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Next afternoon the team worked out, and that evening 38 of the 40 players traveled together from their hotel near the Northwestern campus at Evanston to Chicago's plush Chez Paree nightclub for dinner and the early show. This was to be routine pregame relaxation; negotiations for space and a training table meal were begun more than three months ago by the Oklahoma athletic business manager, Ken Farris. Wilkinson was going to dine with friends. The team's fine fullback, Prentice Gautt, and the No. 1 left end, Edward (Wahoo) Mc-Daniel, stayed at the hotel to get extra sack time.
Oklahoma fans went to bed that night with no portent of catastrophe. If some were especially anxious that the team do well on Saturday, in view of the perennial out-of-state digs that Oklahoma feared to play Big Ten teams, others undoubtedly fell to sleep musing on small, pleasant bits of football gossip, for example the fact that Center Jim (Double Dip) Davis had kicked the ice cream habit and had reported weighing a trim 210.
The team arrived at the Chez Paree about 7:15 and began eating the meal ordered in advance by Farris: fruit cup, tossed salad, mashed potatoes, steak, rolls and butter, ice cream.
"To tell the truth," Farris said, "I can't tell you when the first ill effects were felt. Word would come to me that so and so was not feeling well. I know that Paul Benien, one of our ends, got sick about the time the steak was placed in front of him. Some of the boys went outside to get some fresh air.
"Pretty soon it was obvious that they were darned sick. We got two cabs and put six boys into the first one—no, seven, another boy jumped in—and five into the other. One of these boys wasn't sick. The rest of the players decided to stay and see the show [featuring Vocalist Patrice Wymore]. After a while the first cab driver called and said he'd taken his load to a hospital. He had stopped six times on the way to let them get out and vomit. The other cab went to the hotel. The first cab came back, and by then Jimmy Harris, one of our assistant coaches, and Bill Watts, a tackle, were sick. The cab driver took them to the hospital."
At the hospital the stomachs of Harris and six players were pumped out; they were fed intravenously and kept overnight. These were the starting center, Jim Davis; No. 2 center, Bob Scholl; Co-captain and No. 1 left tackle, Gilmer Lewis; Co-captain and No. 1 quarterback, Bobby Boyd; No. 2 quarterback, Bob Page; and Benien, No. 2 right end. No. 3 Right Tackle Bill Watts and No. 2 Fullback Ronnie Hartline were treated at the hospital and sent to the hotel. No. 1 Halfbacks Jim Carpenter and Brewster Hobby, No. 3 Left Tackle Max Morris and No. 2 Left Guard Jerry Payne were treated at the hotel.
Oklahoma fans and the rest of the nation woke up to startling headlines: OKLAHOMA PLAYERS HIT BY FOOD POISONING. The day wore on and the mystery remained complete. Apparently a clear-cut case of food poisoning, but which was the tainted dish? Why did some get sick and others not? How had the illness so cunningly struck so many key men?
Investigators for Dr. Herman N. Bundesen, president of the Chicago Board of Health, said they found no evidence of taint in samples of the food served the team at the Chez Paree. Dr. Bundesen said food poisoning usually takes several hours to cause illness and suggested that food eaten earlier was to blame. The food they had earlier was eaten at the Orrington, their Evanston hotel, and there inspectors found no evidence of tainted food, either. The Oklahoma team physician, Dr. Mike Willard, ventured an opinion that it did not necessarily take several hours for food poisoning to cause sickness. Samples from the emptied stomachs would be laboratory tested by the Chicago health people, but that would take a few days.
Amid the hullabaloo the rival coaches kept calm and supervised Friday workouts at Northwestern's Dyche Stadium, with only Hartline of the stricken Oklahoma 12 on the field. Wilkinson told a platoon of newsmen he was as baffled by the affair as the next man but would have the 12 in uniform at game time.
Back at the hotel he talked a little about his undiminished appetite for football. Tall, silver-haired, blue-eyed, he has, at 42, an amazingly boyish smile and, for an idolized public figure, an exceedingly unstiff manner.