The Norman Transcript

November 13, 2012

When Sooners were rock stars

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — History is rife with what-ifs. Most involve armies, wars and assassinations; tumult, upheaval and awful human suffering.

Maybe so much suffering could have been lessened but for this historical nugget. Maybe peace could have broken out sooner, had a particular course of action been taken or not.

Around here, there are different questions.

What if Chuck Fairbanks hadn’t given in to an assistant coach brash enough to gather the support of his fellow assistants before challenging his head coach to change his offense at midseason?

But Barry Switzer was brash enough, had the support of his fellow assistants, and Fairbanks listened, conferred with his mentor, former Michigan State coach Clarence “Biggie” Munn, and agreed to make the move. Next game, the Sooners came up short at the Cotton Bowl. But the dye for greatness had been cast.

What if Jack Santee hadn’t been on the board of regents when Fairbanks accepted the coaching offer of the New England Patriots? Switzer is convinced it was Santee’s approval that elevated him to head coach before the 1973 season.

What if Switzer had taken Marcus Dupree aside when the latter arrived on campus in 1982 and told him what he now wishes he had told him, that he was going to be harder on him than everybody else on the team, because Dupree, 18, was already better than everybody else, but Swtizer had to ride him or risk alienating those who’d already paid their dues?

These are the thoughts that spring forward upon viewing “The History of Oklahoma Football, Part III, Dynasty of Championships, 1964-1988,” a DVD that becomes available for purchase next week (right in time for Christmas shopping!) but that premiered Monday night on several screens at the Warren Theater.

The stars were out.

Switzer. Tony Casillas. Dewey Selmon. Joe Washington. Spencer Tillman. And, I’m sure, many more VIPs whose names, all these years later, are easier to recognizee than their faces.

About three hours of Sooner football, documentary style. It was awesome on the big screen but perhaps will be more convenient on the small screen, where you can break it up over a few days.

Three hours is a long time to watch anything, but probably not long enough to fully digest a journey that begins with the anti-charisma of Gomer Jones and ends with too many losses to Miami, also three national championships, about a million Big Eight championships and Switzer’s ultimate resignation after too many scandals of bad behavior, as well as the lasting impression that his players, to this day, would do anything for him and he for them.

But maybe the coolest thing about it? The thing you forget until you watch it all over again for the first time in so long?

These guys were rock stars.

They were bigger than anything you can imagine. Bigger than anything can be now, in an ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU an world that may appear to make everything so big by shining so many lights on so many stages, but has instead made everything smaller, for we can only digest so much so fast.

When Steve Owens won the Heisman Trophy, a 5-4 Sooner team still had to beat Oklahoma State. After it did, President Nixon decided he should make the Heisman winner his guest at the Texas-Arkansas game destined to decide the national champion. So Owens went to Fayetteville on Air Force One and returned home in a Chevy pickup with a couple buddies who drove over for the game.

You can’t make this stuff up.

But it’s just the start.

There’s Little Joe and the Selmon brothers and The Boz and Keith Jackson and Billy Sims (who didn’t yell “Boomer” but couldn’t help but crack himself up over and over again) and the hook and lateral that beat Nebraska and Von Schamann’s kick that beat Ohio State and Keith Stanberry’s Cotton Bowl interception that didn’t beat Texas because the refs robbed OU long before they got to Eugene, Ore.

It’s all there.

You think about it and Sooner football matters so much now. But it mattered more then. It’s all there was. Anyway, it seemed like it.

Good thing Fairbanks listened to Switzer. Good thing Santee was on the board.

Sooner Magic, indeed.

Clay HorningFollow me

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