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October 11, 1975
It was Oklahoma against Texas in the '75 edition of the Red River rivalry game in the Cotton Bowl at the Texas state fair, where it had been a highlight since 1929, and it was no ordinary game by any stretch of the imagination. It was a series that had been played almost continuously every year since the turn of the century, and what drew the fans' interest was a traditional match up of bitter state neighbors battling for regional supremacy, often with national implications, but with recruiting success and certainly pride and bragging rights riding on the outcome. So, in many minds, it was more than a football game, and while each school had enjoyed victories in streaks, it was Oklahoma who had won the past four contests, much to the chagrin of Texas fans and successful 19-year coach Darrell Royal.
The repeated losses on the field, combined with the beating they had recently taken in recruiting, caused enormous frustration and resentment among Texans. Add in that Royal was once in the commanding position of being a dominant force and the country's coach of envy, and it boiled the pot further. That distinctive torch had been somewhat passed to young Oklahoma third-year coach Barry Switzer, who despite inheriting a team hit with NCAA probation in '73 surrounding illegal recruiting allegations, had yet to lose a game, was sporting a 25-0-1 record and riding a 24-game winning streak, along with a final ranking of #3 in his rookie season that was followed with an AP national championship in '74, making it easy to see why he was viewed as the outlaw gunslinger in Texas.
In fact, a year earlier in the November 4th issue of Sports Illustrated magazine regarding the Sooners' precarious position of being highly ranked in one poll, the AP writers', but excluded from the other, the UPI coaches', Royal took a hard line by being quoted with, "I resent even playing them when they develop a monster team with illegal tactics". He had long implied that Oklahoma was using unethical and questionable tactics to lure recruits north of the Red River, and he and others in the Southwest Conference had helped push through a recent NCAA rule limiting the number of visit's to a prospects home, something that Oklahoma and the Big Eight obviously opposed. So say there was bad blood would be an understatement, and it appeared an already intense rivalry was taken to an even higher level.
Despite losing an enormous amount of talent with ten players selected in the '75 NFL draft, Oklahoma was off probation and embraced by both polls as the preseason #1 team. Even with the personnel losses, they began the season with a ton of talent and experience, returning six starters on each side of the ball, but improving upon perfection would be difficult, as the Sooners were not only the nation's only unbeaten and untied team last year, they also ranked first in scoring, total offense and rushing, and they were in the top ten in corresponding defensive categories. Graduation had struck the offensive line, defensive secondary and linebacking corps, but capable reserves were readily available, and then they had that stable of players at the skilled positions.
The Oklahoma wishbone, another source of discontent being that it was Texas' version that a young offensive coordinator named Switzer had copied in '70 and polished even further, was described to be as destructive as ever, but had yet to live up to that billing. It was under the capable and efficient direction of unheralded senior quarterback Steve Davis, whose three-year record as a starter was the same as his coach's, and senior star halfback Joe Washington, years earlier a heavily-recruited product of Port Arthur (TX) whose hand-painted silver shoes and slippery style were helping his bid for a possible Heisman Trophy and former Oklahoma back Steve Owens' Big Eight career rushing record. And then there were the others in the fast backfield, which included impressive sophomore Elvis Peacock and recent junior college transfer Horace Ivory, forced into duty during the practice week as a fullback due to injuries, all of whom ran behind a huge offensive front line.
Meanwhile, one thing was clear, and that being that help was plentiful as Oklahoma was reloading for the future and Switzer, wanting the fastest players available, had brought in a slew of talent in their recruiting class for '75, including a dozen out of the state of Texas that featured some of the top speed and minority talent at skilled positions, which was the last straw as far as Royal was concerned. It was highlighted by highly touted running back Billy Sims, a speedster regarded as the top high school player in the country out of Hooks whose 2,885 yards rushing his senior season brought his three-year total to 7,738, the second best effort in state history, and he had 38 consecutive games of 100 yards or more and also scored 516 points. As a tireless recruiter and one who could relate to young players, during halftime of the '74 Colorado game in Boulder, Switzer had called Sims long distance from the locker room while the score was 28-0 in favor of the Sooners, just to let the youngster know that he was their top signing priority, an impressionable exhibition that practically sealed the deal.
