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Wilkinson created OU dynasty

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Wilkinson's Sooners had 47 consecutive wins
By Bob Carter
Special to

Signature Game

Jan. 2, 1956 - Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma team was ranked No. 1 and had a 29-game winning streak. Maryland was ranked No. 3 and had a 15-game winning streak. Something had to give in the Orange Bowl.

In the first half, it appeared as if it will be the Sooners' streak. Coached by Jim Tatum, Wilkinson's former boss at Oklahoma, Maryland took a 6-0 lead. At halftime, Wilkinson was furious.

"Sit down! I've never seen anything like this in all my life," he yelled at his team. "They're not doing one thing we haven't worked on. Our line isn't blocking. Our backs are running backwards. If you guys don't get busy and start playing football, you're going to get the hell beat out of you."

Then Wilkinson walked out of a stunned locker room. His players were shocked by their coach's use of even mild profanity.

The fired-up Sooners dominated the second half, scoring three touchdowns to gain a 20-6 victory that clinched the national championship. The key play was Tommy McDonald's 32-yard punt return, setting up a four-yard touchdown run by McDonald that gave Oklahoma a 7-6 lead in the third period.

On the next possession, the second unit drove for a score - a quarterback sneak by Jay O'Neal. An 82-yard interception return for a touchdown by sub cornerback Carl Dodd in the fourth quarter sealed the Sooners' 30th consecutive victory.

Ray Parr in The Daily Oklahoman wrote:
"Squeeze me an orange and drink up a toast
"To the Terrible Terps of Tatum.
"The toughest critters on the coast
"But burp! We dern shore ate 'em."

Odds 'n' Ends

  • When Wilkinson was six, a truck collided with the train he and his mother Edith were traveling in. Edith was badly injured. Less than a year later, she died.

  • As a youngster playing for the 50th Street Tigers, his neighborhood football team in Minneapolis, Wilkinson was a right tackle. His older brother Bill played left tackle, and the brothers frequently fought.

  • Besides football, Wilkinson played hockey and golf at Minnesota. He was a goalie in hockey and captained the golf team.

  • Wilkinson said he learned "99 percent of my football from [Minnesota coach Bernie] Bierman. Not only from the morale standpoint but technically."

  • Elected as a co-captain of the 1936 Minnesota team, he turned down the honor so that another player - one with scholastic problems - could take the role. Wilkinson believed this would motivate his teammate academically.

  • Wilkinson married his college sweetheart, an Iowa woman named Mary Shifflett, in 1938. They had two son, Jay and Pat. After 37 years, the marriage ended in divorce in 1975. The next year, the 60-year-old Wilkinson married Donna O'Donnahue, who was 27.

  • While an assistant at Syracuse, Wilkinson received his master's degree in English.

  • The National Football Coaches Association voted him Coach of the Year after his first unbeaten season at Oklahoma in 1949. The next season, he won his first national title and was voted the Associated Press Coach of the Year.

  • Wilkinson coached one Heisman Trophy winner - running back Billy Vessels in 1952.

  • While Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak is a Division 1-A record, its 48-game unbeaten streak is only tied for fourth best. The record is 63 (59-0-4), set by Washington from 1907 to 1917.

  • One of Oklahoma's most prominent victories in its streak was a 45-0 blowout of Texas in 1956.

  • On Nov. 3, 1956, with the streak at 35 - four shy of Washington's record of 39 - Oklahoma trailed Colorado 19-6 at halftime before rallying for a 27-19 victory.

  • The championship teams of 1955 and 1956 led the nation in scoring, rushing and total offense.

  • Said Jimmy Harris, the quarterback on those teams: "He taught you to be a great football player, but he also taught you to be a great player in the real world, in business and in living."

  • In 1960, Oklahoma was put on probation for denying the NCAA access to the team's financial records.

  • It never rained during a home game over Wilkinson's 17 seasons at Oklahoma.

  • When he ran for the Senate in 1964, Wilkinson was a huge supporter of conservative Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

  • Wilkinson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969.

  • He also is a member of the National Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

  • He twice won the Oklahoma Sportsman of the Year award.

  • Oklahoma honored him on Sept. 14, 1991 during a homecoming weekend.

  • More than 300 people, including 40 former Oklahoma players, attended Wilkinson's funeral service in 1994 in St. Louis.

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