One day in September I was matched with Jackie Pung in the Ardmore, Oklahoma Women's Open Golf Tournament. Jackie is a wonderful pro—the kind who figures to beat you every time out. She and I were the halfway leaders and, going into the traditionally critical third round, I had her by one stroke. We drew a large gallery. The afternoon was scorching. I wasn't.
Normally, I don't have long-game troubles, but she was maintaining such tough pressure on every hole, I knotted and wasn't getting anything off the tee. The cup began to look as big as Sir Gordon Richard's monocle and, worse yet, I started thinking about a football game being played 85 miles up the road at Norman.
Going out for fairway shots and in between holes, there was a guy in our gallery with a portable radio, keeping the Oklahoma-Texas Christian game muffled to his ear. I would ask him every so often what was happening and it seemed that "my" team, Oklahoma, also was having a nowhere afternoon. The Sooners were being outplayed by a highly inspired opponent. So was I. But that isn't why Oklahoma was my team. Bud Wilkinson is their coach; that's why. Bud has been a special hero of mine for 25 years—ever since he was 13 and I was 11 and we lived on the same block in south Minneapolis and played on the same football team.
November 8, 1954
Anyway, I chipped short and went down a stroke to Jackie Pung at Ardmore, just as the first half ended with the Sooners behind 0-2 at Norman. It was 7-9 after three quarters; then it got worse. Oklahoma trailed 7-16 in the fourth quarter and I was three down to Jackie. Somehow, Wilkinson and Berg just had to rally.
An almost storybook finish unfolded after all. Texas Christian slowly sunk into the west and Oklahoma biffed and bammed to win 21-16. And Miss Pung finally weakened too. By weakened, I mean she probably didn't have enough strength to do 50 push-ups after coming in four under par, beating me by five strokes.
When everybody had deserted the course for the day, though, I began to think about the terrific determination that had made Bud Wilkinson a great athlete back home; the same determination he now quietly shovels into the Sooners to make them the nation's top collegiate football team. I went back out to the practice tee. I finally discovered my stance had been too wide during the afternoon and I'd been pushing the ball. I got my feet in a closer box alignment and began to get a decent coil into my backswing. The ball began to ride 25 and 50 yards more on the drive. I relaxed again.
In the next day's final round, I went under par and won the tournament, one-up over Jackie. Wilkinson and Berg had come through okay—just like winning a big one again for the old "50th-Street Tigers."
THE WORST ARGUERS
The Tigers were my team when we were kids. I played quarterback, Bud Wilkinson was right tackle, his older brother Bill was left tackle, and that's where my intelligent quarterbacking came in. Bud was the best team-player we had until he and Bill started to argue. They were the best, or maybe the worst, arguers I ever saw because every time they started in, words led to knuckles. And when Bill and Bud had a fist fight, everybody stopped everything to watch. They had nothing but classic battles. The Tigers lost a few crucial ones that way: games called on account of the Wilkinson brothers. Therefore, as quarterback, I kept Bud and Bill separated by three big boys in the line, which cut down a lot on games lost.
The "50th-Street Tigers" competed in everything from kick the can to bobsledding all year long. In hockey, I was a forward, Bud was goalie. In baseball, I was an outfielder, Bud pitched (and argued with his catcher, one William Wilkinson). In football, I called the plays, and that's where Bud really learned the game. The huddle conversation would sound something like this:
Berg—"Roger and Stanley go out for a long pass. John, you take out that big guy with the green sweater. Okay, now, Boots, you hike the ball back to Marty when I say '22.' Marty fakes a long pass, see, and heaves me a lateral instead and I'll go through right tackle. We need the yards. Remember, you guys. '22.' "
Wilkinson—"Are you coming through me again?"
Berg—"That's what I said."
Wilkinson—"What's the big idea? You been carrying the ball off right tackle all afternoon. Aren't you bright enough to go someplace else for once?"
Berg—"Now look, Bud. You just shove your man out of the way and lemme through."
Wilkinson—(nothing for Berg but a nasty look).
But time after time, he would open those wide holes. He blocked hard and consistently gave me the safest running room on the field. I ran where it was padded the softest and that was always the path behind Bud. A couple of years ago, I visited him at Norman and he drove me out to watch the Sooners practice at Owen Field. He gathered them around and said:
"This is the kind old lady who taught me how to play football. She did it merely by running right-tackle slants so often I had to learn to block opponents to keep her from trampling me."
Most of the Tigers, 14 of us, lived on one block of Colfax Avenue South, between 50th and 51st streets, in Minneapolis. I was the only girl and I knocked the stuffings out of any kid who said I couldn't play. (I was the one who lived at the corner of 50th, which is why we weren't called the "Colfax Tigers.") This must sound as though we were being raised in the midst of an unshaven, slouch-cap, slum area. Colfax South actually was pretty fashionable.
A COMPETITIVE STREET
We all came from a well-to-do environment and a heavy majority of the Tigers now are prosperous business and professional men. Bud never had to worry. There was a substantial real-estate business, his just for the growing up and inheriting, no matter how he played. But, I don't know, every once in a while there seems to be a neighborhood street somewhere which houses a fiercely eager bunch of youngsters, much more highly competitive than youngsters on other streets around them—because of a lot of sociological reasons, I guess. Our one block was like that. The Tigers grew up together, well-mannered and smart, extremely robust and full of rivalry. And Bud Wilkinson was always right in the midst of it. He was fast, strong, an excellent student and almost passionately determined to win at anything.
