It started as a slight case of poisoning and ended as a slight case of murder. In both respects the decline and fall of the Oklahoma football team last week was more than somewhat mystifying. Headlines across the country screamed the news that 12 Oklahoma players fell violently ill from food poisoning Thursday night, but no one was prepared to say exactly how it happened. Millions of people, watching television, saw Northwestern dazzle, stun and finally crush the Sooner team 45-13, and probably found it difficult to believe their eyes.
Nowhere could the shock have been greater than in the state of Oklahoma, where pride in the university's football is boundless and admiration for Coach Charles Burnham Wilkinson verges upon worship. After all, Oklahoma had won three national championships, six of seven bowl games and its conference title 11 times in the dozen years of Bud Wilkinson's regime (tying for the other). This was the juggernaut, the irresistible force, the Big Red Team.
A reporter, looking into the state of the love affair between Oklahomans and Oklahoma football last week, found not the slightest evidence of disaffection. From the state's senior Senator right down to the newest freshman on the campus at Norman, the old, prideful talk was as vigorous an ever.
The chuckle of the week had to do with an 8-year-old who ran importantly to his mother after school and told her his friend Billy would surely flunk.
"Whatever for?" his mother asked.
"He doesn't know who Bud Wilkinson is," the lad gravely replied.
Geologist Harry Berry, of Tulsa, an Oklahoma football star of the 1920s, elaborated on that theme: "The history of Oklahoma is measured in three stages—Will Rogers, Bud Wilkinson and the repeal of Prohibition. We have a lot of average players at Oklahoma, but when they put on that uniform and start to play for Bud they become supermen."
Far from being appeased, Oklahoma's zest for football glory was still keen, said Senator Robert S. Kerr.
"It is a feeling that generates intensity rather than indifference," he said. "Pride and gratification in the thought increase every year."
It was with the devotion of his state and as the repository of its enormous trust, then, that Bud Wilkinson flew with his players Wednesday evening into a lowering, lightning-flecked sky toward Oklahoma's first game of the season and the school's first encounter with a Big Ten team since it defeated Northwestern 20 years ago.