SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
November 04, 1974
You can spin the dial all fall but you will not find the powerful Oklahoma Sooners. On NCAA probation, they cannot be televised, play bowl games or even be ranked, according to one poll
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November 04, 1974

The Best Team You'll Never See

You can spin the dial all fall but you will not find the powerful Oklahoma Sooners. On NCAA probation, they cannot be televised, play bowl games or even be ranked, according to one poll

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It is as if the redoubtable Fay Wray, rescued from atop the Empire State Building while King Kong was batting down bi-wing fighter planes, went before a news conference, brushed back her frazzled locks and exclaimed, "What giant gorilla?"

That or something outrageously close to it is the position that United Press International finds itself taking these days after agreeing to ban teams on probation from its weekly college football poll. UPI's new policy might have gone unnoticed except for the fact that one of the censured teams is a big grinning monster that just will not go away. In fact, the Oklahoma Sooners have been going ape all season and, while not exactly swinging from a skyscraper, they are very conspicuously holding forth right up there in the No. 2 spot in the other major poll, run by the Associated Press.

All of which introduces paradoxes wrapped inside rule books. Because of the stance taken by the NCAA, ABC and UPI and their various awards, rankings, TV shows and statistical lists, plus the fact that Oklahoma is barred from bowl games and network TV this season, the formula for the Sooners' exposure is: UPI can cover but never rank, ABC can mention but never show and the NCAA can list but never recognize.

The situation would be even more outlandish if No. 1 Ohio State were to lose one of these Saturdays. That would give the rival AP the unique opportunity of awarding a mythical national championship to a team that is by and large unseen and nonexistent.

But shed no tears for Oklahoma. The Sooners are making their presence felt this season the same compelling way that Red China did when it was barred from the United Nations. They keep menacing people. With a smile, of course. Once penitent, the Sooners have even gone so far as to trade their pious faces for an attitude that borders on the carefree.

"They can keep us off TV and ban us from the bowls," says Coach Barry Switzer, "but nobody said that we couldn't win and have some fun."

Against Colorado two weeks ago, the merriment began with cries of "Let's win this one for the UPI!" After roughing up the Buffaloes for a quarter or two, the regulars sprawled on the sideline like so many young gods taking their leisure. One Adonis donned his celebrity sunglasses. Center Kyle Davis flirted with a blonde in the third row. Halfback Joe Washington, taking off the hand-painted silver shoes that carried him for 200 yards, four touchdowns and perhaps a step closer to the Heisman Trophy, strolled to the stands to cadge a Coke.

Indeed, if the team continues to mangle opponents, Sooner fans will not see much more of the starters than the rest of blacked-out America. In last week's 63-0 win over Kansas State, for example, the regular defense played only long enough to leave one lasting impression. Led by All-America Rod Shoate, a swift and punishing linebacker, and the double-trouble brothers, LeRoy and Dewey Selmon, up front, Oklahoma did not exactly tackle runners. They avalanched them.

Quarterback Steve Davis, a licensed Baptist minister, showed no mercy in the ruthlessly efficient way he ran the Wishbone. And Washington, the nation's leading all-purpose runner, displayed his wiggly, flip-flop moves as he ran for another 100-plus yards. "Anybody who tries to cut with him," says Switzer, "who tries to go east, west and north at the same time with him, will break both knees and ankles." Another Washington trademark is soaring over tacklers with a grand vaulting leap that would do Nureyev proud {see cover). A former hurdler, Joe says, "When you can't go around somebody or through them, the best way is to fly over them."

Last week's victory over Kansas State also kept Oklahoma's unbeaten streak flying along at 24, the longest in the country. "I'll tell you one thing," says Switzer, "we gotta be the nation's No. 1 unranked team."

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