Also included in that group from Texas was Kenny King, a jet running back from Clarendon who in the annual Oil Bowl all star game between the two states' top prep players, had rushed for 140 yards and was named the offensive MVP, quarterback Thomas Lott, a hot commodity out of San Antonio, running back Woodie Shepard out of Odessa, and George Cumby, a fast running back not highly recruited out of Tyler, but who Switzer convinced to turn down an offer from an small college for Oklahoma. Others from the state of Texas were speedy linebacker Daryl Hunt out of Odessa, big tight end Victor Hicks out of Lubbock, lineman Greg Roberts out of Nacogdoches, and some Caucasians such as the Tabor twins out of Houston, defensive tackle Phil and center Paul, receiver Bud Herbert from Beaumont, linebacker Barry Dittman out of Houston, and transplanted German soccer-style kicker Uwe von Schamann out of Fort Worth. Add in a select few from elsewhere, and it was regarded as the greatest incoming crop in Oklahoma history, and one that chief recruiter Jerry Pettibone called in an mild understatement "the most promising in at least six years."
Losing a bunch of great prospects was upsetting enough for Royal, but he really hit the roof when Switzer, speaking to an Oklahoma alumni group during the summer in Tulsa, had criticized the new visitation rule and spoke of coaches who "would rather sit home and listen to guitar pickers", an obvious dig at the country music loving Royal. Needless to say, there was a strong dislike that existed between the two coaches.
Royal's disgust with minorities fleeing the state was mostly his own fault, good or bad, for he was slow to change, regardless of the environment in which he operated that had long discouraged and prohibited the recruitment of blacks. In breaking down the invisible color barriers at Texas, along came a player named Leon O'Neal who received the first scholarship to play football at Austin in '68, but he left after only one year and never made it onto the field. Then offensive lineman Julius Whittier became the first black to suit up for the Longhorns during their national title year of '70, and the only, and along with that, the Longhorns carried the dubious honor of being the last all-white champion in '69. And then in '72, sophomore fullback Roosevelt Leaks became the first black All-Conference at Texas, and a year later as a junior, the first black All-American. The only other black Longhorn to garner postseason honors was All-Conference fullback Earl Campbell as a freshman in '74, picking up the slack due to Leaks' knee injury.
Those "firsts" and scant numbers were dwarfed by comparison at Oklahoma, where running back Prentice Gautt broke the color line under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson way back in '57 and a year later was named to the All-Conference team, the first of a dozen blacks to be named All-Conference 19 times. In '66, nose guard Granville Liggins was named to some All-American teams, becoming the first of eight different black Sooners to receive a total of 12 All-American honors, a group that included reigning honorees on the '75 roster such as defensive linemen Dewey and Lee Roy Selmon and Washington, with five of those players being chosen six times as consensus All-Americans, again with Liggins leading the way with his selection in '67 and a group that included Washington. So clearly, the path for a black athlete was easier both athletically and socially, and much more paved, via Norman.
Oklahoma began the year with a pair of blowouts over Oregon, 62-7, and #15 Pittsburgh, 46-10, and then suddenly came a few scares. First was a three-point win at unranked Miami, in which the Sooners scored all 20 of their points in the second quarter, finished with just 163 rushing yards and 176 total, and survived a ten-point Hurricanes' fourth quarter. It was followed by a one-point win over #19 Colorado, in which the Sooners surrendered a 14-point lead in the second half and the Buffaloes' botched extra point in the final 79 seconds proved the difference, another disappointing game offensively in which the wishbone rushed for only 177 yards and cost them the #1 ranking to Ohio State. But Oklahoma (4-0) was Big Eight champions three years running, not counting having to forfeit the '72 crown on account of the recruiting violations that led to the NCAA's sanctions, and also riding a 24-game winning streak and a 33-game unbeaten streak simultaneously, and ventured into Dallas ranked #2 in the country.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns were looking to reclaim the Southwest Conference title that they had won six straight years before falling off to an 8-4 record in '74. A preseason #12, Texas also came in 4-0 and ranked fifth, representing the two teams' highest combined ranking in a dozen years.
