Remembering "The Kick": Why the 1977 Oklahoma-Ohio State showdown remains memorable four decades later
There will be a football game Saturday between Oklahoma and Ohio State. It won't be the first, and it likely won't be the last, but it will carry significance all its own.
In 1977 the third-ranked Sooners, led by an iconic and historic coach in Barry Switzer, traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to face the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and an icon in his own right, Woody Hayes. That Oklahoma team beat Ohio State thanks to one of the most memorable kicks in all of college football history, "The Kick."
Every Ohio State fan knows it. Every Oklahoma fan can tell you where they were when it sliced through that cold Ohio air on September 24, 1977. For the two people that lived it, this weekend's clash of titans will be nothing like the original.
That '77 game wasn't just a big game, it was the big game. Major TV deals being unheard of at the time, college football fans only got to enjoy one or two great games on any given weekend. The entire country had eyes fixated on Ohio Stadium in 1977; the Buckeyes were looking to protect their own and the Sooners were winning games left and right. On Saturday, the matchup won't even entice ESPN's College Gameday.
"I thought we were a pretty good team, healthy we were the best team," Switzer said of his Sooners. He said the Oklahoma squad entering Saturday's matchup doesn't hold a candle to his teams and, bulletin board material or not, he's right. Switzer's squad was 41-3-2 dating back nearly four years prior.
The '77 game started with a bang. Oklahoma rolled in with their high powered offense led by star running back Billy Sims and dual-threat quarterback Thomas Lott. The Sooners quickly built up a 20–0 lead; Switzer regrets it wasn't more.
"The one thing I remember most about the '77 game wasn't the kick, it was the fact Thomas Lott and Billy Sims got hurt when we're leading 20–0 and we're fixing to hang half-a-hundred on their ass," Switzer said in the type of bravado that one would expect from a head coach with seven national championship rings. "I regret that those guys got hurt because I promise you we're fixing to score 50 points."
Lott went down with a pulled hamstring and Sims a sprained ankle. Despite the early lead, Sooner faithful weren't comfortable.
Joe Foote remembers those nervous moments from a friend's home in Austin, Texas, where he watched every last second of the game.
"It was one of those games that was close the entire time," Foote said. "You felt that most of the time Ohio State had the momentum; never were Sooner fans feeling that they really had any breathing room in that game."
And to be fair, they didn't.
Oklahoma's offense, turning to true freshman Dean Blevins at quarterback, stalled and allowed the Buckeyes to rattle off a 28–0 run. The tide turned one more time with just under 90 ticks left on the game clock. An Ohio State fumble and a quick Oklahoma touchdown had the Sooners just two points away from tying the game.
Switzer went for it but, luckily for the Sooners, the play fell short.
"I often think about if we scored and made that two, we would have kicked off deep and it would have been 28-28," Switzer said. "I'm sure the game would have probably ended 28–28 in a tie, so us not making it probably won the game for us."
Of course, you know by now Switzer is talking about the onside kick that the Sooners recovered on the ensuing kickoff, the pass from Blevins to wide receiver Steve Rhodes and Uwe von Schamann's march onto the field.
Even more famous than the kick perhaps, was what ensued before the kick took place. Hayes took a timeout in an attempt to "ice the kicker" and the crowd at the Horseshoe burst out in a "block that kick" chant. Von Schamann joined them, directed them.
"I just thought what a clever thing to do," Foote remembers. "You're away and in a hostile crowd and they're trying to ice you before the kick and you're standing there probably shaking in your cleats and what a clever thing to do to try to get involved with that. It must have been very deflating for the Ohio State fans to see this guy they were trying to intimidate, really intimidating them by joining in that cheer."
That moment, through the television set a thousand miles away, is still one of Foote's favorite memories. Back on the field, Switzer was loving it all the same.
"I got a kick out of it," Switzer said with a laugh. "It relaxed him, he was having fun with it."
Switzer never doubted von Schamann for a moment.
"If we got the snap, the hold, the place and the kick away, he's going to make it," Switzer said. "He didn't miss. Forty-one (yards)? That's an extra point for him."
That moment, von Schamann's pure spontaneity and his jubilation, skipping around the field in one of the most pressure-packed moments a football player can be in, is something the Foote said he's never seen before. It's something he might not see again.
Foote plans to be at the game, watching from his seat in the newly-renovated south end zone. Switzer will be back in Norman for the big event too.
But both know, Saturday's game has nothing on "The Kick."
Derek Peterson is SI's campus correspondent for the University of Oklahoma. Follow him on Twitter.