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October 24, 2012

When it comes to Notre Dame, Sooner fans have long memories

NORMAN — When it comes to Notre Dame, Sooner fans have long memories

Tradition is omnipresent at Oklahoma. Drive past Owen Field and the 85,000-seat stadium doesn’t hide that seven national championship teams called it home.

However, there are other programs that sit on the top shelf of college football’s traditional powers. The Sooners will meet another on Saturday when they face Notre Dame.

It’s hard for those younger than 60 to believe there was a time when the Sooners were still fighting for attention. That’s what first led then-coach Bud Wilkinson to get Notre Dame on the schedule back in 1952.

“There was something about that great Notre Dame tradition during those years. It was pretty much like Oklahoma in the last 50 years. Everybody wants to knock off the big gorilla. That’s the way Notre Dame was viewed,” said Jay Wilkinson, the son of the coach that turned the Sooners into a college football super power in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. “The fact you were playing against a school with that kind of reputation, respect and tradition, obviously added a dimension of respect and excitement.”

Understanding how big OU’s initial meetings with the Fighting Irish were is hard to qualify. The world was a lot different place. It was long before the days of college football-saturated Saturday television.

OU’s first nationally televised game was its 27-21 loss at Notre Dame in 1952.

It only appeared on national television twice during its historic 47-game winning streak from 1953-57. Two of those meetings were against the Fighting Irish — OU’s 40-0 romp at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., in 1956 and Notre Dame’s 7-0 win at Owen Field that ended the winning streak in 1957.

“It was a young man’s dream to get out of high school and live the dream all the thousands of kids in Oklahoma wanted to live. Everyone wanted to play at this university,” said former OU running back Clendon Thomas who was a star running back from 1955-57. “When you get the chance, it was a very big deal.”

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