Royal was still operating from the wishbone that they had pioneered, but their version emphasized the quarterback-fullback threat more that the Sooners' version. At quarterback, the Longhorns had senior Marty Akins, a strong and quick runner who was also a good passer and made intelligent decisions, the first player to ever start three years at quarterback for Royal, and owner of the school's single game rushing record for the position via a 188-yard effort against Rice in '74. And then they had bruising sophomore back Campbell, who had spurned Switzer's Oklahoma offer in a heavy recruiting battle coming out of Tyler (TX) to stay in state and emerged as the premier wishbone fullback in the country after racking up 928 yards rushing as a freshman in '74 and earning SWC Newcomer of the Year honors, and adding another 91 yards in the Gator Bowl against Auburn to finish with 1,019. For '75, he had added more weight and muscle, but not at the expense of speed, and joining him in Austin were his freshman twin brothers, Steve and Tim, who both played on the defensive side of the ball and represented an almost recruiting no-brainer, part of an incoming crop that included just one player from out of state.
Nonetheless, in their first four games, 225-pound Earl had rambled roughshod over the competition, carrying the ball 63 times for 508 yards, an average of 8.1 yards per carry, including a career-best 198-yard effort at Washington, and had already scored seven touchdowns, and it could have been worse had Royal not sat him down after gaining 57 yards in just five carries during Texas' 61-7 blowout over Utah State a week earlier. Behind their big back, the Longhorns impressively swaggered into Dallas leading the nation in rushing, total offense and scoring, averaging a healthy 44 points per game, with their closest game 18 points (28-10 at Washington), and the general feeling was that if they could slip past the Sooners, they could probably win all of their games.
In front of 72,204 sun-drenched fans, Oklahoma lost the coin toss, and Texas would get the ball first. They moved to their 46 before the first big play of the game occurred because starting senior center Billy Gordon was forced to leave the game on the opening kickoff with an eye injury and his replacement, sophomore Jim Wyman, would have to face Dewey Selmon. Two fumbled quarterback exchanges quickly happened, and Dewey collected the second for the Sooners. Davis guided the offense down as far as the 28 in six plays, but they were stopped, so senior kicker Tony DiRienzo came on for a 45-yard field goal, and Oklahoma had drawn first blood, 3-0, with 9:55 still on the clock.
DiRienzo's kickoff sailed out of the end zone, and the Longhorns, unable to sustain a drive, had to punt. Washington fielded the kick at his own 20, moved to the right, turned the corner into his blockers and sped untouched down the sideline and into the end zone, but it was to no avail, for two clipping penalties nullified the score, and Oklahoma began at its nine.
Relying on the quarterback and fullback options in the wishbone, the Sooners began to move on Texas. At the 17, Peacock took a handoff on a sweep to the left and turned up between blocks by Washington and senior guard Terry Webb for a big to gain before being dragged down at the 38, a 21-yard pickup. The drive continued across midfield and moved all the way to the Longhorn five. From there, Washington took a pitch from Davis and cut back around the two, but his feet went out from under him and the ball flew free up in the air, where Texas recovered, dodging a bullet.
Akins and the Longhorns struggled for yardage, and two plays later, they had earned a new set of downs at the 12. On the next play, Akins faked a handoff up the middle to Campbell and optioned to the right, where Lee Roy confronted him, forcing a pitch to trailing sophomore halfback Gralyn Wyatt. But Wyatt was on the ground from junior strong safety Scott Hill's hit, who had shaken off his blocker, so the ball scooted freely backwards into the Longhorns' end zone, and Oklahoma junior defensive end Mike Phillips got there just ahead of Akins to recover for a Sooners' touchdown, his first as a collegiate. DiRienzo's kick made it 10-0 with 41 seconds left in the opening period.
