The All-Time Top 5 Wishbone Quarterbacks at Oklahoma
Sept. 26, 1970. The Oklahoma Sooners had just lost at home 23-14 to an average team in Oregon State. Barry Switzer sat in his office fuming over the loss.
The young assistant coach knew Oklahoma had better athletes than the Beavers, and should have come away with a victory.
But there was something holding Big Red back, and that something was called the Houston Veer.
Head Coach Chuck Fairbanks had implemented the offensive set he had picked up while coaching at Houston upon his arrival at Norman, Okla., in 1967 with good results at first, winning Big 8 titles in 1967 and '68.
After a disappointing outing in 1969, and a bad start to the 70 season, the fans were getting impatient coach Fairbanks, "chuck Chuck" bumper stickers marking their mood.
Barry knew that something had to be done, and fast. The annual war with the hated Longhorns was up next after an open date.
He started watching films on Texas for the upcoming match, not knowing how he could figure this problem out in time to save his head coach's job, along with his own.
As he watched the ugly orange dance up and down the field at will in a new offensive set called the Wishbone, laughing and giggling all while scoring at will.
He realized that he had better players at his disposal than the 'Horns.
Then it hit him.
"That's what we need to be doing." Barry said aloud to himself, then he decided that they need to do the unthinkable at Oklahoma and scrap the failing Houston Veer mid-season, something never done before or since at OU.
So, with the support of both the offensive and defensive staff, a young Barry Switzer underwent the daunting task of pleading his case to coach Fairbanks, and try to convince a proud man and coach that his playbook was no longer going to be able to win at an elite level.
To Chuck's credit, he listened to his understudy carefully and closely.
After Switzer finished his torrent, the head coach looked across the desk with his one eye squinted stare and said, "You know, I'll let you know in the morning."
That night was one of the longest nights Barry ever had, he sat up all night thinking it all over, wondering what Chuck would do.
After what seemed like an eternity, the next morning came, and with it came the head coach to work, walked up to Switzer and said those famous words, "Allright, we're going to the Wishbone."
With one simple sentence the game we love so much was forever changed, just like that.
Oklahoma lost in the Cotton Bowl against Texas two weeks later, but the OU coaching staff knew they were on to something.
Boy were they right, the Sooners would go on to "hang half a hundred" on the hated 'Horns the next year, and dominate the college football world for the next 20 years with the Wishbone set by doing what no one else (Texas) had. They had put speed into the "Bone."
While this offensive set requires a trio of fast "backs," well known is the fact that the quarterback is it's driving force.
No team has ever ran the set known as the Wishbone better than OU, and that reason rests solely on the fact that the Sooners have had the best Bone QBs ever. Bar none.
Here is a look at the best five to grace Owen Field.
5. Charles Thompson
While most remember his grand spiral from grace, marked by an arrest for conspiracy to distribute cocaine on Jan. 26, 1989, Charles Thompson goes underrated as a wishbone QB.
As a redshirt freshman, Thompson led the Sooners to an 11-1 record in 1987, beating No. 1-ranked Nebraska at Lincoln in the game many remember as "The Game of the Century II" along the way.
Though he couldn't pull out a win against Jimmy Johnson's 'Canes in the Orange Bowl, Charles was still an outstanding talent. Thompson was an instant celebrity in Norman and played the part well, and was even known to deliver public speeches.
The one-time Cincinnati Reds draft pick (second base) had only two years of playing time at OU but still reached the 20-win plateau, ending his career at a very respectable 20-4.
Charles Thompson is a name that can still draw disdain from many Oklahoma fans, but he has long ago paid his dues, and like it or not, he was a great wishbone quarterback.
4. Thomas Lott
Playing for the Sooners from 1976-78, Thomas Lott was a gifted athlete. No. 6 was known for his quick moves, and would make a defense pay for a missed assignment.
With an overall record of 23-5-1, Lott lead Oklahoma to two Big 8 titles (77, 78) and back-to-back Orange bowl victories in 1978 and 1979.
