|ESPN Network: ESPN.com | NBA.com | NHL.com | WNBA.com | ABCSports | EXPN | INSIDER | FANTASY|
Chat wrap: Darrell RoyalDent: Dallas is crazy scene for Texas-OU
Beano: Texas-OU always a classic
Thursday, October 4, 2001
'76 "Spy Game" was series' most bitter
By Robert Heard
Special to ESPN.com
This Saturday's Oklahoma-Texas game is the most anticipated in a quarter-century. The infamous "Spy Game" of 1976, which Darrell Royal to this day will tell you he wanted to win more than any other as player or coach, ended in a 6-6 tie. (No. 1 UT played No. 2 OU in 1984, and that game also ended in a tie, 15-15, but OU should have won; Texas lived off its reputation from 1983, after which the NFL drafted 17 Horns, still the all-time record; "Field Goal" Fred Akers doomed that team.)
Oklahoma has won three national titles since '73. Texas came within a 10-9 loss to Georgia in the 1984 Cotton Bowl. But in the first two of those Sooner title years no one expected the UT game to be a real contest, and it wasn't. Last year, No. 10 OU pounded No. 11 Texas, 63-14.
The Oklahoma football program is written in two volumes, one before the end of World War II and one after. The all-time series now stands at 55 victories for Texas, 35 for the Okies, and five ties. But since World War II, the count is Texas 28, Oklahoma 23, and three ties.
In addition to the Great Depression and World War II and their hardships for all Americans, the state of Oklahoma suffered through another calamity: The Dust Bowl. Thousands of Oklahomans fled to California in the 1930s for back-breaking, poor-paying agricultural jobs. "Okies" originated as an epithet.
At an OU regents' meeting in November 1945, someone brought up John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (one of the greatest novels of all-time but hated by Oklahomans, who saw only the grinding poverty, not the magnificent survival, of the Joad family). What could the regents do to combat the "Okie" image? On the agenda: Hiring a football coach to succeed Dewey "Snorter" Luster, 1941-45, who resigned after losing five straight to UT.
The regents hoped to get more than OU's share of football stars returning from the war. The new coach, Jim Tatum, did precisely that, exhausting the athletics' surplus of $125,000 (huge then), and had to borrow money, to finance tryouts for as many as 600 players. The focus for this all-consuming effort: Texas. Big, fat, arrogant Texas. Beat Texas, and Oklahoma could command national attention immediately. Oklahoma made war on Texas.
And most of the best troops OU used in that combat came mainly from Texas. That's why the series became so bitter. Many alums from both schools ran into each other regularly, particularly in the oil business. OU in the early years "outbought" UT for Texas high school stars. Only later did the Sooners suffer NCAA major probations for cheating, because NCAA rules prior to 1953 wouldn't frighten a girl scout.
There is no rivalry to rival this one. It is played at a "neutral" site, Dallas' Cotton Bowl, 200 miles from each campus. Each school gets half the seats, so half the stadium is screaming all the time, often all of it. In addition to that, the game is the main event of the Texas State Fair, which takes place at the same place at the same time each year.
Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated after the 1963 game: "The University of Texas football season begins with the Oklahoma game. All before that is so much throat-clearing."
After showing next to nothing from its playbook before last year's Texas game (always played early in October), OU sprang a terrific short-passing game on the Horns, featuring QB Josh Heupel, who had the ability often to scramble toward the line of scrimmage, then pull up just short and throw. After the Sooners showed their wares against UT, they encountered tougher games against talented teams, beating Kansas State 41-31, Texas A&M 35-31, Oklahoma State 12-7, and Kansas State again, in the Big XII title game, 27-24. But the close score in the FedEx Orange Bowl contest for the brass ring against Florida State, 13-2, is misleading. OU dominated.
Texas held the talent and an even better schedule in 2000 to have done the same thing, but it did not, finishing 9-3 -- its the third-straight nine-win season. This year, Heupel is gone, but so is Texas' great DT tandem, Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers. Nate Hybl quarterbacks OU now. Worst news for Texas: Hybl never flinched from a couple-dozen blitzing hits from Kansas State last week in OU's 38-37 win.
The Horns ranked a lowly No. 16 that year against the better-talented (mainly with Texas kids) No. 3 Oklahoma (of the "Top 23" players listed in the OU football media guide, three went to high schools in Oklahoma, 14 to high schools in Texas). Royal lavished his concentration on the OU game at least part of every day weeks before the season that year. He crafted a defensive masterpiece, and led 6-0 with less than six minutes to play on two long-range Russell Exrleben field goals.
Royal at that point, with Texas holding the ball at its 36 after a run of nine yards by Earl Campbell produced a first down, wished out loud to defensive coordinator Mike Campbell that Texas had practiced a quick kick. He'd use it on first down, he said. On the next play, needing only to run out the clock, UT gave the ball on a draw to RB Ivey Suber, who forgot to cover it with both hands when he saw DT David Hudgens loom in front of him. Suber tried to cut to his right with the ball in his left arm. With his left hand, Hudgens raked the ball free.
After the turnover, with 5:31 on the clock, OU held the ball on the Texas 37. It took 10 grinding plays to score. Then the center snapped the ball over the placekicker's head, and the game ended in the gut-wrenching tie. Blackie Sherrod of the Dallas Times-Herald said it best: "Royal looked like he had driven a gravel truck without a windshield nonstop across Death Valley." Indeed, Royal dry-heaved on his way to the dressing room.
Lacewell later admitted the Sooners benefited from spying, and, later still, Switzer confessed it, too. Royal quit after the '76 season, his 20th at UT, at age 52. He couldn't beat Oklahoma without cheating. And he wouldn't cheat.
After Bud Wilkinson's great career at OU, 1947-63, Okie fans, sensitive about the "outlaw" tag, argued the Sooners started winning the recruiting wars because of "tradition." There is truth to that. But it is a tradition built on cheating. Searching for any argument to counter the cheating tag, Okies chortled that Texas needed an Oklahoman, Royal, to beat them. But, of course, Royal was a professional coach, by definition a person for hire. The NCAA forbids salaries for amateur athletes.
Switzer dismissed Texas complaints about his recruiting Lone Star State blue chips. "You don't own them," he said. He also noted it usually took him a visit or two merely to get "all that" Texas state loyalty out of a recruit's head. But when it came to a good player from Oklahoma, the Sooners preached state loyalty.
Robert Heard's Web site -- robertheard.com -- describes his book, Oklahoma vs. Texas: When Football Becomes WAR, on the OU-Texas series and tells you how to acquire it. The site also lists other books by Heard.
ESPN.com: Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at ESPN.com