November 16, 1957 – Sooners Streak Snapped

Fighting Irish Head Coach Terry Brennan is carried off the field after Notre Dame defeats the Oklahoma Sooners, 7-0

Fighting Irish Head Coach Terry Brennan is carried off the field after Notre Dame defeats the Oklahoma Sooners, 7-0

On November 16, 1957, on an autumn afternoon in Norman, Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame defeated the University of Oklahoma Sooners, 7-0.  The gridiron squad from Indiana made history that day, already a red-letter day in Oklahoma, as the forty-sixth territory to enter the Union celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their statehood.  The history made by Bud Wilkinson’s Sooner team wasn’t one to be celebrated, however.  An unranked Notre Dame team had come to town and tossed off tackles and Oklahoma’s impressive records left and right.

Up until today, OU had a 47-game win streak going – undefeated over four seasons and the longest winning streak in college football history.  Their last loss had been at the start of the 1953 season, against – Notre Dame! – with a score of 28-21.  Next record snapped – 123 consecutive games without getting blanked.  For Sooner coach Wilkinson, this was only the ninth defeat since becoming head coach at OU in 1947.  On this day spoiler Notre Dame also virtually doomed the Sooner’s chances for a third national championship.

Former players remember the day like it was yesterday.  Notre Dame’s offense had scored the game’s first points on a long touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.  OU’s final possession followed, and on their way down the field in pursuit of a characteristic last quarter touchdown the Irish intercepted Sooner quarterback Dale Sherrod with less than a minute to go.  The game was over.  Notre Dame had held mighty OU to just 98 yards of offense on the ground and 47 in the air.

Oklahoma would go on to beat Nebraska – extending their conference win-streak to 65 – defeat arch-rival Oklahoma State 53-6, then Duke University in the Orange Bowl 48-21.  The Sooners finished the year with a 10-1 record and fourth-place ranking in both the AP and UPI polls.

So who or what were “Sooners”?  In 1889, President Grover Cleveland’s Indian Appropriations Act proclaimed the “unassigned lands” of what would become the State of Oklahoma officially open for settlement.  The act contained a “sooner” clause, decreeing that anyone who entered and occupied the land before March 2nd would be ineligible to claim land.  Sooners, therefore, were those who jumped the gun on the US government.  They were often land surveyors, deputy marshalls, railroad employees, or others who had already entered the territory legally before the starting date.  They could also be sneak-across-the-border-by-the-light-of-the-moon men, too – in other words, “moonshiners”.


57 + 57 Football – Detroit Lions Regular Season Week 9

Detroit Lions LogoTwo moments in time set the stage for the Lions-Falcons game last Sunday in London. The first moment is at halftime. When the teams go into the clubhouse at Wembley Stadium, Atlanta has 21 points and Detroit has zero. The second moment occurs with four seconds left in the game. Atlanta’s lead is now a slim 21-19. Lions kicker Matt Prater lines up a 43-yard field goal, misses, and then, incredibly, gets a do-over.

The headlines say it all: “Lions rally from 3-TD deficit as Falcons suffer historic collapse;” “Lions complete stunning comeback, beat Falcons 22-21.”

Yes, Prater’s first kick sailed wide right. At this point, the Lions hadn’t scored a field goal in the forty-yard range ALL SEASON. Then, a flag is thrown. Who will the penalty be against? Detroit. All over? Not yet. Delay of game. Prater lines up for a 48-yard attempt. And this time, the ball sails through the uprights. The clock has expired, but not the Lions. “Fitting, at one of the world’s most famous soccer stadiums,” wrote Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, “that this would come down to a kick.”

“That’s about as high and as low and as high again as I’ve been on a football field,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “It was fantastic.”

“If you miss one, ” added Prater, “you better not miss again. I think the team would have wanted to kill me on the plane ride back.”

Whatever hampered the Lions in the first half – jet lag, disorientation from driving on the left, kippers for breakfast? – both the defense and offense kicked into gear during the second half. Great performances again by Golden Tate and Matthew Stafford combined with solid-gold defense brought the Lions back to win. That’s two one-point squeaker wins in two weeks. Next week’s bye will allow the team to rest and get more players healthy for the Miami Dolphins on November 9th.

Matthew Stafford hit a milestone during the Falcons game. His 24 for 47 pass completions for 325 yards and two touchdowns set a new Detroit Lions club record for career touchdown passes. Who owned the old record? Our 1957 Lions quarterback, Bobby Layne. Sunday’s performance gave Stafford 120 passes in 69 games. Layne’s final numbers were 118 passes in 97 games.

