Back in the 1950s, like most everyone else in Oklahoma, Dad was a serious OU football fan.
On fall Saturday mornings, he and one of his buddies from Eufaula would load into the Chevy, pull onto Highway 9 and journey to Norman to watch Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners ring up another victory.
I know this because Dad told me. And I saw his collection of game programs, which proved he’d been at the games. He owned boxes full of game programs, all in good condition. Dad kept them stacked neatly in his rolltop desk.
He let me, an 8-year-old who didn’t know better, sort through them.
I remember Dad being preoccupied one particular October afternoon in 1966. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dad was watching OU battle Notre Dame on the old black-and-white Zenith.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to bet Dad was angry that day. Notre Dame won 38-0 in Norman … and Dad was not able to be there because he’d given up his season tickets.
I’m not sure why he wasn’t at OU games anymore. Maybe it was because he gave up a lot of things during retirement. Maybe it was because money had to be directed toward raising me. Dad adopted me from his sister’s family who lived on a Menominee Indian reservation in Wisconsin.
Whatever the reason, it was obvious that Dad was also upset that OU’s misery on this day was again served up by Notre Dame. In 1957, Dad also had been at the Notre Dame game in Norman where the Fighting Irish ended OU’s historic 47-game winning streak.
But there might have been a deeper reason for Dad’s disdain of Notre Dame.
As he was getting older, Dad showed me yellowed photos of his days at Haskell Indian Institute in Lawrence, Kan., where he ran track and played football. I remember the football team photo. Dad was in a suit. I asked why he wasn’t suited up.
“My leg was broken,” he told me. “I broke it against Notre Dame.”
He was serious. Now, at the time, I didn’t know what to make of his claim, and I call it a claim because he told me some obvious fibs to keep me off-balance, as all Dads will. I had no reason to doubt him.
I never got to share in my Dad’s love for OU football. I became interested after he had passed, but I can see why he loved OU football.
Dad was a proud Oklahoman. His father traveled the Trail of Tears from Alabama, settling in McIntosh County, serving in the Civil War and later founding a Baptist church. Dad inherited his homestead and kept it through the Dust Bowl and Depression. He shared the state’s pride in the success of OU’s football program.
To this day, I go by the name Tommy. Dad told me to keep the name because he liked the sound of it, like Tommy McDonald, an OU All-America.
As the years passed, I thought about what he said about Notre Dame. I ran across articles about Haskell Institute’s all-Indian teams playing college football against the powerhouses, including Notre Dame, in 1914. That was right about the time Dad was at Haskell. Through Ancestry.com, I found his draft card online (left), and it verified that he had indeed sustained a broken leg in college.
Could it be true? I don’t know. I figure it wouldn’t take much effort on my part to research it and know for sure.
But will I? I don’t plan to.
Dad was a mythical figure for me. I prefer to think of him as a great athlete who shared a frustration with OU when it came to Notre Dame.
So for that reason, I’ll be cheering for the Sooners like I’ve never cheered for them before.
STUFF THAT I REMEMBER: In 1983, while working at the Muskogee newspaper, I attended a reunion of a bunch of Bud Wilkinson’s old players from eastern Oklahoma at the invitation of Kurt Burris. I don’t remember too much from the gathering, but I do recall watching some old OU games, including one against Notre Dame, in a Betamax player. … When Bob Stoops was first hired, he had me at silver shoes and Joe Washington. But I respected him more on the eve of the OU-Notre Dame game. When a media type asked whether he’d be in awe of the Notre Dame tradition at South Bend, he said something like “Naw, I walk through the Switzer Center every day.”
ABOUT THE GAME: The young men who’ll play this game will have no idea the significance of it with old-timers in Oklahoma. Notre Dame has an 8-1 series lead. I credit Notre Dame for winning when it did. But the what-ifs play in your head. What if Notre Dame didn’t exist? If Notre Dame didn’t exist, OU would have probably had a 75-game winning streak throughout the 1950s. … As for my prediction: Notre Dame can go toe-to-toe, Big Ten-style, but the Fighting Irish haven’t seen OU’s speed. OU wins 35-17.
- Just one last shot at Penn State before we move on (read the post that angered 9,300 Penn State faithful and generated 68 go-to-hell comments.)
- Preview: El Paso meant a visit to Juarez for horsesh#t cigarettes
- Wrapup: In El Paso, Sooners struggle but do better than Marty Robbins
- Preview: Read how I fell in love with the Sooners in a nursing home parking lot
- Wrapup: Cheer on your Sooners, but keep your enemies closer
- Preview: Memories of heading to OU games on Highway 9
- Wrapup: Are night games beating down the Sooners? They are me
- Preview: Sooners losing to coaches who’ve passed retirement age
- Wrapup: At 23 years old, Landry Jones is the old man on the field now
- Preview: In North Texas, you can openly cheer for the Sooners
- Wrapup: How long before we experience a Brown-out?