Colonel Norman Lamb (U.S. Army, ret.) and I attended the Oklahoma versus Nebraska football game Saturday night in Norman, Oklahoma. We gave up our regular seats at the invitation of our friend, Jakie Sandefer, in order to watch the game in his suite. We were able to view the University of Texas vs. Texas Tech football game on the television while watching the OU game live. The UT vs. Tech game was an instant classic, and we die-hard Sooner fans rooted like crazy for our former offensive coordinater Mike Leach, now the head coach of the Red Raiders. Former OU coach Barry Switzer and his wife Becky joined us in the suite where Switzer mentioned he had been on the phone with his friend Mike Leach encouraging him to "run the ball" on Texas - just like Oklahoma State had done. It was quite entertaining to hear Barry's stories and analysis, particularly since ESPN was honoring the coaches and players involved in the 1971 Game of the Century between Oklahoma and Nebraska. Former Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne and Switzer are great friends, and Tom was very gracious as he spent time in the suite drawing up some football plays on miniature chalk boards which will be lacquered and auctioned off for charity by the Switzers.
Former Oklahoma quarterback Claude Arnold, who led the Sooners to their first national championship under Coach Bud Wilkinson in 1950 was celebrating his 84th birthday last Saturday, and was a ton of fun to visit with in the suite. Former OU running back Joe Washington, now a director of football operations at Oklahoma, joined us as well, as did former Oklahoma assistant coach Charlie North, who became director of football operations at Texas A&M before recently moving back to the Norman area. Watching both games with all the coaches caused me to appreciate how differently they view games compared to the average football fan like me. Their analysis of what was going on was quite revealing.
One of the most intersting conversations for me personally last Saturday night was with former Oklahoma All-American football player and Cleveland Browns All-Pro running back Greg Pruitt. Greg was on the cover of Sports Illustrated (Nov. 22, 1971) the week before the "Game of the Century," joined in the photo by Nebraska linebacker Bob Terrio, both posing beneath the headline: "Irresistible Oklahoma Meets Immovable Nebraska." Nebraska was #1 in the country, Oklahoma was ranked #2. The 1971 Husker "Blackshirts" defense included seven first-team All-Big Eight selections, four players who would earn consensus All-America recognition during their careers and two Outland Trophy winners. This 1971Nebraska defense is still considered by many to be the greatest in college football history. The Sooners' 1971 record-setting wishbone was led by the late All-American QB Jack Mildren who rushed for over 1,000 yards, but was also a very good passer. His weapons were Heisman candidate running back Greg Pruitt, who I've already mentioned averaged a stunning 9.5 yards per carry in 1971, and a speedy split end named Jon Harrison. Future College Football Hall of Famer Tom Brahaney was the anchor at center. The Nebraska offense was led by flanker Johnny Rodgers who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy the next season. ABC-TV would broadcast nationally to the largest audience ever, an estimated 55 million viewers, and they had Chris Schenkel doing the play-by-play.
Wikepedia says that the signature moment of that 1971 game, if not the first 100 years of college football, was Nebraska's Johnny Rodger's 72 yard punt return for a touchdown. I still vividly remember Johnny Rodgers being hit hard when he caught the punt, bouncing off of one of his own players without going down, and then twisting and turning, dashing and dodging, all around the Sooners en route to his historic touchdown that helped Nebraska defeat the Sooners 35 - 31. You can see the actual punt return in the video below. Greg Pruitt believes Rodgers' punt return was the key moment of the game, and without it, Nebraska would not have won.
What Greg Pruitt told me last Saturday night was the untold story of why Johnny Rodgers scored on the punt return. Pruitt said that the punt coverage team, including him, had lanes which they were assigned to cover in order to prevent a big return by Rodgers, whom all Sooners knew to be a dangerous returner. However, Greg told me he made a very personal, selfish decision that led to Johnny's touchdown.
It seems Greg Pruitt and Johnny Rodgers had made acquaintances while both were seniors in high school. They had both been high school All-Americans and had begun a friendly back and forth banter as to who was the better runner and the bigger star. In 1971 both were in the running for the Heisman Trophy, and both were the stars for their respective teams. As Greg ran down to cover the punt, he had only one goal in mind - he was going to hit Johnny Rodgers as hard as he could. He was going to put Johnny in his place - "knocking him on his butt." Everything Greg had learned in practice that week about staying in assigned lanes to prevent a long punt return, all the encouragement OU coaches had given him and the other members of the punt team to be disciplined, and all the thoughts Johnny had of being part of a team to accomplish a greater purpose went out the window due to a selfish decision based upon his desire to "put Johnny in his rightful place."
In short, the outcome of the punt had become very personal to Greg.
So, Greg ran down the field, and if you watch the video tape again, you will see him as the first person to hit Johnny Rogers. He broke down and left his assigned lane, ignoring all coaching instruction, and leveled a hit on Johnny that would have normally knocked him down. However, Johnny fell into a teammate, and instead of falling to the ground, Johnny bounced off his teammate and eventually ran the ball in for a touchdown. Greg told me that hecause he made the punt return personal, he contributed to OU's ultimate defeat.
Greg's anecdote reminds me that in the Southern Baptist Convention, we are all a team, working together toward a united goal. There is really no room for anyone going after someone else personally, whether it be an attack on character or motives. Some Southern Baptists may not like what other Southern Baptists believe on tertiary matters. Others may not like the influence some Southern Baptists have on the movement and direction of the SBC. But, in the end, we all have a role to play, and it is always best for the team to avoid selfish, personal attacks on one another.
Discuss the issues. Debate the doctrines. But in the the end, leave off the personal attacks. If we don't, it will only lead to the ultimate defeat of our cooperative efforts.
In His Grace,