As the second quarter began to unfold, the two teams were battling on even terms, with the defenses controlling the game and punts being traded. After one, Texas began at its ten. Akins and Campbell started to find some room, and together, they pushed the Longhorns' running attack into Sooners' territory and down to the 38. From there, Akins dropped back to pass and threw deep down the right sideline for split end Alfred Jackson, but junior cornerback Sidney Brown had containment in the end zone, and Jackson properly adjusted to the under thrown ball, came back to make a catch at the two, was hit by sophomore safety Zac Henderson and fell backwards across the goal line for a touchdown to cap the ten-play drive. Freshman kicker Russell Erxleben, a strong-legged second team all-state performer from Seguin, kicked the extra point, and the gap was now just 10-7 with 7:08 left in the half.
The Oklahoma brain trust decided to go to the air for some points before intermission. From a two split end formation, Davis dropped back to pass and saw senior Billy Brooks breaking open down the left side as the Texas safety was late in coverage, and he collected Davis' toss but slipped down, good for a 22-yard gain. The Longhorns stiffened to hold suit, and the half ended with Oklahoma clinging to a 10-7 lead.
As the third quarter began, adjustments made defensively by both teams found some success. The Longhorns were slanting and stunting, while the Sooners countered the veer blocking. Midway through the period, Dewey forced Campbell to fumble just prior to an official's whistle blowing, which junior defensive tackle Anthony Bryant recovered at the Oklahoma 32.
After first down netted nothing, again, the Sooners opted for the air. Davis faked to Ivory off the right, and then set up, firing a perfect strike down the left flank for Brooks, who received the ball in full stride and sailed down the sideline before stepping out of bounds at the Texas 14, good for a 54-yard gain. Ivory carried up the middle for one, and then senior split end Tinker Owens alertly pounced on Washington's loose ball that gained four, setting up a third down-and-five at the Texas nine. From there, Washington took a handoff to the right on a sweep, picked up blocks from Hicks, starting at tight end as a freshman, Peacock and Webb, and dragged junior linebacker Lionell Johnson the final three yards into the right part of the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown, capping the quick five-play drive. DiRienzo made the Oklahoma lead ten points for the second time, 17-7, with 6:22 left in the third.
The Sooners defense continued to play well, and they forced an Akins fumble via senior end Jimbo Elrod's hit and Lee Roy's recovery at the Oklahoma 45, but three plays layer, they were faced with a punting situation. The Longhorns had come close to blocking one of Owens' punts earlier, but he sailed one out of bounds inside the Texas 20 as the third period expired. The Longhorns punted, and when Oklahoma again was faced to do the same, Texas senior defensive back Fred Sarchet burst through on an all-out blitz to partially block Owens' kick, resulting in a loss of nine and possession at the Sooner 37.
Akins needed four plays to steer the offense to a first down at the 25, where they were confronted with a second-and-15 at the 30. The offense lined up, but Royal was frantically racing down the sideline and screaming for Akins, who stepped back and listened, then called an audible. Taking the snap, he faked a handoff to Campbell off the left side and moved down the line, where Henderson nailed Akins at the 25, but he had pitched perfectly to junior tailback Jimmy Walker, who cruised untouched down the sideline and into the end zone for a touchdown, sending the Texas faithful jumping off their seats. Erxleben converted the point after, and the outcome was again anybody's, with Oklahoma still holding a 17-14 lead with 13:10 remaining.
Oklahoma tried to control the ball on their next possession by keeping it on the ground, but it was not easy. A fired up Texas defense forced a turnover when sophomore tackle Brad Shearer nailed junior fullback Jim Culbreath and knocked the ball loose as sophomore linebacker Bill Hamilton was also converging, and junior end Jim Gresham recovered for the Horns at the Sooner 35.
