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.

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 5

Who owns first place in the NFC North? The Detroit Lions!

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Golden Tate were standouts for the offense in a game with the New York Jets that went back and forth until late in the fourth quarter. Stafford completed 24 of 34 passes for 293 yards, three touchdowns (two in the air), and no interceptions. Tate produced several crucial third-down conversions on his way to eight receptions for 116 yards. When the dust settled, the Lions had silenced MetLife Stadium fans with a 24-17 victory over the mis-firing Jets.

Detroit Lions Snack HelmetA former Seahawk and All-American out of Notre Dame, Tate was passed by the Jets in free agency before being snapped up by the Lions. “He’s a quick guy and he has great hands. He’s effective down the field,” Stafford said of Tate. “We’re happy to have him.” Tate’s take on the day? “That was a really good, hard-fought football game on our part, but not perfect. I think in order to be a championship team we need to go into the film room excited to see what we did wrong so we can grow from here.” I can see them now – the Lions in their man cave, watching game footage, munching their favorite snacks (from a Lions Snack Helmet, perhaps?).

Next week the Buffalo Bills come to Motor City. The Bills are 2-2, tied for first in the AFC East. Oddsmakers have Detroit on top by a touchdown. Set your gameday clocks for Sunday, October 5th, 1:00 PM Eastern time. Let’s remember that lions can take down buffalos like a run in the park.

The 1957 Detroit Lions played their first season game on September 29th against the Baltimore Colts and their young but rising star quarterback, Johnny “The Golden Arm” Unitas. The Lions couldn’t have known it at the time, but their matchup with the Colts would enter the record books as the fourth installment of Unitas’ 47-game streak in which he threw at least one completed touchdown pass. On this beautiful fall day, Unitas rocketed four bullets for touchdowns – two to L.G. Dupre, and one each to Jim Mutscheller and Raymond Berry. Two Colt field goals added to the final score: Colts 34, Lions 14. The Lions took the early lead with a touchdown by Hopalong Cassady in the first quarter, but in the second the Colts surged ahead and never looked back. Unitas’ stats for the day: 14 of 23 passes completed for 241 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions (it would have been great if the Lions could have capitalized).

Unitas’ phenomenal string of games with touchdown passes began in 1956, his rookie year with the Colts. A little over four years, 697 passes, 10,645 yards, and 102 touchdowns later, his streak ended but his record stood until surpassed by the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees in 2012. After 18 years, spent almost entirely at Baltimore, Unitas retired having held virtually every career passing record in the NFL. Immensely popular and recognized as one of the game’s greatest players, Johnny led his team to three championships (including the following year, in 1958), and entered the Hall of Fame in 1979.

The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award was created in 1987 to recognize the nation’s outstanding college quarterback, for accomplishments both on and off the gridiron. The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation and the Transamerica Corporation are in the process of narrowing the field of candidates in advance of the award announcement on December 12th in Baltimore. As of October 2nd, 15 quarterbacks were still in contention, including Sean Mannion from my alma mater, Oregon State University!

Back in 1957, the Lions would be close to home for regular season game #2. A visit to Wisconsin and archrival Green Bay was up next. Would the Lions send the Packers packing?

57 + 57 Football: Detroit Lions Regular Season Week 2

Detroit Lions LogoPack up the Skotch Plaid Cooler, 1957-fanatics, it’s tailgating-time! The official football team of 1957 Time Capsule this year is (drum roll, please) . . . the Detroit Lions!

Fifty-seven years ago, the Detroit Lions defeated the Cleveland Browns in the 1957 NFL Championship on December 29th (in chilly Detroit), by a whopping 59-14. The AFL didn’t exist until 1960 and the first Super Bowl was held in 1967. The National Football League Championship was truly the national championship throughout the fifties. Since our banner year, the Lions have won a total of one playoff game – in 1991 against the Dallas Cowboys. They’ve had plenty of chances over the years to vie for their division championship, but disappointment and defeat have deflated their Lion pride.

But this year will be different! Already the Lions are 4 and 1! After winning three of their four preseason games, Detroit’s finest in pads opened on September 8th by bringing down the New York Giants, 35-14, on Monday Night Football (do we still miss fifties-sports-figure Howard Cosell?). This Sunday, September 14th, the Lions go on the prowl for the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. Lions and panthers may be related, but only one cat will end up king of the savanna. Game time? One o’clock Eastern, four o’clock Pacific.

And here’s an invitation to all true Detroit fans, loyal through the years. Send me your highlights from the game. We’ll follow the Lions through the fall, with interesting facts, bits of history, and your memories or keys moments from this season’s games. Leave a comment and then look for next week’s coverage.

Go Lions!