On the Oklahoma sideline Barry Switzer is laughing. Why is Barry Switzer laughing? With six seconds to play. Switzer's team is losing to Ohio State 28-26. The game is in Columbus. Ohio, where, as one Oklahoma coach observed respectfully, even the stadium looks like Woody Hayes—wide and old and menacing. The 88,119 spectators, mostly Ohio State fans, are invoking Woody's wrath on the Sooners, on whom at this desperate moment the sky appears to be falling as well. That sky is bloated with rain and gray as wet aluminum. Switzer's matted blond hair and laughing face stand out.
So, on the field, does the lank and limby and somewhat incongruous figure of the Oklahoma placekicker, standing apart from the huddled Sooners at about the Ohio State 35. The kicker is a 21-year-old with a Smiling Jack mustache. His name is Uwe von Schamann but his teammates call him "Von Foot." As the last chance the Sooners have, Von Foot is being encouraged by the Buckeye fans to grab his own throat. "Block that kick! Block that kick!" they scream. Ohio State has called a just-before-the-kick time out in order to get this encouragement going and to give Von Foot additional time to think about the enormity of his task. Von Foot is not choking, however. In mock orchestration, he is leading the Ohio State cheer, his arms upraised and his forefingers flourishing.
And Switzer, laughing out loud in a giddy release of tension, says to his assistants on the Oklahoma sideline, "What the hell are we doing in this profession?"
The record will show that Uwe (pronounced YOO-va) Von Foot von Schamann then soccered a 41-yard field goal through that immense volume of low atmosphere and high pressure. The record will not show that it was a statement made as emphatically as a cop ringing a doorbell, a booming, authoritative kick, high and far and dead-center true, winning the game for Oklahoma with three seconds to spare. Switzer kissed Von Foot when he came off the field. A sentimentalist, Barry.
What might be made of such an ending—besides reaffirming that what Switzer is doing in this profession is standing it on its ear, having now won 44 of 49 games in just four seasons and three games as the Sooners' head coach—is that this first-ever meeting of the two winningest teams in the past quarter century of college football had a significance, a meaning beyond the score. A triumph, say, of Youth and Loose over Age and Uptight.
Switzer is 38, Hayes is 64, and they make the oddest of couplings. Hayes, an almost Caesarean figure, does not give interviews, he grants audiences. Though a charming and thoughtful conversationalist. Woody automatically veers off when talk wanders too close to the intimate workings of his football team (injuries, game plans, other classified stuff). By contrast, on Friday night in Columbus. Switzer and his defensive coordinator, Larry Lacewell, were among the last to leave a pregame party at John Gal-breath's Darby Dan Farm. (Hayes had made a brief but impressive talk in which he said "winning is the epitome of honesty," and slipped away.)
The game itself was certainly no vindication of one system or style over another. It was, rather, a hair-raising example of what only too rarely happens when you get a lot of good players on one field at one time, on teams contending for the national championship but having to cope with breaks and twists of fortune so violent that it is impossible to play conservatively.
It was a contest both marvelously played and exquisitely flawed (eight turnovers, six by Oklahoma). It was a bruising, helmet-rattling (not to mention body-injuring, for six Sooner and Buckeye regulars went down during the course of play) blockbuster of a game filled with flashes of inspiring resourcefulness and incredible bungling. It was a game neither team should have lost. Or won.
Different, that's what it was. Different because Oklahoma is different. (No, Oklahoma is wild.) And Ohio State is different. Ohio State? Different? Ah, you'd be surprised.
"All football coaches are pragmatists," Hayes said on Friday, sitting quietly and alone in a classroom where he teaches his freshman players "word power" (from a book, Word Power Made Easy, by Norman Lewis). "They go with what works." What Hayes is working on this year is an expanded offense that makes exciting use of the skillful Rod Gerald at quarterback. And pragmatically compensates for the fact that the Buckeyes do not have the traditional 2�-ton truck that usually lines up at fullback for them. It did not take Oklahoma by surprise, but Ohio State ran option plays three out of four times Saturday and looked competent—even nifty—doing it.