A hundred plays in a hundred-plus degrees

In the breathless heat of Los Angeles' Coliseum, Oklahoma held on to the ball almost twice as long as USC and soundly thrashed the country's top-ranked team
October 06, 1963

Long after the last reveling fan from Oklahoma had fallen out of the night, the echoes of Boomer Sooner were still glancing off the hills around Los Angeles. Coach Bud Wilkinson's University of Oklahoma Sooners had beaten Southern California, the defending national champion, 17-12 in a magnificent college football game. And so many whooping Okies—more than 5,000—had flooded in to see it that stunned Californians might have thought the Dust Bowl refugees were back to pick oranges again. Oklahomans had been singing Boomer Sooner since Thursday in the Los Angeles jazz pits, in the strip joints and in the steak houses. By Saturday night their joy was almost boundless. Oklahoma had climbed back on top, and it had climbed there over the gallant but thoroughly defeated USC Trojans.

Admittedly, Oklahomans have had plenty of football teams to sing about in the past, but they have not had many victories as sweet or as important as the one over USC. On the fiery grid of the Memorial Coliseum—the heat on field got up to 118°—Bud Wilkinson's deep, brutal Sooners beat the Trojans man for man. Hammeringaway in Wilkinson's ball-control fashion, they provided the still-fresh 1963 season with a most astonishing statistic. On a day when the Coliseum floor scarcely gave off a wisp of air to breathe, when special bamboo canopies had been built to shade the players on the sidelines and men sat in the press box without shirts, the Sooners ran 100 plays.

One hundred plays for 100 degrees may be a record that even Hollywood cannot top, and it tells the story of the game. USC, always desperate to get the ball from the ground-swallowing, clock-destroying Sooners, got off only 57 plays by comparison. For flurries of seven and eight minutes at a time the Trojans never touched the ball. People like Oklahoma's Jim Grisham, the country's best fullback, and swift Joe Don Looney, the halfback, ripped off quick, flashy gains as two Oklahoma lines ran straight at the lighter, stunting Trojans. In so doing, Oklahoma plowed up 307 yards rushing against a team that had been proud of its defense.

Oklahoma was wonderfully prepared for USC Coach John McKay's revolutionary shifting T that caught so many teams unaware a year ago. Wilkinson solved the formation by sending a linebacker with USC's man in motion, by forcing Southern Cal's fast backs inside with superb tackle play by Ralph Neely and George Stokes and by gambling with man-for-man pass coverage on Hal Bed-sole and Willie Brown. Guessing right almost every time and agitating Bedsole into dropping the only three passes he touched, Oklahoma gave USC's fine quarterback, Pete Beathard, the short passes but only one long throw. Once in the second quarter, when USC threatened to get back from a 14-6 deficit, Oklahoma "rained" on Beathard.

Slyly, Oklahoma had held off the rush, letting just three linemen charge, and Beathard was taking advantage of this. But now the Sooners stormed six men through, and Beathard not only was swarmed under for a 21-yard loss but fumbled and lost the ball. The momentum of this big play carried Oklahoma to a 17-6 half-time lead.

Oklahoma had more than momentum. It had more tricks than any Wilkinson team had ever displayed. The old quarterback option plays were back and sophomore Mike Ringer and junior Bob Page ran them in the best traditions of such past masters as Jack Mitchell, Darrell Royal and Eddie Crowder. There was a yawning double reverse that resulted in a beautiful 19-yard touchdown by Looney; a double-reverse pass; a halfback pass by left-handed passer Lance Rentzel; a fake field goal; the old no-huddle fast break; the pitchout to a trailing end; the blind pitchout. They all worked.

Only one Wilkinson trick failed—and it cost Oklahoma another touchdown. The Sooners took the second-half kickoff and, with Grisham and Looney bulling and squirting for repetitious chunks of yardage, kept possession for eight minutes, driving 79 yards to USC's one-yard line. It seemed that the only way USC would ever get its hands on a football again would be to buy one. But on the edge of the Trojan goal, as Page called signals, an Oklahoma end suddenly raised up, stepped backward and said, "Wait a minute. Check." The Sooners snapped the ball on "check," and Grisham crossed the goal line. That was the trick. The trouble was that the other Oklahoma end also raised up on the play. Oklahoma rightfully was penalized for illegal motion.

