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Oklahoma football: Bud Wilkinson's 1947 newsletter is interesting reading

I heard from retired U.S. District Judge Ralph Thompson last week. He sent me the coolest thing: a 1947 newsletter from Bud Wilkinson.

I guess the pandemic has people doing some spring cleaning. I’ve received several items that I’ll share with you from time to time, and this newsletter was a beaut. It was sent to Lee B Thompson, which I assume was Judge Thompson’s father.

Wilkinson, who became OU’s head coach in 1947, wrote newsletters to fans and alumni after each game, starting with his first season and going, I believe, his entire 17 seasons. Wilkinson attempted to “fully and frankly” describe the previous game, perhaps providing insight the newspapers might have missed.

The newsletters included a few statistical charts and a long, first-person account of the game, written by Wilkinson but with help, no doubt, from legendary publicist Harold Keith.

At the end of the newsletter is a declaration in parenthesis: “No portion of this letter may be printed by newspapers or broadcast by radio stations.”

I don’t know what the media of 1947 did, but no way could a coach dictate those restrictions today. If a coach says it or writes it, it’s fair game.

Judge Thompson sent me Wilkinson’s November 4, 1947 newsletter, after OU’s 27-9 victory over “Iowa State College.” (I looked it up; yep, Iowa State’s name switched from College to University in 1959).

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy reading about an OU victory from 73 years ago, in Wilkinson’s own words. Here you go, courtesy of Judge Thompson:

“Norman, Okla., Nov. 4, 1947

“Dear Sooner:

“In our 27 to 9 victory over Iowa State here last week I was pleased with the hustle of our club and also the fact we broke two long touchdown plays out into the open. We missed lots of tackles and were fooled twice on Statue of Liberty plays but our kids were really trying and despite their mistakes they played well.”

“Against Kansas State this Saturday, at Manhattan, Kans., we will have John Rapacz, our fine center, ready to go again. John has had a badly-sprained neck the last two weeks and we didn’t use him at all against Iowa State, Pete Tillman playing very well in his place. Bill Morris, our fine reserve tackle, also missed the Iowa State game because of a leg injury but may be able to play this week against Kansas State, or at least by the Missouri game at Columbia November 15.

“We used some new backs against Iowa State and they all looked good. Dan Anderegg, a transfer halfback from Fredericksburg, Tex., did some great tackling. Buddy Jones of Holdenville ripped off 47 yards in nine carries and had two more gains totaling 15 yards recalled because of offsides penalties. Johnny Allsup ran well although Iowa State had so much strength to the side Allsup runs toward that we had to substitute George Brewer for him to capitalize upon Brewer’s straight-ahead running.

“Stanley West, our 234-pound substitute, left guard from Enid, continued his raging play, rolling Iowa State backs for losses and blocking a punt. Darrell Royal of Hollis punted superbly, lacing kicks of 65 and 74 yards with the north wind and punting out of bounds on the Iowa State seven, and again on their six. He also quarterbacked well for us.

“George Thomas of Fairland made three great plays that were very expensive to Iowa State. Thomas set up our second touchdown by his 48-yard runback of an intercepted pass. He postponed Iowa State’s touchdown by catching Webb Halbert of Iowa State from behind when Halbert was loose in the open field on a fine 58-yard run. Then Thomas bored off right tackle for 12 yards and tackled, pitched out a lateral to Ed Kreick, our fullback, who ran 73 additional yards to score, the whole play gaining 85 yards.

“Clutch plays like the three vital ones Thomas gave us, and Royal’s two very cleverly-paced out-of-bounds punts, and Stanley West’s battering, mauling work at guard are very good for a coach’s appetite and digestion. All three of these boys are sophomores yet they are showing a steady consistency that we like very much. You may remember it was Thomas who saved the Detroit game for us with a timely interception on the final play. He also tossed the lateral that broke Jack Mitchell loose for 72 yards and our second touchdown against Texas.

“Iowa State led 3 to 0 at the first quarter, scoring on a 37-yard field goal beautifully kicked at an angle by Tackle Harle Rollinger after Allsup’s fumble had given them the ball near our goal. Allsup had scooted 20 yards on a reverse behind a timely block by Tackle Homer Paine to pull us out of a hole prior to this fumble.

“We got a nice break (the boys say we’ve had one coming a long time) at the start of the second quarter when Ray Klootwyk, Iowa State fullback, was hit hard by Jim Tyree and Homer Paine fumbling the ball in the air to Royal who ran 13 yards to a touchdown, weaving cleverly around a tackler on the five-yard line. Dave Wallace, back on both feet after recently hurting his knee, kicked goal for us. In fact, Wallace kicked three of four conversions for us Saturday, making 11 hits in 15 tries for him this year and 43 hits in 52 tries for him the last two years, excellent booting. Besides, he has kicked three field goals for us the last two years giving him a total of 52 points on his toemanship alone.

“We also scored just before the half ended when Thomas intercepted Ferguson’s pass, returning it 48 yards. Iowa State was penalized 15 yards to their seven and from there Brewer scored for us in two bucks, Wallace goaling. We led 14-3 at the half.