Hall of Fame Quarterback Bobby Layne. Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Hall of Fame Quarterback Bobby Layne. Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bobby Layne holds the double distinction of appearing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and owning one of the Lions retired jerseys, number 22. Layne, a Texas All-American, played 15 years in the pros starting in 1948 with the Chicago Bears, 1949 with the New York Bulldogs, 1950 – 1958 at Detroit, and then 1958 – 1962 at Pittsburgh as a Steeler. Bobby played hard both on and off the field. He was described as free-spirited, but also as possessing great leadership, determination, and guts.

Layne’s star shone brightly during his time in Detroit in part due to his relationship with Coach Buddy Parker. They were possibly the fifties equivalent of the great eighties’ 49ers duo, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh. Parker spent the 1957 season in a new position coaching at Pittsburgh and Bobby joined him the following year.

For game number five of the 1957 season, the Lions prowled to Los Angeles to meet the Rams on their home field. The Lions had triumphed over QB Norm Van Brocklin’s team in Detroit during week three, but in sunny LA the Rams plowed through the Lions, 35-17.

Over 77,000 fans were in the stands of Los Angeles Memorial Stadium. The Rams went out early and never lost the lead. Detroit had more first downs and passing yardage, but the Rams’ ground game ground them down. If you have to lose, maybe sunny LA is the place to be. For the following Sunday’s game, the Lions needed only to travel up the coast to San Francisco. The Niners, quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and wide receiver R.C. Owens were up next.

57 + 57 Football – Detroit Lions Regular Season Week 8

Detroit Lions LogoThe art of deception, and solid defensive play backed up by key performances by the offense, helped the Lions narrowly beat the Saints on Sunday, 24-23. The deception – by defensive secondary partners James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin – involved a sudden switch in roles, baffling Saints quarterback Drew Brees into a mis-judged pass intercepted by Quin. The turnover sparked a recovery. Two touchdowns were quickly on the scoreboard and the Lions roared into the locker room with the win. Golden Tate, with a career-high 10 catches for 154 yards, chalked up 73 of those yards for the first recovery touchdown. A Matthew Stafford to Corey Fuller pass deep in the end zone put the Lions over the top with only 1:54 left in the game. In the field goal department, newly-signed kicker Matt Prater put his sole attempt of 21 yards through the endposts. So far, so good.

“These games build character in your team,” Quin quipped. “When you’re in games like this, worrying about a No. 1 defense or stats or all that stuff, none of that matters, you’re just trying to win the game. Great offenses come through and make plays like they did, and great defenses come through and make big plays like we did and that’s how you get the win.”

We’re 5-2,  still tied with the pesky Packers for the NFC North, and headed on Sunday to Atlanta, home of the free, the Braves, and the 2-5 Falcons. The Falcons were thoroughly trashed by the Baltimore Colts Ravens last weekend. We’ll just sweep up after.

On October 20, 1957 another come-from-behind win played out in Detroit. The Baltimore Colts came to town, with their “Golden Arm” (quarterback Johnny Unitas), for a rematch following the Lions’ loss in Baltimore three weeks earlier. The Arm quickly went to work: 1st quarter 15 yard TD pass to Jim Mutscheller; 2nd quarter 72 yard TD pass to Lenny Moore, 66 yard pass to Jim Mutscheller; and 3rd quarter 4 yard pass to Lenny Moore. Then the Lions woke up. In the fourth quarter, Detroit quarterback Bobby Layne displayed his “arm and a foot”: a 26 yard TD pass to Howard Cassady, a hand-off to John Henry Johnson for a 1 yard TD run, and another 29 yard TD pass to Cassady (Layne also kicked all three points after). Final score: Detroit 31, Baltimore 27.

Fullback John Henry Johnson. Photo: Pro Football Hall of Fame

Fullback John Henry Johnson. Photo: Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Henry Johnson, a 6′ 2″ fullback out of Arizona State, was a new face on the Lions team in 1957. His two previous years in the NFL were with the San Francisco 49ers as part of their “Million Dollar Backfield,” which included future Pro Hall-of-Famers Johnson, Hugh McElhenny, Y.A. Tittle, and Joe Perry. During the 1957 season, John Henry was the Lions leading rusher with 621 yards. On retirement in 1966 he ranked fourth in rushing yards behind only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, and Joe Perry. In addition to his career 6803 rushing yards, he had 186 pass receptions for 1478 yards, scoring 330 points on 55 career touchdowns.

Up next for the 1957 Lions – a trip to sunny Los Angeles and another opportunity to shut down Norm Van Brocklin and his Ram crew. Is there a trip to two-year-old Disneyland in the cards?

