At the half Terry Brennan said, "Just slant, gap and blow. Forget the two bad breaks and bear down for the next 30 minutes. Change the plays and keep mixing them up. This is the big half."
Seldom has advice been taken so well. The Notre Dame backs slanted through the Oklahoma line, the Notre Dame line chinked up the gaps tight. At the end of the big half, Notre Dame had won 7-0, ending Oklahoma's string of victories at 47 and its string of scoring games at 123, and blowing out all the candles on the state of Oklahoma's 50th birthday cake in one big puff.
One big play did it, with about four minutes left in the game. Bobby Williams, a lean, shock-haired youngster from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was the architect of defeat. After the game, a wide, thin grin splitting his gamin face, he said, "On the scoring play, they were in tight, real tight, waiting for me to give the ball to Pietrosante, or Nick the Greek God, as we call him. Well, I tossed out to Dick Lynch, faked to Nick into the line and it worked like a charm and there we had it."
It was not quite that simple. It started with a tremendous scouting job on Oklahoma by Notre Dame Assistant Coach Bernie Crimmins. Dick Lynch, who scored the winning touchdown, pinpointed that. Sitting relaxed on the training table in the Notre Dame dressing room while a trainer checked a cut over his left eye, he said, "It was tremendous. It was the most tremendous job of scouting I ever saw. We really had 'em tabbed."
November 25, 1957
Then the upset built all week on the Notre Dame campus. By proclamation of the student council, it was Beat Oklahoma Week. Students straggled across the campus through the rain and gathered 400 or 500 strong every day to watch the Irish practice and to cheer them. Spontaneous pep rallies broke out every day and the students sang the chant of the week over and over again: "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, Oklahoma, happy birthday to you." The team actually needed little emotional help from the student body; it had motive enough for a supreme effort in this game. Fresh in memory was last season's humiliating 40-0 whomping by Oklahoma, and even fresher was the memory of two defeats in the last two weeks. By the time the Fighting Irish lined up for the kickoff in Norman, they were as supercharged as a hydroplane engine.
"We knew we had to outhustle them to beat them," Pietrosante said after the game. "That's what we did. Oklahoma's a running team and they've got the fastest backs going, but we outhustled them."
The Irish had to roll with the Oklahoma punch in the first half. They could get only one first down in the first quarter, but they stopped Oklahoma when they had to.
The bad breaks Brennan had referred to came during this relatively ineffectual period for Notre Dame, but the irish accepted the bad breaks and fought back well enough to nullify them. Pat Doyle, a Notre Dame halfback, lost the ball piling into the line on the Notre Dame 34 and Oklahoma Guard Dick Corbitt pounced on it. But the Irish defense threw Oklahoma back five yards on the next three plays and forced a punt. As the Notre Dame attack began to lurch ahead in the second quarter, another break stalled it. From the Oklahoma 16, Notre Dame used a tricky fake place-kick pass to reach the Sooner six, but on the second play after this spectacular success, an Irish pass strayed into the hands of OU's David Baker, and the Sooners were put of trouble. By now, however, the tide of battle had shifted, and as the second half opened, Notre Dame appeared to be in clear control of the game. Brennan, thoroughly familiar with the tactics of his foe, made minor adjustments at the intermission and the Irish took over.
"We knew that Oklahoma might use an unbalanced line and flankers and even some single wing," Brennan said after the game. "But we knew too that whenever they had to move they went back to their regular split-T, balanced-line offense. So we didn't do anything too different on defense. We took our basic defense and adjusted it to fit. We played the gaps in their line to close up the splits between their linemen and we sent the linebackers in to put pressure on the quarterback a lot. We gave them the flat zone for passes that way, if they could take advantage of it, but we figured we could put on enough pressure so that they couldn't. They didn't use anything we weren't expecting."
As the Oklahoma attack stalled in the face of the intelligent, determined Notre Dame defense, the Notre Dame offense began to move the ball.
"Bernie Crimmins saw them play three games," Brennan said. "Then we exchanged three movies with them, so the whole coaching staff had a chance to look them over. We knew from what we saw and from last year, too, that we might have an opening for short passes against them. Then their linebackers were going with our quarterback and we used a play very much like a counter, where the right halfback, for instance, starts at the right guard, then slides over to the other side of the center and that worked pretty well. And Pietrosante went well on the shots up the middle."
Before the game, Brennan told Bobby Williams, his quarterback, "We won't win playing cautious football. We have to gamble and do things when they least expect them." Williams, who is as fond of gambling as a card-sharp on a river boat, took Brennan's advice wholeheartedly. He surprised Oklahoma, Brennan, the 62,000 people in the stands and the millions watching on television in the last two minutes of the game by trying two passes while Notre Dame was protecting its precious 7-0 lead.
"I wasn't too much surprised at the first pass," Brennan said. "That was a good call. He was gambling on catching them by surprise and picking up a first down and making sure we would have time to run out the clock. I was pretty mystified when Bobby threw on fourth down with 14 yards to go, but even that worked out all right. What happened was that Bobby looked over to the sidelines to see how many yards he had to go for a first and mistook the first pole on the chain for the second. He thought it was fourth and four, not fourth and 14. Bobby called a great game all the way, though. He called all the plays in our touchdown march and, now that it is over, I'll say I would have called the same play he called for the touchdown. I called the fake field goal we used early, but it didn't do much good, did it?"
The fake field goal ended as a pass and carried the ball down to the Oklahoma six, but Notre Dame could not score from there on that drive.
When Oklahoma took over possession of the ball after Williams' unsuccessful fourth-down pass, Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson sent in a third-string quarterback and several other players from his third and fourth units, somewhat to the surprise of the assembled multitude. After the game, he explained, "I thought they might do better. You need quickness at the end of the game. They did fine. I guess we never really had a chance to score during the whole game. They covered our receivers real well. We had time to pass, but we couldn't get anyone open. We played a fine game, but they played a better one."
