Friday, August 24, 2001
Gautt was first African-American to play at OU
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic
The list of achievements for Prentice Gautt is a long one.
He was the leading rusher in two of his three years at the University of Oklahoma; he played eight years in the National Football League and received his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at the University of Missouri. He is currently an associate commissioner with the Big 12.
While Gautt has plenty of accomplishments, what has given him the most notoriety is that he was the first African-American to play football at Oklahoma.
It was a challenge for Gautt, but things were definitely made easier by head coach Bud Wilkinson -- the man who gave Gautt the chance to play football at OU.
"(Wilkinson) was a father figure to me," said Gautt, who played for Wilkinson from 1957-59. "He was also my psychologist or psychiatrist. He would come up to me and ask me, 'What's happening today?' He would listen to me."
However, the two never talked about race during Gautt's tenure at Oklahoma.
"We never discussed it," Gautt said. "But one time after we had graduated, he showed me all the hate mail that he had received."
The only time that race was brought up was indirectly. "We just had a poor practice and coach stood up and said, 'There are some of you talking behind a certain player's back ? Be man enough to tell it to his face." He then left the room. Players began to stand up and apologize. I think there was a transition after that."
While Wilkinson was a father figure to Gautt as well as other players, that didn't mean that he could escape his criticism.
Gautt remembered when Wilkinson talked with him and told him that he wasn't playing well enough to be on the travel team.
"He was a great motivator," Gautt said of Wilkinson. "It hurt. He knew how to ratchet me up. He knew how to motivate me and get to be more aggressive."
While Gautt had to endure at Oklahoma, one bad memory that will not fade away easily is that he was on the team that ended the 47-game winning streak.
Notre Dame was the last team to beat the Sooners before the streak started in 1953 and it would also be the team to end the steak. The Fighting Irish knocked off the Sooners, 7-0, on Nov. 16, 1957.
"I think we were a little complacent," Gautt said, "But you've got to hand it to Notre Dame. They stepped it up and they did what I expected us to do. They got the extra two or three yards, picked up the extra block. You've got to hand it to them.
"We thought we were going to pull it out," he continued. "You felt like something was going to happen, that somebody was going to step up. Until the interception at the end of the game, we felt that we were going to win."
After the game, Gautt said that the players were distraught, but Wilkinson had complete composure,
"It was like a bomb dropped in Norman," Gautt said. "Players were crying, but (Wilkinson) walked in and acted as if it was just another game. He was stoic. If he was upset, he didn't show it."
Unfortunately, fans needed a scapegoat for the loss and Gautt was an easy target.
"It bothered me that some people actually said that if I wasn't on the team, the streak never would have been broken," Gautt said. "They said that because some players quit and others would leave OU because I was playing. It was ridiculous to think that if I hadn't played, Bud's streak could have gone on forever."