October 20, 1957 – NYC Mayor Robert Wagner’s Coney Island Campaign Stop

The Mayoral Debate: Catsup or Mustard? Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times Photo Archives, available at the New York Times store

On October 20, 1957, incumbent New York City mayoral candidate Robert F. Wagner, Jr. stopped for a classic Coney Island treat – a All-American hot dog.  On his way to a second-term landslide victory, Democrat Wagner’s alignment with Carmine DeSapio’s Tammany Hall machine during his first election in 1953 instigated a intra-party feud between DeSapio and Presidential Widow Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband Franklin had previously stripped the long-standing political society from federal patronage.  Tammany Hall’s 140-year influence over the city had begun to wane in the 1930’s, with the election of Republican Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on a Fusion ticket.  The 1953 DeSapio-Wagner alliance resulted in a brief resurgence of machine politics in the 1950’s.

Mayor Wagner, a Yale graduate and Scroll and Key member, was born in Manhattan in 1910, the son of U. S. Senator Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Sr.  During his tenure in Gotham he was instrumental in building public housing and schools, creating the City University of New York system, establishing the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barring housing discrimination based on race, creed or color.  He is said to be the first mayor to pro-actively hire a significant number of people of color into city government positions.  The city’s performing arts jewel, the Lincoln Center, was developed while Wagner was in office.  The Public Theater’s New York Shakespeare Festival (now known as Shakespeare in the Park) also took shape during his tenure.  His administration’s inaction led to the out-of-town migration of the Giants and Dodgers baseball teams, although a subsequent commission he formed led to the birth of the New York Mets.

Wagner broke with DeSapio and Tammany Hall during his third-term mayoral campaign in 1961.  His victory set a milestone in New York City, and local machine politics thereafter entered a decline.

October 19, 1957 – Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip Attend Football Game

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip: Honorary Terrapins for the Day. Photo: University of Maryland Library Archives.

On October 19, 1957, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip took time out from a busy diplomatic schedule of visits during their United States tour to take in a “typical American sport”, college football.  College Park played proud host to the royal couple as the University of Maryland Terrapins played the visiting Tar Heels of University of North Carolina.  Adding extra zest to the day, the Terrapins “thrashed” the Tar Heels (and their coach, Jim Tatum, formerly at the helm at U of M) by the score of 21 – 7.  University President Wilson Elkins and Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin joined Elizabeth and Philip for the brisk fall afternoon rite.

Elizabeth’s whirlwind tour of the East Coast included visits to Virginia’s historic Jamestown and Williamsburg settlements, tea at the College of William and Mary, a New York City ticker tape parade aboard U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s limousine, a view of Gotham from the top of the Empire State Building, an address to the United Nations General Assembly, and an occasion-calling-for-a-diamond-tiara banquet atop the Waldorf-Astoria.  At Williamsburg, the Queen graciously acknowledged the common heritage and fraternity of the United States and Great Britain:

“Here, at a great period in your history, [the descendents of your forefathers and my countrymen] proclaimed their faith in certain great concepts of freedom, justice, law, and self-government.  Those concepts have had a profound influence on the political development, not only of the United States, but all freedom-loving countries.  This magnificent restoration of Colonial Williamsburg is a constant and vivid reminder of  those principles.  That is why we regard it as a major contribution to understanding between us.  If it inspires us all to closer cooperation in the fulfillment of these common ideals, then Williamsburg will have done more than dramatize history and rebuild the past: it will have helped to build the future.”

57 + 57 Football – Detroit Lions Regular Season Week 7

Detroit Lions LogoThe Detroit Lions defense – ranked No. 1 in the nation – delivered the goods on Sunday, holding the Minnesota Vikings scoreless until the very closing moments of the fourth quarter. How good were they? Eight sacks, three interceptions, one fumble recovery, and this tribute from Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, “They kicked butt.” “Give credit to Detroit,” Zimmer continued, “they did a good job.” Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 19 of 33 passes for 185 yards. Golden Tate, Theo Riddick, and Joique Bell added their contributions to the offense which resulted in the 17-3 victory at Minneapolis’ TCF Bank Stadium. Lions kicking disappointments Nate Freese and Alex Henery were released earlier in the week.

Who answered Detroit’s Help Wanted ad? Matt Prater (current holder of the NFL longest-field-goal record at 64 yards) joined the squad from Denver and put in a less-than-stellar but hopefully-promising performance. Points-after kicks were no problem, but Prater missed two field goals of 44 and 50 yards. In the second quarter, he was able to finagle a 52-yard field goal in spite of swirling winds. “We have all the confidence in the world in him,” coach Jim Caldwell said after the game. “I mean the guy’s got a great track record. We feel good about him.” We can all feel good about another Lions win. Our team is now 4-2 and tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay. Next up: the New Orleans Saints, at home, Sunday, October 19th, 1:00 PM Eastern. The Saints may march in, but after the Lions are through with them, they might crawl out.