“Iowa State completely out-played us in the third quarter and right here I want to give Abe Stuber, their new coach, full credit. His offensive combination of T and short punt gave us lots of trouble. Figuring that their forward passing was most apt to defeat us, we had instructed our halfbacks to play a little more loosely than usual on defense, and this aided their running. It looks like Iowa State is definitely going to be one of the league’s better clubs in the future. In the third period we had the wind but they dominated play, keeping the ball that they originated 24 offensive plays to our seven. They drove 71 yards on us and reached our six-yard line before Wade Walker and Buddy Burris made stops that gave us the ball on downs.

“At the start of the fourth period came our 85-yard touchdown play. Thomas bored off tackle for 12, was checked, turned and lateraled to Kreick, our fullback. Kreick fielded the ball off his shoe laces and flanked by a wall of Oklahoma blockers, ran 73 yards farther to score. Wallace goaled and we led 20-3.

“Showing lots of fight, Iowa State came right back with a 71-yard touchdown march. Halbert nearly scored it single-handed when he took a hand-off from Norman on a fake forward pass and broke through our line for 58 yards, Thomas catching him from behind when it looked like he had the touchdown made. We drew a 15-yard roughing penalty, moving the ball to our eight, and from there they passed to the touchdown, Norman throwing and Bob Jensen, their end, making a sensational diving catch on the goal. Burris stormed through to block Rollinger’s conversion try.

“Seconds before the final gun Anderegg brought a punt back 17 yards to the Iowa State 45. Three plays later Brewer reversed down the west sidelines and helped by a magnificent open field blocked by Wade Walker, our right tackle and co-captain, ran 41 yards to a touchdown. Wallace missed this final goal. Royal did our quarterbacking on this offensive.

“Thus the 1947 Big Six race is narrowing down to a three-school struggle. Missouri, which has defeated Iowa State 27-6, Kansas State 47-7 and Nebraska 47-6, looks very good and we hear she has vastly improved her forward passing. Kansas, with whom we played a 13-13 tie, flogged Kansas State 55-0 Saturday at Lawrence and has already beaten Iowa State 27-7. The only remaining games among the three leaders are Oklahoma vs. Missouri at Columbia November 15 and Missouri vs. Kansas at Lawrence one week later on November 22. Also, we still face Big Six games against Kansas State at Manhattan Saturday and against Nebraska at Lincoln November 22 that could be very hard to win since we must play on their home fields.

“Sincerely yours, Bud Wilkinson.”

Well, that was interesting. Here are a few of my thoughts.

* Wilkinson uses “hustle” in his first sentence. That’s interesting. Not every word that we use these days has been around forever. Somehow, I always thought of “hustle” as a relatively new word. Something out of the 1960s, perhaps. But no.

* Iowa State ran two Statue of Liberty plays, both of which apparently fooled the Sooners. Bob Stoops’ 2006 Sooners know a thing or two about the Statue of Liberty play. Truth is, people don’t run enough Statue of Liberty plays.

* Wilkinson told fans that George Brewer replaced Johnny Allsup at halfback because Brewer was a better straight-ahead runner, and Wilkinson told fans that OU’s cornerbacks had been instructed to play back, OU fearing the pass more than the run. Sometimes you can get insight like that (Mike Gundy on occasion, Alex Grinch isn’t bad), but mostly it’s hard to come by.

* Darrell Royal had punts of 65 and 74 yards, each of which rolled out of bounds inside the Iowa State 8-yard line. Royal holds OU’s interception record, quarterbacked the Sooners’ great 1949 team and was a punter for the ages. Sometimes we forget how great a player he was.

* Fullback Ed Kreick ran 73 yards for a touchdown and halfback Dan Anderegg had a big punt return. I pride myself on knowing Sooner football history. This was the first time I remember ever hearing the names Ed Kreick or Dan Anderegg.

* Wilkinson lists all kinds of positions – guard, halfback, fullback, quarterback, center – and yet he capitalizes the first letter of only one position: tackle. Don’t you find that curious?

* Wilkinson gets all excited about Dave Wallace’s kicking. He made three of four extra points, 11 of 15 for that season and 43 of 52 for his career, to that point. “Excellent booting,” Wilkinson writes. Standards have changed.

* Wilkinson praises first-year Iowa State coach Abe Stuber. I pride myself on a working knowledge of the major historical figures of each Big Eight school, particularly the head coaches and especially since World War II. I don’t remember Abe Stuber at all.

* Wilkinson says “Iowa State is definitely going to be one of the league’s better clubs in the future.” Sounds a little like Lou Holtz, who would build up the most meager opponent to be like Michigan. So I looked it up. Those Cyclones finished 3-6, then went 4-6, 5-3-1, 3-6-1, 4-4-1, 3-6 and 2-7 in Stuber’s remaining seasons. His conference record: 11-28-1.

* Wade Walker and Buddy Burris made key stops. Walker and Burris were OU football stars of 73 years ago. I have interviewed Walker and Burris. What a tradition.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›