Hello, I'm David Funk, and welcome to this edition of FSD History Flashback for November 16. Today's FSD History Flashback talks about one of the most impressive record-breaking winning streaks that came to an end.
On November 16, 1957 in Norman, Oklahoma, the defending college football champion Oklahoma Sooners hosted Notre Dame in what turned out to be the end of one of the most impressive feats in sports history. Oklahoma had a 47-game win streak going into the contest against the team that was the last to defeat them.
Fighting Irish coach Terry Brennan brought his team to town against Bud Wilkinson's Sooners in a nationally televised game in "living color". Both teams were highly motivated for this game as Brennan was under fire for having a 2-8 season the year before. They came into the game with two straight losses against Navy and Michigan which knocked them out of the polls.
The Sooners were trying to win their third title in a row, and were still very disappointed that Notre Dame QB Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy the year before for a losing team. The Sooners went undefeated, and felt running back Tommy McDonald should have won it. Also, the Sooners fell out of the top spot in the polls, and were eager to regain that by beating Notre Dame here. So the stage was set for a great game in Norman as over 62,000 fans came out for the game.
In the opening quarter of the game, the Sooners got an early turnover as Notre Dame's Pat Doyle fumbled and Oklahoma's Dick Corbitt recovered at the Irish 34-yard line. But the Sooners lost five yards on three plays, and were forced to punt.
Then, the Sooners forced the Irish to punt as they could not advance the ball down the field. Oklahoma drove the ball down to the Irish 13-yard line, but QB Carl Dodd's pass on a 4th-and-short play was incomplete as Allen Ecuyer of the Irish broke the pass up at the line.
Oklahoma took the next drive to the Irish 23-yard line, but Dodd fumbled and the Irish recovered the ball in the second quarter. Dodd fumbled again near midfield on the next drive as Oklahoma kept throwing away scoring opportunities.
Notre Dame was able to move the ball a little through the air after not moving the ball hardly at all on the previous drives. Notre Dame QB Bob Williams used short passes, and was able to move the ball to the Sooners 1-yard line as they had 1st-and-goal. However, the Irish ran the ball three straight times, and the Sooners defense stiffened to force a turnover on downs after FB Bob Reynolds was stopped short on 4th down.
The Sooners didn't advance the ball out very far from their own 1-yard line, and were forced to punt. Notre Dame moved the ball back down to the Sooners 16-yard line where they used a fake field goal on a 4th down play to move it down to the 6-yard line. However, the Sooners DB David Baker intercepted a Reynolds option pass attempt in the end zone to stop the Irish drive. Both teams headed to the locker room at halftime with a scoreless tie.
Both defenses took over the game in the 3rd quarter as neither offense could move the ball much. It was looking more and more like a tie was coming for both teams.
Then a touchback on a Sooners punt gave the Irish the ball at their own 20-yard line with 13 minutes to play in the game. Bob Williams had called every play in this game for the Irish, except the fake field goal attempt. On this drive, he handed the ball to RB's Nick Pietrosante and Dick Lynch. Pietrosante carried the ball seven times for 35 yards, while Lynch kept their 4th quarter drive alive by picking up two key first downs.
Williams threw a key jump pass to Dick Royer to pick up a first down at the Sooners 17-yard line. Then a run by Pietrosante put the Irish at the Sooners 8-yard line as the clock was appoaching five minutes to play in the game. The Irish ran the ball on three consecutive plays to advance the ball to the Sooners 3-yard line.
Notre Dame decided not to attempt a field goal because they did not like the angle. The Sooners were expecting a run up the middle on the 4th down play as they clogged the gaps by bunching eight men in the box to stop it. Williams then faked a handoff up the middle to Pietrosante, and pitched it to Lynch around the right end as he ran it in untouched to give the Irish the lead. Notre Dame's extra point was good as they had a 7-0 lead with 3:50 left to play.
The Sooners were forced to punt on the next drive, but were able to get the ball back when they stopped a 4th down play by the Irish.
Wilkinson sent in third string QB Bennett Watts and some other speedy reserves so he could try and get the ball down the field very quickly with under two minutes left to play. It looked like Wilkinson made the correct call on that when a pass intended for receiver Joe Rector was deflected in the hands of John Pellow, who rumbled 40 yards down to the Irish 36-yard line as the crowd came alive after the offense had done little since the 1st quarter against that Irish defense.
Oklahoma moved the ball to the Irish 24-yard line as they were looking to tie the score. But on the next play, Bob Williams, who doubled as a defensive back for the Irish, picked off a pass by Dale Sherrod to seal the win, and end the Sooners 47-game win streak.
Wilkinson creditted the Irish secondary for their defense in this game. The Sooners were given time to throw on the defense, but the receivers could not get open enough.
Brennan praised Oklahoma's defense as well, and had a game plan to wear them down late in the game which worked well.
So the Sooners went over four years without losing a game, and it happened to be to the team that was the last to defeat them. The year before, Oklahoma pounded the Irish 40-0, so they got some revenge in this game.
The November 18th issue of Sports Illustrated was already on newsstands as the cover read, "Why Oklahoma is Unbeatable". It is recognized as one of the first "jinxes" of a team or player since the magazine has seen strange coincidences happen in the same manner later on.
Notre Dame would lose the next game against Iowa before winning their final two games convincingly over USC and SMU while finishing with a 7-3 mark.
Oklahoma would pound Nebraska and Oklahoma State before winning the Orange Bowl against Duke in route to finishing 10-1 on the season.
Contrary to popular culture, the Sooners winning streak did not start in 1953 after their loss to Notre Dame to open that season. In their next game following the loss, the Sooners tied Pittsburgh 7-7, and their streak actually started with a win against Texas.
The Sooners won 22 of their 47 games during the streak by shutout. They also outscored them 1620-276 during the streak as well which is why those Sooners teams are considered some of the best ever. It is one of the most impressive streaks in sports that came to an end on this day.
Photo courtesy of Blue-Gray Sky
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