did all day when they got the lead in the second half and their band started cranking “Hang on Sloopy.” ABC play-by-play announcer Keith “Whoa Nelly!” Jackson. One of our band of Delt brothers (DeLozier, Miller, Gillum Sullivan, Dakil, Aust, Durrett, et al) arriving at the stadium just before kickoff after lodging at the Columbus jail the night before, when the arresting officer did not appreciate him identifying himself as Mr. “Boomer Sooner.”  Susie Ackerman Fuller, sweet and beautiful captain of our Pom squad. Sharon Jester Turney, another sweet (and funny) Pom girl who grew up on a ranch near Ardmore, then became the longtime CEO of Victoria’s Secret. If you watch the video of the game I’ve linked below, she is the blonde on the sidelines that the ABC cameraman seems to favor.

 

Mike Babb, greathearted fellow from Ada who recovered a crucial onside kick near the end of the game, then died during a minor operation just a couple years later. Sherwood Taylor, whose practice football helmet I somehow wound up with. Jay Jimerson, another of our three quarterbacks who played that day, who has been my Sunday School teacher for years. Barry Burget, stalwart defensive end who faithfully pursued the Lord in the same singles Sunday School as I for years, back when we were young, until the Lord had mercy and gave us both wonderful wives.

 

And what do you know, Dean Blevins, that other quarterback and long since a TV sportscasting star who was a third stringer that day, wound up pulling out some Sooner Magic with the deck stacked against us versus the Buckeyes like he did against Number One-ranked Nebraska the year before. And German-born field goal kicker Uwe VonSchamann, whom fame and legend never changed and who would always ask me when he walked into a Norman establishment, “Do you know if they have Deer Beer here?” Who else would have thought to LEAD 90,000 Ohio State fans as they screamed “BLOCK THAT KICK! BLOCK THAT KICK!” on the next-to-last play of the game when he was the fella getting ready to try a forty-one-yard field goal into the wind with six seconds left and us down by two points?

Quarterback Dean Blevins hands off to fullback Kenny King during the Sooners' climactic drive in the final minute against Ohio State.

Oh, that old ‘68 Malibu. What a hoss. It made it the entire seventeen-hour trip home to Norman, on just thirteen quarts of oil. I wheeled into the house parking lot and that Chevy’s work on earth was done. When it still sat there next spring, our House Treasurer Lee Symcox asked me would I take $40 for him just to haul it to the salvage yard?

 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he grew up to be CEO, President, Owner, etc. of First Fidelity Bank. And my banker, even though I don’t have a fraction of the dollars almost everyone else in this story now has. But he treats me like I do and he has me as a customer for life, whether he likes it or not.

 

So I don’t know how Baker, Lincoln, and the boys will do this Saturday in Columbus, but I’m guessing they watch what Barry, Uwe, Dean, and the boys did sometime before kickoff.  And you can, too, right here:

 

 

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