What he is most remembered for is losing to Nebraska 17-14 on Nov. 11, 1978 in a game where the Sooners fumbled nine times, the ninth coming late in the fourth quarter on the NU 3-yard line, only to dominate the Cornhuskers in a rematch in the Orange Bowl 31-24.
Though the score doesn't show it, the game was over in the third quarter when Thomas scrambled in for two TD's to push the Sooners to a 31-10 lead.
Though somewhat forgotten, Thomas Lott was an excellent bone signal caller and deserves more credit as a "smart" QB, not just another speed guy.
3. Julius Caesar "JC" Watts
Only playing two years at Oklahoma (79, 80), J. C. Watts went 22-3 in his collegiate career.
He may be the fastest guy on the list and may have had the least amount of talent around him, but J. C. was still a terror on defenses.
He single-handedly beat a staunch Nebraska defense 27-17 in the game Many Sooner fans call "The Tacos game", refering to Bob Devaney's comment that OU better get ready to eat tacos in El Paso's Sun Bowl.
But Watts' crowning moment came later that season on Jan. 1, 1981 in the Orange Bowl when down 17-10 to a great Florida State squad.
He led the Sooners on a 76-yard touchdown drive in the waning moments of the game, throwing a 42-yard pass to WR Steve Rhodes, then hitting Rhodes again for an 11-tard TD pass.
Now down by one, Barry sent the offense out for the two point conversion and a chance at a win (Switzer never liked ties). Fading to his right, the wishbone QB once again utilized his arm and hit Forrest Valora for the win.
What a way to end your college career.
2. Jamelle Hollieway
When Troy Aikman went down against Miami in 1985, Switzer tapped true freshman Jamelle to lead the Sooners.
In he walked to the huddle, looked around at players like Spencer Tillman and said, "Let's roll."
Oklahoma would lose that game, but from there the Sooners went 8-0, ending the season with a 25-10 win over Penn St. in what Barry Switzer calls his greatest college win.
Going an astounding 30-3, Hollieway never lost to rivals Texas or Nebraska.
Jamelle was not particularly fast (running a 4.7), or big (5'9", 175 lbs.), but was able to earn his starting spot over guys like Eric Mitchell, who was 6'3" and ran a 4.3, because of his high football I.Q. Earning the moniker "The Scientist."
Hollieway never lost a bowl game and led the Sooners to a bowl each of his four years as a starter.
No. 4 will always be remembered as a great, and even the greatest by some.
But one may have been better.
1. Jack Mildren
Known by all as "The Godfather of the wishbone," Jack Mildren laid down the blueprint for how to play flawlessly in this offensive set.
Without Mildren, the success of the others on this list would have never been reached. Because they would have probably never even been at OU, or at least not playing quarterback at Oklahoma.
Jack is the best passer of the group and running a sub 4.5 40-yard dash, may just be the fastest of the five also.
Sooner RB great Greg Pruitt, who averaged 9.6 yards a carry, has admitted openly that his success is directly related to the uncanny timing that Jack displayed play after play.
When they say that OU was the first to put speed to the wishbone, they're talking about Jack Mildren, who as a QB, averaged an whopping 5.6 yards per carry in his career.
Many of the things that Mildren did on the field as a bone QB were never seen before, and some say will never be matched again.
His 1971 team averaged a NCAA record 472.4-yards a game rushing, a feat that most believe is even less likely to be beat than OU's 47 game win streak.
Darrell Royal (former OU player and then Texas head coach) said after Oklahoma had just trounced his Longhorns in the 1971 Red River Rivalry to the tune of 48-27, "You can't compare outstanding teams, but OU has the best team I've seen since I've been here."
Many may go with Jamelle Hollieway as the best wishbone QB ever at OU.
But coming in as a pocket passer, then being thrust in to the Houston Veer, then switching mid-season to a new unheard of at the time offensive set and with your sheer talent altering the face of college football for the next 20 years...what else could you be than simply the best wishbone QB of all time?
R.I.P. Jack Mildren, all of Oklahoma misses you, and you will always live on in the hearts of every member of the Sooner nation.