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Beano: OU-NU 30 years ago was greatest game ever.

Friday Tailgate

Wilkinson's Sooners had 47 consecutive wins

Oklahoma vs. Nebraska series record

Wilkinson created Sooners dynasty
By Bob Carter
Special to

"People talk a lot about the tradition of football at Oklahoma. The person who started that tradition was Bud Wilkinson," says Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson sought Robert Kennedy's approval about playing after John Kennedy's assassination.
Records didn't interest him. Nor did polls, predictions or other superficial methods of evaluating success. Bud Wilkinson valued the kind of people who played football for him and what they learned about discipline, readiness and character.

Granted, Wilkinson won football games - more in one stretch than any major-college coach in history. His Oklahoma teams set the NCAA record by winning 47 consecutive games. But first and foremost, he wanted his players to understand the importance of being prepared.

"If you have the will to prepare," Wilkinson said, "things will usually work out quite well, and the will to win will take care of itself."

From 1947 to 1963, Wilkinson's Oklahoma teams had an .826 winning percentage and won 14 league and three national championships. They won six of eight bowl games.

Oklahoma ran the split-T offense, which Wilkinson learned from Don Faurot, with unequalled precision. "Bud was real demanding when it came to knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it," said J.D. Roberts, an All-American guard in 1953. "An Oklahoma team under Wilkinson was never unprepared."

Ultra-organized, Wilkinson posted practice schedules that broke down drills almost to the minute, a rarity in his day. He borrowed from Hall of Fame basketball coach Hank Iba in preparing for opponents, trying to replicate in practice what the players would face in games.

In recruiting athletes, he sought not only the swiftest, most aggressive players but the smartest, too. "The fact our men believe they can use their brains to defeat a physically superior opponent pays dividends you can't reckon with," he said.

Wilkinson established high standards, from academic achievement to conditioning to personal appearance, and excelled as a communicator. His authority remained unquestioned, enhanced not by tyranny but by quiet resolve, by his intelligence and persuasive manner.

"You could feel like quitting school and joining the French Foreign Legion," said Billy Pricer, a fullback from the 1950s. "Then you'd talk to him for 15 minutes and come out of his office singing 'Boomer Sooner,' thinking you owned half the university."

Charles Burnham Wilkinson was born on April 23, 1916 in Minneapolis. As a youngster, he played football for the "50th Street Tigers," a neighborhood team quarterbacked by future golf great Patty Berg.

His father - Bud's mother died when he was seven - sent him to Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minn., where Wilkinson played football, baseball, basketball, hockey and track and took part in dramatics. After graduating in 1933, he went to Minnesota and played football under renowned coach Bernie Bierman.

With Wilkinson playing guard and quarterback, the Gophers won three national titles. In the summer of 1937, he was quarterback on the College All-Star team that beat the NFL champion Green Bay Packers 6-0.

As a senior, he won the Big Ten Conference's medal for all-around performance in athletics and scholarship. After receiving a degree in English, he briefly worked for his father's banking and mortgage business before deciding on coaching as a career, becoming an assistant at Syracuse and then Minnesota.

In 1943 he joined the U.S. Navy, where he was an assistant to Faurot with the Iowa Pre-Flight football team and served as a hangar deck officer on an aircraft carrier. When World War II ended, new Oklahoma coach Jim Tatum persuaded Wilkinson to join his staff in 1946.

Tatum left the next year to go to Maryland, and Wilkinson became the school's head coach and athletic director. He was 31.

The Sooners started 2-2-1 his first season, then Wilkinson moved several younger players into the lineup. They won their last five games to take the Big Six title, the first of 13 consecutive conference crowns under Wilkinson.

Sugar Bowl victories over North Carolina and LSU followed the next two years as the dynasty took shape, the LSU game capping an 11-0 season. In 1950, Oklahoma won its first 10 games - extending its winning streak to 31 - before losing to Kentucky 13-7 in the Sugar Bowl. But since the final polls of AP and UPI were conducted after the regular season, Oklahoma claimed the national title.

From 1953-57, Bud Wilkinson's Sooners won 47 consecutive games.
After losing to Notre Dame 28-21 and tying Pittsburgh 7-7 in 1953, the Sooners' celebrated 47-game streak began with a 19-14 victory over Texas. It ended four years later when Notre Dame, an 18-point underdog, registered a 7-0 upset on Nov. 16, 1957 at Norman. During the streak, Oklahoma averaged 34.5 points and its opponents 5.9.

"All during that streak," said All-American halfback Tommy McDonald, "Bud would tell us that nobody will remember the number of games we won, but everyone will remember the team that beat us."

McDonald never lost a game in three years with the run-oriented Sooners. While Wilkinson is known for his refinement of the Split-T, he also was creative. He invented the no-huddle offense, known in the 1950s as "Go-Go," a scheme that often confounded opponents.

While an undefeated Oklahoma team finished No. 3 in the final AP poll in 1954, the Sooners did better in the voting the next two seasons, winning national championships both years.

In 1956, Prentice Gautt became the first African-American player at Oklahoma. The fullback never forgot Wilkinson's impact on his life.

"If it hadn't have been for Bud, there wouldn't have been any way that I'd have made it," Gautt said at a 1991 tribute to the coach. "His talking and believing in me was probably the biggest thing that helped me get over even the thought of being the first black."

Victories in the Orange Bowl completed 10-1 seasons in 1957 (48-21 over Duke) and 1958 (21-6 over Syracuse). From 1948-58, Oklahoma never lost more than one game in any season, going 107-8-2, a .923 winning percentage.

"Wilkinson was immensely popular, a hero the likes of which Oklahoma had not known since Will Rogers," Gary Cartwright wrote in Inside Sports magazine in 1982. "He had a smile that would curdle cobra's milk and an elitist air that made him appear wise and unapproachable. The prematurely gray fox."

In 1959, the Sooners slipped to 7-3 in 1959. Wilkinson's only losing season (3-6-1) came the next year.

Oklahoma won the Big Eight title, his last conference championship, in 1962, and Wilkinson stepped down after an 8-2 season the next year. His record was 145-29-4. While still coach, Wilkinson was appointed as President John Kennedy's special consultant on youth fitness in 1961. He later became the first director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness.

In 1964, a year after leaving the Sooners, Wilkinson legally changed his name from Charles to Bud, his more identifiable nickname. A conservative, he switched political parties and made a bid for a U.S. Senate seat. The new Republican lost by 21,390 votes (466,782 to 445,392) to Fred Harris, who rode the wave of Presidential winner Lyndon Johnson.

Wilkinson began a career as a network football analyst in 1965 with ABC.

He returned to politics in 1969 when appointed a special consultant to President Richard Nixon, but quit after less than two years when he failed to gain Nixon's inner circle.

At 61, Wilkinson came back to football, against the wishes of some friends, becoming coach of the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals in March 1978. The Cards lost their first eight games on the way to a 6-10 season, and owner Bill Bidwill fired Wilkinson with a 3-10 record in 1979.

Wilkinson then returned to network television as an analyst for ABC and ESPN. He settled in St. Louis and in the late 1980s, he suffered a series of minor strokes. At 77, he died of congestive heart failure on Feb. 9, 1994.

"I've only known one genius in my lifetime," said Eddie Crowder, an Oklahoma quarterback in the early 1950s who later coached at Colorado. "His name was Bud Wilkinson."

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