SI Vault
Kenneth Rudeen
October 05, 1959
Shaken by a startling food-poisoning affair, Oklahoma's proud Sooners went down to the worst defeat of Bud Wilkinson's career before a dazzling, opportunistic Northwestern team
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October 05, 1959

A Slight Case Of Murder

Shaken by a startling food-poisoning affair, Oklahoma's proud Sooners went down to the worst defeat of Bud Wilkinson's career before a dazzling, opportunistic Northwestern team

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"You can't help being impressed," he said, "by the people playing the game. Generally speaking, the athlete is intelligent. He is a gifted person in his field. He is confident that he can do this thing—and life is good. There are no scars on him. He is unsophisticated; he is unspoiled."

Then, with great relish, he grinned and said, "There are no beatniks in college football."

Glancing at the miniature football figures in formation on a coffee table, Wilkinson went on:

"Coaches are always accused of being more pessimistic than they are. There is a very logical reason for this. When you are coaching you are only aware of the things you don't do well. You give very little thought to the things you do do well. A coach is in no position to make a total and honest evaluation of his team until the season is over. Looking at our own team, I don't believe we will be as good as last season. I do think we will be as strong offensively, but I know we are not as good a defensive football team. This may be shouting the obvious, but you are just as effective as your defense. You can't use your offense if you can't get the ball."

Over at the stadium Northwestem's go-go-go coach, Ara Parseghian—Mr. Psychologist of college football (SI, Sept. 21)—wanted to know why all the fuss over the game, food poisoning apart.

"Let's get down to realities," he said. "You're talking to a coach who has lost 13 ball games in the last two years. We're a school that usually finishes seventh to 10th in the Big Ten."

Northwestern is also a school that exploded great big bombs in the Big Ten last year, humiliating Michigan and shutting out Ohio State. And so it was not surprising that Parseghian also said: "I think we have a chance in the game. We'll be a little faster than last year, but I don't think we're deep. Still, we may surprise a few folks. We did last year, and I see no reason why we shouldn't this year."

Saturday's surprise was a dandy—the worst defeat of Wilkinson's career. Taking devastating advantage of Oklahoma miscues, Northwestern scored twice in the first quarter, when it was dry, twice in the second quarter, when rain fell in torrents, and three more times in the last half, when the field was a mud bath and the ball as slippery as a greased pig.

When Northwestern wasn't scoring, it was backing Oklahoma to the wall with marvelous punts; one rolled dead on the two-yard line. When Oklahoma passed for a touchdown in the rain to make the score 7-13 in the second quarter, Northwestern soon returned the compliment with its own scoring pass in the rain. When, in desperate circumstances, Oklahoma sprang a bizarre formation, Northwestern came right back with one equally bizarre.

Whatever the condition of the food-poisoned men, Oklahoma simply could not handle the Wildcats' slick offense—especially the fancy running of Halfback Ron Burton, who sprinted 62 yards in the rain on the prettiest touchdown play of the game, and the all-round quarterback play of the gifted Dick Thornton. The Sooners unwisely treated Northwestern to five fumbles, two of which led to Wildcat touchdowns, and the Wildcats treated themselves to touchdowns after blocking an Oklahoma quick kick, intercepting a pitchout and holding Oklahoma for downs deep in its own territory.

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