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RED RIVER RIVALRY: A near riot at the Cotton Bowl 70 years ago

AP / The University of Texas
University of Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson (left) and University of Texas coach Blair Cherry (right).
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OKLAHOMA CITY – For The first time in 70 years, both Oklahoma and Texas will have new head coaches on the sidelines in the same game. Though this is a heated rivalry, this year’s matchup should be tame compared to the one seven decades ago, which nearly saw a riot break out.

Blair Cherry took over the reins at Texas in 1947 after serving as an assistant to Dana X. Bible for 19 years. Bible retired in 1946 to become the school’s athletic director. Bud Wilkinson served just one year as an assistant at Oklahoma under Jim Tatum. Tatum left for a better offer to coach the Maryland Terrapins, and Wilkinson was promoted to the head position.

Before the Oklahoma-Texas duel in Dallas, the 46-year-old Cherry led the Longhorns to a 3-0 record with convincing victories over Texas Tech (33-0), Oregon (38-13) and North Carolina (34-0). Texas opened the first AP ranking as the No. 3 team in the country.

Wilkinson, 31, guided the Sooners to a 2-0 record and No. 15 ranking with a 24-20 won over the University of Detroit and a 26-14 victory over Texas A&M.

The Steers handed Wilkinson his first defeat, 34-14. The game was laced with controversial calls and ended with angry Sooners fans hurling pop bottles and cushions toward the field.

A crowd of 46,000 witnessed the Texas rout at the Cotton Bowl, but the ones in the crimson colors would say the Sooners got robbed, or “Siscoed,” a better word for getting screwed. The moniker derived from the name of the game’s referee—Jack Sisco.

Robert Dickey "Jack" Sisco. (Wikimedia)

Texas led 7-0 after one quarter, but the Sooners were on the move in the second by marching 61 yards to the UT 9, but two penalties stalled the drive.

OU forced Texas to punt on the next series and then the Sooners set sail for the tying score. Jack Mitchell’s three-yard TD run and Darrell Royal’s conversion came with 3:45 left in the first half.

Texas was not done. The Horns drove 57 yards to the OU 3. With 20 seconds remaining, Texas halfback Randall Clay gained one yard. He carried again on the next play, but the Sooners stopped him for no gain. Sisco signaled “touchdown” for Texas, but changed it to a “timeout” signal as he noticed the Horns had not scored. Sisco said that because he had signaled “touchdown,” he was unable to notify the scoreboard operator of the timeout before the clock ran out.

The clock showed no time remaining, but Sisco insisted there was one second to play. Oklahoma fans screamed that the half was over. Texas got one more play, and Jim Kennedy took Bobby Layne’s handoff, but the ball squirted from Kennedy’s hands. The ball then bounded off a Sooner player’s arm, and Clay retrieved it at the three and scooted into the end zone for a 14-7 lead after the extra point conversion.

Wilkinson was furious. He tore off his gray fedora and stormed onto the field to berate the officials. The OU skipper and many Sooner fans contended that one of Clay’s knees had touched the ground when he scooped up the ball and scored. He didn’t change the officials’ minds.

“I was careful to have a pre-game agreement with the officials that the field clock was the ‘official’ time,” Wilkinson said two days later at the weekly luncheon for media and alumni. “I am convinced that it showed no remaining time when the last play was run.”

Cherry contended that a Southwest Conference rule “would apply with a field timer holding a watch the last two minutes of each half.”

Jimmie Stewart, the SWC commissioner, said the conference had no such rule.

“There is no such Southwest Conference rule about any special timing in the last two minutes or last minute,” he explained to the Daily Oklahoman. “There has never been such a rule. The field clock is the official time in this conference.”

Midway through the third period, Royal returned a punt to the OU 25, but the Sooners were whistled for clipping, which placed the ball back to the one-yard line. The clip was called on Jim Tyree’s block at the OU 14 on the return. Sooner fans contend that it was a clean block and began to express their displeasure.

Oklahoma stalled, and Texas scored moments later for a 21-7 lead.

The Sooners needed only one play to score from their 20 early in the fourth quarter. George Thomas slammed through the line for eight yards then lateraled to Mitchell who raced 72 more yards to the end zone. Royal converted, and OU was back in the game, down 21-14.

Texas advanced from their 16 to the OU 38, following the kickoff. Royal’s interception appeared to squelch the Steers’ threat, but Sisco penalized the Sooners for unnecessary roughness. Texas got the ball back at the OU 23. One Sooner fan hurled a pop bottle onto the field. Soon, others joined in, some tossing cushions. Wilkinson and OU cheerleaders waved their arms to get the fans to stop, but to no avail.

The game had to be stopped to clear the field of debris then Texas scored in three plays to take a 28-14 lead. The Longhorns scored their final touchdown with about two minutes remaining. Texas recovered a fumble at the OU 44 and Layne completed a TD pass to George McCall on the next play.

As the final gun cracked, more bottles were tossed onto the field and hundreds of Sooner fans poured out of the stands in pursuit of the officials. A Dallas police car was quickly rolled to midfield to whisk away Sisco and his crew. Sisco had to punch a charging Oklahoma fan in self-defense.

“They would have killed him if they could have gotten to him,” said Oklahoma player Merle Dinkins.

“Enraged Sooner partisans were out for blood, and it required some stout slugging by the police to get the officials to their car,” reported the Daily Oklahoman.

OU fans were beating on the windows of the police car as it left the field. One fan smashed a policeman with a bottle, knocking him off the fender of the automobile.

Some fistfights broke out among the fans, but the football players were shaking hands by the locker rooms for a game well played.

Wilkinson said he was disappointed with the fans for their behavior and added, “It’s too bad it had to happen.”

The following night, about one thousand OU students hung Sisco in effigy from an elm tree in front of the administration building. Someone stole the dummy before it could be burned. The next night another dummy was hung in a nearby parking lot and burned. About 3,000 students turned out for the second attempt and sang, “Boomer Sooner” and chanted, “Jack Sisco’s body lies a-moldering in the grave.”

Fans would use the phrase “Siscoed” for many years later when they thought the Sooners got a bad call in a game.

Glass bottles were forbidden at any future OU-Texas football games.

Texas lost only one game that season (to SMU) and the Horns beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Texas finished second in the Southwest Conference behind the Mustangs.

Oklahoma tied Kansas the next week, lost to TCU, but won the final five games to finish Wilkinson’s first season with a 7-2-1 record and a co-championship in the Big Six Conference.

Wilkinson got the better of Cherry with three consecutive wins—identical scores of 20-14 in 1948 and 1949, and 14-13 in 1950.

Cherry retired at UT after four seasons due to failing health. He finished with a career mark of 32-10-1, a pair of Top five rankings, two bowl victories in three appearances, and one SWC championship (1950). He died in 1966 at age 65.

Wilkinson coached for 17 seasons at Oklahoma and is revered as one of the greatest coaches in college football. He finished with a record of 145-29-4 and the Sooners won the national championship in 1950, 1955 and 1956. They won 13 straight conference championships and an astounding 74 consecutive conference games (72 wins, 2 ties) between 1946-59.

His Sooners still hold the modern record for wins by a Division I-A school with 47 straight victories from 1953-1957.

Wilkinson died in 1994 of congestive heart failure at age 77.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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