Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer was at ease at home last Friday night, drinking a beer and gazing up at a Tiffany-style lamp inscribed " OU Sooners." Assessing his team's chances for the next day's game against undefeated Nebraska, he said, "We haven't played close to our offensive potential, and our defense clearly isn't as strong. We just don't have as many good players, and we're more likely to make mistakes than they are. Last year I thought we were the best team. This year Nebraska is."
So why was this man chuckling? "Because it reminds me of 1976, when Nebraska had a better team," Switzer said. "Everybody knew it. Just before the game one of our players, Scotty Hill, gave a prayer and ended it by saying, 'And Dear Lord, please don't let the best team win.' " Hill's prayer was answered that afternoon as the Sooners triumphed 20-17. "I'm praying," said Switzer, "for another miracle."
Sure enough, the miracle arrived the next day in the form of a lights-out performance by Sooner Running Back Billy Sims, who has had trouble this year living up to expectations after winning the Heisman in 1978 as a junior. Junior Quarterback Julius Caesar Watts, who also had a big day, chortled and said, "He was the old Billy Sims today, only better." True. He crashed for 247 yards in 28 carries against the hallowed Husker defense, which had been leading the nation by giving up only 67.2 rushing yards a game; Sims got 113 in the first quarter. Which left Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne muttering, "I didn't think he could gain that many on us." Said Sims, "This is the first game all season I've really been pumped up for." When the scoreboard lights stopped blinking and the fan hysteria was put away for another year, Nebraska had been whipped 17-14 by an Oklahoma team that heretofore had been prone to make clunking sounds on Saturday afternoons.
Understand that even when Oklahoma (10-1) is not so good, it's still terrific. It's just that Switzer's mood goes sour when talk turns to fumbles (the Sooners fumbled 53 times this year and lost 36, a school record). But the machine purred on Saturday before a crowd of 71,187 in Norman, and so Oklahoma heads for the Orange Bowl and an encounter with undefeated Florida State. Nebraska goes to the Cotton Bowl for a far sterner test, against Arkansas or Houston. When Oklahoma Cornerback Mike Babb intercepted a Nebraska pass with 1:56 to play to squeeze the last bit of air from the Huskers, Sooner Assistant Coach Bobby Proctor jammed an orange into Babb's mouth. Seeing Proctor afterward, Babb shouted, "That sure tasted better than a cotton ball."
For Nebraska, however, the taste was especially bitter. This was the fourth time since 1964 that the Huskers had gone to Norman undefeated and returned to Lincoln defeated. The loss also meant that Oklahoma won the Big Eight title again, the seventh time in Switzer's seven years that his team has won or tied for the championship. Still, there was an element of equity, for in 1978 Nebraska beat Oklahoma to destroy the Sooners' national-championship hopes; this year the situation was reversed.
And the main reason for the Huskers' downfall was Sims. "I asked myself the other night how Sims could not get the Heisman again," Switzer said. "And I know the answer. It's because people have made him out to be more than he is. They expect him to rush for 200 yards every game, forgetting that 100 yards is a great, great day for anyone. Also, he makes it look too easy. A great play for him is just another ho-hum. There will never be another player like him at Oklahoma."
How does Billy describe his running style?
"I'm not sure."
"Yeah, that's it."