NORMAN — Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Gary King’s book “An Autumn Remembered: Bud Wilkinson’s Legendary ’56 Sooners.” It tells the story of how the Sooners achieved their only victory (in nine tries) over the Irish in 1956.
A record crowd of 60,128 was packed into the Notre Dame stadium to see this game. Red Grange and Lindsey Nelson were there to broadcast the event to a national television audience. This was the only time the Sooners appeared on television in 1956.
Notre Dame had been the last team to defeat OU when they stopped the Sooners 28-21 in Norman on Sept. 26, 1953. The following week, OU was tied by Pittsburgh 7-7 and then began their winning streak, which stood at 34 going into this game.
The Irish’s fortunes had not been so good. They had already lost to SMU and Purdue and just the week before had been pounded by Duffy Daugherty's Michigan State Spartans 47-14.
Michigan State had left Notre Dame battered and bruised. Paul Hornung, their All-American quarterback, had a very sore thumb, and there was some speculation that he might line up at halfback because he might be unable to take the snap from center due to his injury. This was not the case, however, as Hornung played quarterback and suffered four pass interceptions.
Hornung commented after the game, “This is the greatest team I’ve ever played against. It’s the fastest team I’ve ever seen, and they can really work the option play.”
Three of OU’s six touchdowns were provided by the defense. OU halfbacks Tommy McDonald and Clendon Thomas each picked off one of Hornung’s passes and returned it for a TD, and tackle Steve Jennings blocked an Irish punt to give the Sooner’s possession on the 3-yard line.
OU received the opening kickoff and marched 69 yards to establish their dominance at the outset. Quarterback Jimmy Harris rolled out and connected with his right end, John Bell, for a 14-yard TD pass. This impressive drive prompted the venerable sports writer Red Smith to observe, “If there is an abler, wiser unit anywhere than Wilkinson’s first 11, it must be kept under armed guard. If there has been a college team in recent years with greater overall speed, these eyes did not see it.”