Oklahoma did not need to resort to such devious methods. It had too much else. Too much Looney. Too much Grisham. Too much up front. "They block and tackle. That's what they have best," said John McKay, a gracious loser.

No quitters, the Trojans

The blockers and tacklers were surprised that the Trojans hung on so gamely. "We took it to 'em," said Grisham, "but they stuck with us." Said Looney: "This was no upset." McKay could not have agreed more. "There are 50 good college teams in this country, and any of them is capable of beating the others on a given day," he said.

If it seemed that Bud Wilkinson had poured all of his knowledge into this one game, that was because Oklahoma had been struggling to regain a position so lofty it may never again be attained by any team or coach. When Wilkinson's teams collapsed in 1960 (3-6-1) and again in 1961 (5-5), the crash was loud. Wilkinson had won three national championships, 13 straight conference championships, had produced 26 different All-America players, had won 47 straight games and had fielded five perfect-record (10-0) teams. He had brought to his profession a new image of a coach, an organization man, a diplomat. He had reversed the trend from size to speed. Tactically, he gave the modern game the 5-4 Oklahoma defense, varied split T line spacing, the simple checkoff play, the hip handoff, the fullback off-tackle series and many other refinements. And he smiled an awful lot.

Last week in the hours preceding the USC game, Wilkinson, 47 and white-haired, was still smiling, still a diplomat and, as he would later prove, still quite a football coach. When the Oklahoma squad arrived on Thursday in record 109° heat, Wilkinson quickly canceled a scheduled workout in the Rose Bowl. He further decided against a night workout, though USC was working at night. "It's better to let them romp around on the hotel lawn and not break our routine with a night workout," Wilkinson said. "I want them to eat when they're accustomed to eating."

Nor would Oklahoma's eating schedule be broken the second day. The temperature was one degree cooler, 108°, when Wilkinson took his team to the Coliseum for a first look and an absurdly short 7-minute drill. But Oklahoma's spare time was not wasted. Wilkinson sat on a sofa at Pasadena's Huntington-Sheraton Hotel and moved toy players around on a table for his quarterbacks. Line Coach Gomer Jones met repeatedly with his linebackers. Other assistants showed films of OU players running the USC offense, while Oklahoma's players sat attentively and shouted, "I've got him," "Direction," "East," "Cover," "West, West."

Said Wilkinson, "We know them pretty well, I think. We both know each other. It should come down to the players' talents and the breaks. I only know that we're going to have a lot of people where they plan to be."

Oklahomans have been worried that Wilkinson will not be at OU much longer. The oldest rumors in the state concern his interest in politics. Sidestepping all questions with the aplomb of his halfback, Joe Don Looney, Wilkinson would only say, "I'm not tired of coaching. Unfortunately," he added, "if you want to keep coaching, you have to win and the pressure is much greater when you're winning. Losing is not enjoyable, but it's easy. Most of the time there is nothing you can do about it. You are generally outmaterialed. I'm very surprised that we won as long as we did. There were three reasons for our decline. First, there was a down cycle of Oklahoma high school talent. Our athletes are pretty local. They nearly always come from a 300-mile radius of the campus, and Oklahoma has only 185 high schools, compared to Texas' 936. And since most of our best athletes have been Oklahoma boys (18 of 26 All-Americas), the down cycle hurt. We went into Texas and got more boys than usual for a while there, but, with few exceptions, we don't get the most-wanted Texas boys. Second, I believe there was an erosion of dedication—a boredom with winning, perhaps—on the part of all of us. The players, the fans—the summer jobs sort of fell off—and maybe we didn't coach as well, either. Finally, the conference grew stronger at the bottom.

"Today, we're in the process of rebuilding. We've got some fine young players, and, potentially, two or three of them can be as good at their positions as any we've ever had. Next year we'll have almost everyone back (only six of the best 33 are seniors). I believe we're coming back." Wilkinson, a nifty political dodger, seems to have a point there.

PHOTOAFTER TRICKY DOUBLE REVERSE, OKLAHOMA'S JOE DON LOONEY CUTS 19 YARDS THROUGH SCATTERED USC DEFENSE TO TOUCHDOWN

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)