Wilkinson, who usually allows reporters in his dressing room immediately after a game, kept them out for five minutes after this one. He talked to his team briefly: "You played a good game and I'm proud of all of you. We couldn't go on winning forever." But the youngsters sat in deep dejection and wept. Outside the dressing room, a restless, noisy crowd waited to cheer the discouraged team as it came out.
Inside, Bill Krisher, the tremendously muscled Oklahoma All-America guard candidate, sat red-eyed before his, locker. "They wanted to win more," he said sadly. "I guess last year's experience made a team out of them this year."
Dennit Morris, the Oklahoma fullback, agreed. "It's not the same team we played last year," he said. "This time they played as a team. They seemed more organized." Ken Northcutt, a guard from Texas who had sobbed loudly as he left the field, came out of the shower toweling himself. He walked over to Doyle Jennings and said, "You know, Doyle, it's like I always say: the party was fun while it lasted." He turned to a knot of newsmen and added, "I've seen all 47 of those victories. You can't win 'em all."
Wilkinson, seated on a black-covered training table, denied there was any relief in seeing the end of the winning streak. "No," he answered ruefully. "That's one question I can answer unequivocally."
The defeat, of course, came as a surprise to the Oklahoma players, none of whom had ever played in a losing game in college. "I thought we'd pull it out," said Northcutt. "We've been doing it a long time. You just don't give up." Bobby Boyd, a surprisingly small left half, with the flat, strong face of a fighter, grimaced with the pain of his injured ribs "I sure thought we'd come back," he said. "But they iust had more desire, I guess." Someone asked if next week would start a new winning streak, and Bob Harrison, giant junior center, boomed, "Dag betcha! You dag betcha!"
But Doyle Jennings, a stubby, compact starting tackle, summed up the dressing-room feeling best. "It's just like death," he said sorrowfully.
Across the stadium, Terry Brennan sat on a table in the hot, steamy Notre Dame dressing room and dragged deeply on a cigaret. A wide grin was a permanent fixture on a face as Irish as Paddy's pig. "It feels good to beat a good team," he said. "It makes it more satisfying. Today was the first time this season the team played 60 minutes of good football. It feels good."
He puffed on his cigaret again.
"All in all, we just played like hell for 60 minutes," he said, "even if we did play over our heads."
At the airport two hours later, the grin was still firmly stuck on Brennan's face. As the Irish players left chartered buses to board an airliner back to South Bend, Brennan said, "I'm just beginning to realize what's happened. It's just beginning to soak in. This is the highest point of my coaching career. I'm still dazed. The bigness of it is overwhelming. I'm still walking on air."
When the DC-6B landed in South Bend at 9:25 that night, some 3,000 people milled around the plane, cheering the team and keeping the battered players on board for 20 minutes. First off the plane were Al Ecuyer, Dick Prendergast and Bronko Nagurski, in order, and the crowd greeted them with successively louder cheers. Finally ushered into buses, the team reached the Notre Dame campus to be greeted by 4,000 students, the Notre Dame band, waving torches, and a bellowing singing of the Notre Dame Victory March. A big sign, illuminated by torches, read, "Sixty minutes of fight tops Sooners' might." The buses made the final half mile to the campus through packed-solid crowds, chanting, "Here come the Irish, here come the Irish." As the crowd grew, the chant changed into the Irish war hymn of the week, "Happy birthday, Oklahoma, happy birthday to you."
It was 11:30 Saturday night before Brennan got a chance to eat. By Sunday morning he had unwound enough to talk calmly, and he started preparation for Notre Dame's game Saturday with Iowa.
"I didn't sleep much last night," he said. "I was still unwinding and still playing the game over. It's wonderful. The big thing was that we had 11 boys out there who just wouldn't be beat. It wasn't anything else. It was just that they wouldn't be beat. This was a great win. I think it will make Notre Dame a better team. This will give the boys more confidence."
He was quiet a moment.
"You know, Pietrosante had a bad leg before the game," he said. "I checked with him on it this morning. I asked him how his legs were and he said, 'Coach, they're both dead. I can't even feel them. Monday morning I'm going to dive into the whirlpool head-first and stay there. But I sure do feel good.' You never would have guessed his legs bothered him during the game, though, would you?"
Russia's two sputniks collided in mid-air. The sun set in the east. Hitler was discovered alive in Washington, D.C. And, almost equally incredible, Oklahoma University lost a football game.
—John Cronley, Daily Oklahoman, Nov. 17.
End-of-game enthusiasm explained all. "We won this one for the Catholics in the state of Oklahoma."
—Nick Pietrosante, Notre Dame fullback.
Dark Monday in Norman was anticipated by Oklahoma Governor Raymond Gary, who soothingly proclaimed that day to be We're with You All the Way Day.
Father Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University, anticipated empty classrooms and declared Monday a student holiday.
After watching the upset on television, a mob of Notre Dame students raced over to the campus of St. Mary's College for girls. Though they could not enter the buildings, the girls could come out and there was dancing in the streets. There was dancing in Oklahoma City, too. Some 500 Oklahoma fans arrived for a postgame ball at the Golf and Country Club, were still admitted upon presentation of tickets labeled "Victory Dance."
Come back next Saturday, folks. That's when the new winning string starts."
—Jack Ogle, public address announcer at Oklahoma stadium.
Excited Associated Press reporter, nerves shattered by the result, wired his story from Norman: "Notre Dame, Nov. 16 (AP): Notre Dame defeated Oklahoma 7-0 today...."