"Try, try, try," he would say, when another team was giving us a tremendous struggle. It was the kind of determination you would write off as pure Horatio Armstrong Merriwellism if you didn't know Bud. And he used to say it time and again to keep us going. "Try, try, try." Slow, deliberate words. His face would be so serious. I won't ever forget that about him.
Charles P. Wilkinson, a widower during those years, did a fine job of raising his two boys in the spirit of our fierce eagerness, but there was one time I clearly remember him wondering just how far all that spirit could possibly go. It was a Saturday in 1930. I was 12. Bud was 14. I had grabbed a baseball bat and walked from my house at 5001 Colfax to the Wilkinson house at 5015 Colfax and had knocked there. Mr. Wilkinson answered.
"Can Billy and Bud come out and play?" I asked.
"Play?" Mr. Wilkinson stammered. He has always had a lot of charm and poise. This seemed to shock him. "Young lady, don't you know what time it is?"
"Yes sir," I said. "A little after nine."
"At night!" he said.
"It's pitch-black dark outside."
"Aren't you aware of the fact that you have been playing baseball with my sons for some ten hours already today and now it is night?"
THE RECORD BREAKER
Mr. Wilkinson still kids me about that. I guess the good old "50th-Street Tigers" never did know when to quit.
A number of the boys became big high school football stars and Bud went off to Shattuck Military Academy where he set scholastic and athletic records that have stood for 20 years. Then he went to the University of Minnesota, majoring in English, playing goalie on the hockey team, captaining the golf team and lettering three years in football. He would run by the long, lonely hour in those days, building his endurance in dashes and wind sprints to improve himself in everything. For instance, he learned to push himself hardest when he was fatigued—for the sheer sake of determination—a major thing he has trained his football teams to do in recent years.
Not many people ever knew the most important story of Bud Wilkinson at Minnesota. He was 20 when he was graduated, but he already had unceremoniously given up more reward than most of us can achieve in any similar period of time.
He was a cinch to be an All-America guard in 1936, his last year of football. Both he and Ed Widseth, the big tough tackle, had been most outstanding on Bernie Bierman's all-time greatest line for two years. But Coach Bier-man had a backfield problem in 1936 and was in desperate need of a fast, strong, clever combination man, a signal-calling blocking back. So Bud didn't even consider his personal glory for a minute. He volunteered to come out of the forward wall, giving up his only chance of becoming All-America, to take over a new position for the sake of the team. He called the plays that year, and Minnesota drove with power sweeps and short-side reverses to a National Football Championship. Still, his backfield work was so polished he went on to quarterback the College All-Stars to their upset victory over Green Bay in 1937.
Furthermore, Widseth and Wilkinson had been elected co-captains for 1936, which was something Bud really deserved. But he gave that up, too. He learned that one of the other players was being dropped from the squad because of study troubles. Bud thought it all out, decided what was most important to him and quietly went to Coach Bierman—to suggest that the other boy be named co-captain with Widseth. He hoped it would be an exceptional incentive for the troubled player to settle down scholastically and hang on with the squad. That's just what happened. The other boy took Bud's place of honor and wound up as a great backfield star. Bud never talked about what he did.
A PENT-UP FIRE
Wilkinson the coach, 18 years later, is like Wilkinson the player, except the fire he had as a Tiger chokes off somewhere around his collar button now and slips out quietly. He never shouts at his players. He never berates anybody for a dumb play. But the fire gets all pent up in his insides. I know there are nights when he slips off by himself to the gymnasium to work out as hard as he possibly can, to exhaust himself so he can sleep.
In football, Bud is a positive thinker all the time. He never puts undue pressure on his players by telling them they're great. But he never lets them think they aren't better than the other guy. His main interest at the university is education, though, and he can't stand the idea of a boy coming to Oklahoma just to play football. His teams haven't lost a conference game since he took over as head coach in 1947 and his teams have won 10 for every one they've lost against all comers, which makes the alumni simply delighted. He has a contract running through 1962 on account of that. But Bud is doing things in his own way—insisting that his athletes maintain good marks and seeing that over 90 percent of them are graduated into fields primarily non-athletic. No other coach before him had that kind of success at Oklahoma. The alumni are happy with his educational ideas, too. He is a winning coach.
And I'm very happy I used to run through right tackle all the time. It would have been a shame if Bud Wilkinson had wound up as just another businessman.
COLFAX AVENUE SOUTH
W. 51ST STREET
THE HOME BLOCK AS IT LOOKS TODAY AND AS PATTY BERG REMEMBERS IT (CIRCA 1925-1930)
One child lived here but was too young.
Jackie and 3 sisters. He tried hard but wasn't too strong.
All I remember about Mr. Leach: he had white hair and a grand disposition. We tore up his yard a lot.
Martin played football and hockey at the U. of M. His wife loves golf.
Warren and Margerie. They were Gar Wood's nephew and niece.
Two daughters. They played with dolls.
John and Bobby. John became a doctor and went down on a ship during the war.
One boy; three girls. Morrie is a lawyer and a fine golfer now.
I lived here. Had two older sisters and would beat up my brother Herman.
Roger, Bob and Stanley.
Bob was an older boy. We always gave the Dameron shrubs a hard time.
Jan...She didn't play.
Boots became a star center and guard at Washburn High. Now an undertaker.
Bob was University of Minnesota halfback; now a doctor in L.A. Also there was Tippy and Peggy.
Bud and Bill...The best of friends now.
Their grandmother's house.
The kids who lived here played once in a while. We beat them most of the time.