Just 44 days until induction into the military. I’d lost my deferment because I partied too much and ignored my grades, despite the ever-increasing pressure of the draft. In those days, there was no draft lottery. If you were married with children, a college student, or physically incapable (per pre-induction physical) then you could get a deferment. Otherwise, you were at very high risk. I had taken on a revised attitude, so I enrolled in 2 summer school classes, trying to raise my grades enough to regain my deferment. I had to have two As. I got an A and a B. I was done…..service bound.
I had jobs in high school and had saved a nice chunk. I sold my car and added that to my savings. I had $3700 in the bank. My mother thought it would be nice if I visited our relatives in Illinois before I left for the military. My dad called one of his sisters and told her I’d be there the evening of October 22. So, the morning of the 22nd, off I went in my dad’s car. The first omen of reckless abandon came when I went to the bank and withdrew all but $200 of my money in traveler’s checks. Have never determined what drove that decision. Fate, I guess. Nothing else seems appropriate. Then, I decided I would go to Norman to see a few friends before I left town.
The hated Irish of #1 Notre Dame were in town, ready to play the #10 Sooners. Somehow, I had forgotten about the game. They were the last team to beat the Sooners before OU’s 47 game winning streak and they were team that ended that streak. Nine years later, the Sooners #10 ranking must have been based on past reputation, for Bobby Womack and company were really not very good. Notre Dame was a 21 point favorite; but, from what I had read in magazines and heard on TV, that was conservative…..very conservative. Notre Dame had the #1 offense and the #2 defense in the land. The two combined made for true drubbings of otherwise credible teams.
The excitement of the crowd, the largest to see a football game at Owen Field in history at that point in time; the firm belief that the Sooners were about to get thrashed by a good deal more than the point spread; the thoughts of one “big play” before I was inducted….I don’t know what inspired the absolute feeling of reckless abandon I experienced and the action taken as a result.
I went to Rickner’s book store on Campus Corner and bought a 24”x36” piece of white poster board. I borrowed a red felt tip from the girl behind the counter and very neatly wrote these words:
I WILL GIVE OU + 31 points.
I stapled it to a free yardstick. I went to the east side of the stadium, the student side. There used to be some duplexes across the street where folks parked their cars in the yard for exorbitant prices. Now, it is all gone, replaced by parking lots. People would read my sign and say ugly things to me. A couple of people flipped their cigarettes at me. One lady slapped my face. Her husband grabbed her, but did not offer any apology. From across the street, I saw a man walking my way. He seemed quite intent. He was walking away from a GMC Eleganza motor home – new, rare and very expensive in those days – and it was fully regaled in Notre Dame colors. He was very tastefully dressed in Notre Dame colors as well.
The man stopped in front of me and looked at my sign for a moment, then said. “My son plays for Notre Dame.” Before I could respond, he continued, ”I played for Notre Dame and my two older brothers played for Notre Dame. Our father and one of his brothers played for Notre Dame. One of my wife’s brothers played for Notre Dame.”
“That’s certainly a fine family tradition, sir; but what’s the point?” “The point is, son, you’re giving too many points. This is Oklahoma. There is tradition here….and pride” As I look back on it now, I may have seemed a little rude when I very calmly responded, “We can bet some.”
Now here’s where it gets very dicey, where that reckless abandon really asserts itself. Others might call it stupidity. “What’s your name?” he asked. “Buzz.".” “Well, Buzz. How much money have you got?” I reached into my pocket and proudly pulled out 35 one hundred dollar traveler's checks, saying, “Thirty five hundred.” Quickly and confidently, he responded, “You got yourself a bet, Buzz. Wait right here. I have an extra ticket and we’re going to watch this game together.”
My blood ran cold, but I was too congested with youthful pride and exuberance to say, “Wait, mister. I don’t want to bet it all.” I kept my mouth shut. He brought back his lovely wife, dressed “to the nines” in tasteful Notre Dame fan wear, and 3 tickets on the 40 yard line on west side of the Owen Field. Great seats. Well, money talks. I was so scared. I think he knew. He bought me a popcorn and a large soda and said, “This is it.”….and so it was.
Bobby Womack, quarterback for the #10 and highly over-rated Sooners, had not thrown a single interception to this point in the season. If I ever needed reinforcement, it was now. Bobby Womack threw his first pass straight into the hands of a Notre Dame defender and they scored. It quickly became a very long day for the Sooners; and, at the outset of the 4th quarter, the score was 31-0. If Notre Dame scored again, I would win $3500. If they did not, but held OU scoreless, it was a ‘no bet’ proposition. I was good with either of those outcomes. OU’s hopes to score for the sake of pride were dashed when Bobby Womack threw yet another interception. Hope was gone. The ramps were filling will disappointed fans going home. But Notre Dame was not done. Late in the 4th quarter they took the ball to OU’s 8 yard line. The remaining OU fans were screaming, “Hold’em Red! Hold’em! Screaming right along with the loudest of them was the Notre Dame fan sitting next to me….father of a player, a player alum himself. All that screaming was for naught as Rocky Blier (later Pittsburgh Steelers) ran it in untouched, making it 38-0 after the extra point. Time was running out and, more importantly, the Sooners had run out. They were just going through the motions, waiting for the end of this melee. My Notre Dame fan looked at me. “Did you hear me? Did you hear me? I am so ashamed. Well, you won. You deserve it. You took a Helluva chance today young man.” Yes, his love of school and tradition had fallen to the mighty dollar. After he paid me in AmEx travelers checks, he looked at me with some despondence. I said, "Aw, it's can't be the money. You got plenty of that.". Neither he or his wife had seemed upset at his loss of so much money. Rather, she was very cordial. He looked at his wife for a moment, then back at me. He whispered, "She'll never let me forget it . She won't tell, but she'll never let me forget it." They sent me Christmas cards via my parents' address while I was in the military and until 1983, when I was informed by his wife that he had passed away. R.I.P.
I did not go see my relatives until I returned from the military. I went home and told my parents what I’d done and showed them the $7000. My dad knocked me on my ass, then helped me up and asked, “What are you gonna do with all that money?” I later showed him my deposit slip. He was so proud. My mother said he told his buddies, “My kid has balls the size of melons.” and told them the story of my reckless abandon. He told her they were in awe of such risk taking. Quite the praise from a WWII bomber pilot with more than 50 missions over Europe, Eastern Europe and North Africa. He was a survivor of 2 of the 4 waves of attack on the Ploesti Oil Fields in Rumania. Losses were very high on each run, well over 50%; and he made 2 of the 4 runs. That’s balls the size of melons….but I’m glad he was so proud of me.