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It was once said—only half facetiously—that the three greatest organizations the world has ever known were the Imperial German Army, the Roman Catholic Church and the Standard Oil Company. Inasmuch as the Imperial German Army was demobilized in 1918, it is doubtless high time that a new candidate be proposed to fill out the triumvirate, and one strong contender—most sport fans would agree—is the University of Oklahoma football team. For the past decade this team has dominated the U.S. football scene in virtually the same overpowering and aggressive manner that the Kaiser's legions once dominated Europe. And behind their success is the same genius for organization, the same synthesizing of personnel with circumstances that was a trademark of the Junkers.
First, let the record speak. Since 1947 Oklahoma has won 97 games, lost only 7 and tied 3. It has won 60 conference games, lost none and tied only two. It has played in five bowl games, winning four and losing one. It has scored in 123 straight games, which is a national record, and it has won 47 games in a row, again a national record. It has won three national titles, including 1955 and 1956, and will most likely win the third consecutive title this year.
Such consistent success is never an accident, and it certainly is not in the case of Oklahoma. Located in the most favorable football climate in the U.S., Oklahoma has evolved a nearly infallible formula for victory. The conscientious, indefatigable application of this formula has produced and will probably continue to produce the most formidable team in the nation for years to come.
a = MOTHER LODE
The red clay of Oklahoma and the sands of the west Texas desert country produce scrubby crops, oil and football players. For the hardy, lean and tough people who inhabit this country, the crops are a last resort, oil a hopeful dream and football a religion. Football is a perfect expression of their way of life—hit harder than you are hit, don't cry when you are hurt, win. The ultimate expression of this rather Spartan philosophy is at the state university, where the 60-odd young men who make up the football squad hit superlatively hard, bear the bruises of the game stoically and, above all else, win.
The university itself is a melange of red brick buildings sprawled untidily across the flat clay country at Norman, 18 miles from Oklahoma City. Since it sits deep in the heartland of the richest vein of football talent in the U.S. it is only fitting that the most impressive structure on the campus is the big horseshoe of a football stadium with seats for 60,000. (The population of Norman is 27,006.) The university lies closer to most of the towns of adjacent west Texas than do the big Texas colleges, and west Texas annually produces more good high school football players than any other section of the country. Needless to say, many of the best of them go to the University of Oklahoma, thus creating a tremendous resentment in the Texas colleges and frequent charges of illegal recruiting, but no one has been able to prove that Oklahoma ever brought a west Texas football player to Norman in a Cadillac given to him by an Oklahoma alumnus. It is extremely unlikely, in fact, that anyone ever will, because Oklahoma does not provide Cadillacs for its football players. Nonetheless, the rewards for playing football for Oklahoma are substantial, and the players who get them are almost invariably worth their salt.
Life in a small Texas or Oklahoma town offers little recreation. Until football became a way of life, the inhabitants scratched along with the pleasures to be gained from the local movie and its diet of westerns, from the local beer joint (most of west Texas and all of Oklahoma is dry, with liquor sales restricted to 3.2 beer) or from church socials. In the last 20-odd years the strongest emotional impact on these people has been high school football, which draws each small town into a close-knit, fanatic collection of fans each fall. No major college with the most rabid alumni can match the intense interest of these small towns in their high school football teams. The towns pay high for their coaches, many of whom draw better salaries than their small-college counterparts. The coaches work with large, efficient staffs and devote their full time to football. Because football in these parts takes the place of the opera, the stage, the ponies and the art galleries in more cosmopolitan areas, it is only logical for high school football players to receive the same careful grooming and community attention as do princes of the realm in the capitals of Europe. They play from 10 to 14 games a year against tough competition, as compared to six to 10 games a year for high school players nearly everywhere in the U.S. A boy who goes from Abilene High School in Texas to the Oklahoma campus has the poise, training and experience of a college sophomore in nearly any other section of the country.
The country and the football curriculum produce a curiously consistent pattern in players. If you visit the Oklahoma dressing room, you are, at first, a bit surprised that the players are not bigger. The heftiest player on the Oklahoma squad, for instance, is Guard Bill Krisher, who weighs a mere 221 pounds. But then you notice that, while the muscles of these athletes are not as bulgy as those you find in a Big Ten dressing room, the players are cast in the leathery, stringy, tough mold of the longhorn cattle which lived on cactus and a spoonful of water during the early days of Texas and Oklahoma. They look lean and hard, and the soft sound of their speech comes as a surprise. They have the spare toughness of a mesquite tree and the endurance of a coyote, and they have a deep affection for their windswept, rugged homeland. They come from ranches and small farms and from backbreaking work on oil rigs and from a country where courage is an expected and usual quality.
It would never occur to the high school youth of Oklahoma and Texas to seek employment among the teams of the Big Ten or the Southeast; raised in the red clay and sand, they have a farmer's attachment to the homeland, and they prefer to remain close to it. This predilection simplifies recruiting for the big schools of the Southwest Conference and for Oklahoma. They have no competition from major colleges elsewhere in the U.S. because the other institutions long ago discovered that the most generous inducement was inadequate against the sectional loyalty of the Southwest.
Oklahoma is in a peculiarly favorable position to mine this rich territory. In the Southwest Conference, recruiting pressures became so tremendous on the high school youngsters of that area a few years ago that the very powerful University Interscholastic League, which runs the Texas high school football program, laid down some stringent new restrictions on college recruiting. One of the things the league insisted on was the letter of intent—in effect, a contract between the college and the prospect saying that the football player will, in exchange for the customary athletic scholarship, attend no other college in the Southwest Conference. Once a youngster has signed such a letter of intent, the other colleges in the SWC must leave him be.