The Lions defense of 1957, in Week 3 of their regular season, also dominated their floundering opponents, the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams offense, one of the top-rated offenses of the 1957 season, was virtually shut down in Detroit as the Lions won 10-7. Pro Hall of Fame Ram quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was held to 5 completions in 18 pass attempts for 74 total passing yards, with six interceptions. “Chris’ Crew,” as the 1957 Lions defense came to be known, brought their best game on October 13th.

Detroit Lions Defensive Back Jack Christiansen. Photo: AP Photo/NFL Photos

Detroit Lions defensive back Jack Christiansen. Photo: AP Photo/NFL Photos

Why “Chris’ Crew”? Out of respect for his on-field leadership, the “Chris” recognized Jack Christiansen, a 6′ 1″ defensive back out of Odd Fellows Orphanage High School (he grew up in the Kentucky orphanage) and Colorado State. Signed in 1951, Christiansen played an integral part in the successful string of Lions seasons until he retired in 1958. Opponents grew to respect his abilities and purposely changed their strategies to avoid getting the ball anywhere in Christiansen’s near vicinity. Jack led the league in interceptions in 1953 and tied for the lead in 1957. Christiansen surely had a hand (or two) in the Ram interceptions this day. He returned 85 punts during his career for 1084 yards, an average of 12.8 yards per carry, which still stands as a Lions record. Eleven of those punt returns resulted in touchdowns, another Detroit record, and he returned two punts for touchdowns in the same game twice in his career. Christiansen was All-Pro from 1952 to 1957, played in five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1954 until his retirement, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970. He went on to coach multiple seasons for the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford University Cardinal. The father of four girls, Jack died in 1986 at the age of . . . 57.

With the Rams neatly turned out to pasture, our banner year team looked forward to a grudge match. Three weeks after handing Detroit a defeat in Baltimore, the Colts were coming out west. Would the Lions stop Unitas this time? Stay tuned.

October 14, 1957 – Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photo: White House, Pubic Domain

On October 14, 1957, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrated his 67th birthday with his loving wife, Mamie, by his side.  Possibly their son John and daughter-in-law Barbara, and grandchildren David, Barbara, Susan, and Mary were able to join in the festivities.  Dwight and Mamie’s first son, Doud (Mamie’s maiden name), had died of scarlet fever in 1921 at age 3.

Born David Dwight Eisenhower in 1890 in Denison, Texas, President Eisenhower was the third of seven sons for David  and Ida Eisenhower.  Finances were always tight for David, a college-educated engineer, and Ida, a homemaker and deeply religious woman.   The Eisenhowers moved to Abilene, Kansas early in the future President’s life and he worked for two years after graduating from Abilene High to help pay for his brother Edgar’s college education.  When it came time for Dwight, as he was called, to attend college, he chose West Point, and changed his name to “Dwight David” when he entered the prestigious Army academy in the fall of 1911.  Eisenhower enjoyed sports and was a good athlete.  While he didn’t make the academy baseball team (“one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest”), he played football and was a starting running back and linebacker from his sophomore year onward.  Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and served in a wide variety of roles and theaters during his Army career.

Eisenhower trained early in tank warfare, served in the Panama Canal Zone, marked time during the 1920’s and early ’30s, then served in the Philipines before assignment to high commands during World War II.  He was ultimately named Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, planning and carrying out Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  His ability to work with difficult personalities and maintain strong relationships gained him respect and greater responsibility.  Eisenhower found a way to stay on positive and constructive terms with such military and political luminaries as Gen. George Patton, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, French Gen. Charles de Gaulle, Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin.

In 1948, after the conclusion of the war and the occupation of Europe, Eisenhower revealed the depth of his commitment to God, calling himself  “one of the most deeply religious men I know”, although he remained unattached to any “sect or organization”.

Prior to his election in 1952, President Eisenhower served briefly as the President of New York’s Columbia University, and as Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  He and his 1952 running mate, Richard M. Nixon, beat Democrats Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman to gain the White House in a landslide victory.  His philosophy was one of “dynamic conservatism”.  He retained New Deal programs, created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, championed the creation of the Interstate Highway System, crafted the Eisenhower Doctrine after the Suez Crisis in 1956, and spearheaded the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, declaring racial discrimination a national security issue.

President Eisenhower’s health became a troubling issue while in office.  He was hospitalized for several weeks in 1955 following a heart attack, and suffered from Crohn’s disease, which required more surgery and hospitalization in 1956 to relieve a bowel obstruction.  Fortunately, he recovered his health and continued to ably lead the country he loved.

Some quotes from this great American:

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine.  As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”

“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”

“I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.”

“I have only one yardstick by which I test every major problem – and that yardstick is: Is it good for America?”