Having escorted his players to a shoot-'em-up movie and then packed them off to bed, each with an apple, Oklahoma's Barry Switzer sat in a Fort Worth lounge last Friday night commiserating with himself over his fate, which is to have a team that merely wins every game it plays instead of burying foes under an avalanche of touchdowns. The Sooners performed satisfactorily in stomping Oregon 62-7 and Pittsburgh 46-10, but it was a shame how they humiliated their fans in squeaking by Miami (Fla.) 20-17 and Colorado 21-20.
An elderly man approached Switzer's table. "I've been following OU football for 53 years," he said, grasping Switzer's hand in consoling fashion. "Don't let the criticism get to you."
"It's nice of you to say that, sir," said the coach, bravely keeping his chin up. Of Course, the fact that he had never been beaten in his 26-game head-coaching career helped bolster his sagging morale.
Oh my, yes, Oklahoma fans are hard to please. If da Vinci were their head artist, they would demand that the Mono Lisa's smile be changed to a toothy grin. If God were a Sooner, they would demand a five-day Creation. Take the previous Saturday, a home game against Colorado. Ahead by one point in the closing seconds, Oklahoma Quarterback Steve Davis, a licensed Baptist minister who flies an airplane to various towns to deliver his sermons, fell on the ball several times in a row to kill the clock. The home folks booed the Rev. Steve Davis.
Afterward, Assistant Coach Larry Lacewell met an annoyed woman fan who wanted to know why Davis had not tried to pass to get another touchdown.
"Madam," said Lacewell with a straight face, "we were trying to hold down the score."
Last Saturday Oklahoma once again managed to hold down the score. It was the annual Texas-Oklahoma game before the annual capacity crowd of 72,032 in Dallas' Cotton Bowl. Undefeated, fifth-ranked Texas went into the game leading the nation in rushing, total offense and scoring, but Oklahoma's defense, featuring End Jimbo Elrod and Tackle Leroy Selmon, held the Longhorns to 212 yards rushing, 183 below their average. And after a fumble-filled four quarters in more than 100° heat, Oklahoma was the survivor 24-17, the fifth year in a row it has defeated hated Texas.
The victory left Oklahoma unbeaten in 34 straight games, unbeaten and untied in 25 straight. Switzer's head-coaching record is now 26-0-1. Still, the combined scores of the last three games add up to Oklahoma 65, opponents 54, a margin totally unacceptable to Sooner fans. Clearly, Switzer must humbly apologize and quickly shape up or he will find himself the first undefeated coach in history to be hung in effigy.
Texas vs. Oklahoma has been a highlight of the State Fair in Dallas since 1929 (preceding Fletcher's corny dogs, the incredible woman without a middle and the Rock 'n' Roll Caterpillar ride), and it is one of college football's great rivalries, making the Cotton Bowl as important a part of the carnival as the roller coaster and the ring-toss games, the Belgian waffles and the freak show. As if it needed it, the big game this year got some additional spice from the Great Lie-Detecting and Guitar-Picking Debate.
Texas Coach Darrell Royal has implied that Oklahoma has used illegal or at least unethical tactics in luring promising Texas high school lads north of the Red River. Royal and others in the Southwest Conference helped push through an NCAA rule limiting the number of visits to a prospect's home. Oklahoma and its Big Eight friends opposed this regulation. Then, last April Switzer had his entire staff take lie-detector tests, which he said proved there had been no sinning. Royal's staff followed suit.
Losing four straight times to OU and losing lots of good prospects was upsetting enough to Royal, but he really hit the roof when Switzer, speaking to an OU alumni group last summer in Tulsa, criticized the new visitation rule and spoke of coaches who "would rather sit home and listen to guitar pickers," an unveiled dig at the country-music-loving Royal.
Last Saturday's game reflected the intensity of the rivalry between the two coaches. Oklahoma twice took 10-point leads but Texas fought back to tie the score with eight minutes to play. When the Sooners ran back the ensuing kick-off the Texas goal was still 79 yards away and the Longhorns were frothing at the mouth. If the Sooners were the best team in the nation, now was the time to show it.
And they did, helped by one major penalty. Horace Ivory went up the middle for six yards on first down but Elvis Peacock was stopped for no gain. It looked like a very tough third and four coming up, but a Longhorn was called for grabbing Peacock's face mask, and the 15-yard penalty gave Oklahoma a first down on its 42.
"I think that face-mask call was questionable," said Texas Linebacker Lionell Johnson. "I was in on the tackle. I hit high and I was clear and I don't see how the man who hit low could have been called."
The penalty seemed to take the heart out of the Longhorns. Joe Washington gained five and Tinker Owens went 10 on a reverse. First down Oklahoma on the Texas 43. Ivory for six, Ivory for one and Quarterback Steve Davis for three gave the Sooners another first down on the 33. From there, in one clean burst, Ivory shot through left tackle, cut to his left and fled down the sideline for a touchdown. Oklahoma was back in the lead with 5½ minutes left.
The Longhorns, it seemed, would have one last chance, but the remarkable Joe Washington denied them that. After Texas had failed to move and had punted, the ball rolling dead at the Sooner's eight, Oklahoma picked up only two yards in two carries. Assuming the Longhorns could hold once more, Oklahoma would be kicking from its goal line, and with 2½ minutes to play, Texas could hope to get the ball at midfield, maybe closer. But on third down the snap went directly to Washington, who quick-kicked, the ball sailing far over the Texas secondary and eventually stopping 76 yards away on the Longhorn 14. End of ball game.
At the start it appeared neither team would hold the ball long enough to score. The Longhorns' center, Billy Gordon, was injured blocking on the kickoff, and that proved disastrous for Texas. Sophomore Jim Wyman had to take over, and Quarterback Marty Akins fumbled two of his snaps in a row in Texas' first series. Sooner Dewey Selmon recovered the second fumble on the Texas 46 and Oklahoma moved far enough to allow its Brazilian soccer-style kicker, Tony DiRienzo, to make a 45-yard field goal.
Washington had some misfortunes. He fumbled in the Sooners' first series, returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown only to have it nullified because of an obvious clipping infraction that hadn't helped him, and fumbled on the Texas five even though he had not been hit. Three plays later a Texas pitchout went awry and Oklahoma End Mike Phillips fell on the ball in the end zone for a 10-0 Sooner lead.
But just when Oklahoma's insatiable fans began to savor a romp, Akins brought Texas back, which is what you would expect from a young man who has made no secret of wanting to be 1) the All-America quarterback, and 2) Governor of Texas. He joined forces with his roommate, Split End Alfred Jackson, on a 38-yard pass to close the gap to 10-7. A Texas fumble by Earl Campbell in the third quarter led to Washington's nimble nine-yard touchdown run, but Akins made the score 17-14 in the fourth quarter, keeping around right end for about 10 yards, then lateraling to Jimmy Walker for a combined 30-yard touchdown run.
By that time the heat down on the stadium's AstroTurf floor, not to mention the hard hitting and the high tension, had left the players exhausted. As trite as it sounds, they kept going on pride and emotion. Overlooking the fact that 16 of Oklahoma's top 44 are from Texas, Longhorn Tackle Brad Shearer had said, "I just hate Okies, to put it bluntly. They hate me just as bad and that's what makes it a great game."
It was a Shearer tackle that forced an Oklahoma fumble early in the last quarter, and eight plays later Russell Erxleben, conventional-style kicker from Sequin, Texas, booted a 43-yard field goal to tie the game 17-17. Then came Oklahoma's final drive to victory.