Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame: Why This Football Game Is Historically Significant
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This Saturday, history could be made again. Not the kind of history that was made in 1957 but a different kind of history.
Stopping Notre Dame dead in its tracks on its march toward a BCS Championship.
The Fighting Irish are riding high on both a seven-game winning streak and an 8-1 edge in this series between Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
Oklahoma would like to keep its BCS hopes alive, but to do so it will have to beat Notre Dame on the same field that the Fighting Irish beat the Sooners 7-0 on November 16, 1957. The same stadium that saw Notre Dame end Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak almost 55 years ago.
The field was grass back then and went through a couple of changes to synthetic material before reverting back to grass again in 1994, but it'll seem just like old times.
None of the players suiting up this Saturday were alive back then and ostensibly, neither were most of their parents. But already, time has seemingly turned back to the 1950s and the lore of these two teams has come back to life.
Two traditional programs playing against each other. Two programs that are trying to erase some disappointing seasons and get back to their dominating ways. Two programs that were once synonymous with powerhouse football but now are relegated to hearing their BCS bowl records repeatedly brought up by media and fans: 0-3 for Notre Dame, 3-5* for Oklahoma.
But this isn't just entirely about yesteryear's football or BCS bowl records. There's something else starting to stir up both teams' fans and it all has to do with bragging rights.
Oklahoma is maintaining that it printed up the "Play Like a Champion Today" sign and put it in its stadium tunnel first—before Notre Dame put its sign up in its tunnel.
One Sooner fan wrote a letter to the Oklahoman's Berry Tramel and claimed that Notre Dame stole its idea, put it on a sign and posted it in the tunnel where its players slap it before taking the field at Notre Dame Stadium.
“They shamelessly stole our ‘Play Like A Champion Today' sign and have claimed it as their own,” the fan told Tramel.
That same report suggests that then-head Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkerson put that "Play Like a Champion" sign up somewhere between 1947 and 1951. That sign is now in a museum but those same words are painted in the tunnel that leads into the Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Notre Dame a copy cat?
According to Tramel, Holtz saw Notre Dame's version of that sign in a book about Notre Dame and asked about the whereabouts of that sign.
Holtz, in 2006, related to ESPN about the sign's journey back to Notre Dame's stadium tunnel.
Tramel writes that Holtz said, “Nobody remembered it even being up. So I said, ‘Get that painted up. I'm going to put it in the same place and everybody is going to hit it on the way out to the field to remind them of all the sacrifices they have made, their families have made and other people have made for them to be there.'”
Who wins the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma game?
Maybe Notre Dame did have the sign first and just had it shelved somewhere. Maybe Oklahoma had it first and it didn't get enough attention since the Sooners don't have an exclusive network that documents their every move.
And it's not like schools don't mimic other schools. UCLA allegedly stole the song "Big C" from the University of California, Berkeley and changed the words to make it "Sons of Westwood," UCLA's fight song.
UCLA has made that song—and the eight clap—its identity much like Notre Dame has made "Play Like a Champion Today" its identity.
Sometimes, it doesn't matter who thought of it first. It matters who sells it better.
Perhaps the Sooners will make their case this Saturday.
*2005 Fed-Ex Orange Bowl BCS Championship was vacated (USC 55 Oklahoma 19).
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