Norman, Oklahoma -- Oklahoma became the 46th state on Nov. 16, 1907, which is why the Sooner State is celebrating its centennial this week. But there was little celebrating when the state observed its golden anniversary 50 years later, on Nov. 16, 1957.
That was the day the longest winning streak in college football history come to an abrupt end as Bud Wilkinson's University of Oklahoma Sooners lost to unranked Notre Dame after winning 47 straight games over four seasons, including a 40-0 win over the Irish the year before.
Jakie Sandefer remembers it like it was yesterday. Sandefer was a 165-pound junior running back who returned a Notre Dame punt to the Irish 34 late in the third quarter that convinced 63,170 homecoming fans that their team would break the scoreless tie and go on to win their 48 th straight game. But the drive stalled, and Notre Dame drove 80 yards in 20 plays for the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
It was fourth-and-four on the OU three-yard line, and Sandefer watched helplessly as halfback Dick Lynch took a pitch-out from quarterback Bob Williams and scored with 3:50 remaining. The Sooners returned the kickoff to their 39 and advanced to the Notre Dame 24 before Notre Dame intercepted Dale Sherrod's pass with less than a minute to go to end the game.
Sandefer, a retired Texas oilman who moved here from Houston four years ago so he could follow Oklahoma football more closely, was as stunned as his teammates and Sooner fans. It was a devastating loss," he recalled. "Being so young, I didn't know of anything that was so devastating at the time."
But Sandefer, who lives only a few blocks from OU's football stadium, and from his close friend, former Sooners coach Barry Switzer, told me he's never forgotten what Wilkinson told his team afterwards. "Coach Wilkinson came into the dressing room and said, 'I'm proud of you guys.' He said, 'You've won 47 straight games. That's something nobody will ever do again. Remember, the only ones who never lose are the ones who never play."
I met Sandefer while teaching at the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications this fall, and he and his charming wife Melissa invited me to their palatial home last Saturday before the Sooners demolished Baylor 52-21. The win gave them a 9-1 record - they lost only to Colorado and climbed to number four in BCS standings after number one Ohio State lost to Wisconsin. The win preserved their hopes for another Big 12 title and a shot at an eighth national championship that would be the second under Coach Bob Stoops - Wilkinson and Switzer had three each.
Sandefer, who inherited his father's oil exploration company, recalled that Oklahoma was ranked number two before the loss to Notre Dame, which was 4-2 coming into the game and a three-touchdown underdog. The loss dropped the Sooners to number six, but they rebounded the next week with a 32-7 win over Nebraska in Lincoln, extending their conference winning streak to 65, then went on to beat archrival Oklahoma State 53-6, and Duke in the Orange Bowl 48-21
Duke had pulled within 21-14 before Sandefer scored on a three-yard run late in the third quarter before OU scored 27 points in the fourth quarter, still an Orange Bowl record. The Sooners finished with a 10-1 record and were ranked fourth in the AP and UPI polls.
Sandefer showed me the scrapbook his mother compiled during his three years as a Sooner regular, and opened it to the page from the Dallas paper that reported his team's historic loss to Notre Dame. It was clear that, after fifty years, he still feels the sting of that loss.