Akins directed a first down, and almost another, before a delay of game penalty presented them with a third-and-long at the 20. Akins dropped back to pass, but with his ends covered and no one to throw to, Bryant beat his man and busted through to drop him for a six-yard loss. In came Erxleben, and his kick from 43 yards out barely cleared the crossbar to tie the game, 17-17, with 8:19 left to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Washington's return set the Sooners up at the 21. If the Sooners were the best team in the country, now was the time to show it. Scratching for yardage, they moved to a second-and-four, where Peacock took a sweep, the same play he had earlier broken for a big gain, but this one was stuffed for no gain. However, on the next play, sophomore linebacker Steve Collier was called for face masking against Peacock, and the 15-yard penalty gave Oklahoma the ball at the 42. Washington went for five, and on the next play, Davis moved to the left and pitched to Owens for his first carry of the game, who was coming back against the flow on a reverse, picked up blocks from big 290-pound junior tackle Mike Vaughan and senior center Dennis Buchanan, and into Texas territory with a gain of ten. Ivory carried inside for gains of six and one, and on third down, Davis outside carried for the required three yards and a new set of downs at the Texas 33.
Looking over the Longhorns' defense on the next play, Davis noticed that they had changed into an alignment in which each offensive lineman on the right was facing a defender, while only the guard on the left was confronted, creating a gap. So on the seventh play of the drive, he called an audible, merely changing which side the handoff would take place, and Ivory got the ball up the middle behind sophomore Karl Baldischwiler, who nailed his man to the inside, opening a gaping hole off left tackle for 193-pound Ivory to shoot through and set sail, cut to his left and outdistanced a diving Collier behind lying on the turf to race untouched for the end zone, flipping the ball over his head upon crossing the goal line as both hands were raised skyward to celebrate the important go-ahead touchdown. DiRienzo added the extra point, and the Sooners led 24-17 with 5:31 left on the clock.
Oklahoma held the Horns on their next possession, with Lee Roy and Elrod the main culprits, forcing a punt into the wind. With no one back to receive it, Erxleben boomed a 65-yarder, as the ball rolled dead at the Sooners' eight-yard line.
On first down, Washington lost the handle, but fortunately Webb was on the scene, bringing a second-and-long. The next play netted little, and the Sooners were faced with third-and-eight at the ten with a little over 2 ½ minutes remaining. They decided to pull out a trick play, something they had yet to use in a game. Davis took the snap and flipped to Washington, who instead of running, quick-kicked the ball end-over-end, catching Texas by complete surprise, and it was stunner, traveling 76 yards before stopping at Owens' feet on the 14. Playing for field position, the Oklahoma coaches could not have asked for anything more.
Now with some momentum back on their side, the Sooners' defense rose up. Phillips smothered Akins for a six-yard loss, sophomore linebacker Bill Dalke forced him out of bounds for no gain, and then senior linebacker Jamie Thomas and Dalke collaborated to tackle the frustrated quarterback for a loss of one on third down, forcing a fourth-and-17 at the seven. Royal reluctantly had to punt the ball back, and from there, it was the Sooners who made it five in a row over their hated rivals.
It was a game that will be remembered by turnovers, with Oklahoma losing a pair of fumbles and the blocked punt and Texas losing four fumbles and an interception. But the mistakes were the product of a hard-hitting game on both sides. The Sooners' defense held Campbell to 95 yards on 23 carries, the game's leading ball carrier, but making it 21 straight games an opponent's player had failed to rush for 100 yards against them. Meanwhile, Ivory paced Oklahoma with 80 yards on 13 carries and Washington contributed 76 yards on 16 carries.
Said Switzer afterwards, "This is one of the great classics that has been played. You saw two great football teams today. It was evenly played. They played with a lot of class."
Source: Jeff Linkowski