The Oklahoma Legacy: Reliving the 1950’s


In general, mentioning the University of Oklahoma, but more specifically the football program, brings a range of emotions and feelings for a number of people. We are all aware of how Oklahoma State and Texas feels; we don’t have to mention that.

When people talk about Oklahoma, their discussions, good or bad, have a recurring theme, which is “tradition.”

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Oklahoma has a distinction of a heavy football tradition. The Sooners are not only one of the top teams in the history of college football, but they also have won the most in the Modern Era, which started following World War II.

Seven National Championships, 44 Conference Titles, the winningest program of the Modern Era, in terms of total games, national titles, and winning percentage.

This is the first of a seven-part series, discussing just that. Tradition. We’ll see the ups, and we’ll cringe during the down times. But this is the Sooners’ history. It’s been more roses, than not (And yes I realize I do have to write about the 90’s at some point).

The Sooners began their march to the top of college football in the Modern Era, and as one of the most recognizable programs in the sport, in the 1950’s.

Bud Wilkinson, was the head coach during this era. A legendary coach not only by the legacy he left at Oklahoma, but in all of college football. He amassed a 145-29-4 record during his time at OU. Thanks to him, the foundation of Oklahoma’s rich tradition was laid.

Under Wilkinson, Oklahoma won its first three of their seven national titles, winning a conference title every year from 1950 to 1959. Oklahoma also recorded the longest winning streak in college football, which is still a NCAA record today. OU’s streak ended after 47 games with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish snapping it in 1957. This record has not even come close to being touched since then.

Oklahoma defeated the likes of Duke, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Cal, Notre Dame, West Virginia, and Syracuse during that span. Back in the 1950’s, all those teams were in the top ten.

Oklahoma faced LSU, and Maryland to win two of its three titles. In 1956, OU was no. 1 all season, winning the national title via the polls. Oklahoma did suffer some losses, losing to seventh-ranked Kentucky in 1951, and losing several times to a Notre Dame squad that was highly ranked.

Oklahoma had a great winning percentage during the 1950’s overall, going 93-10-2 (.886). For the Sooners, the decade was nothing short of successful. Next week, we’ll continue this series talking about the 1960’s.

The Start of Something of Beautiful

The following research done was done by Joe Buettner

Notes from the 1950’s:

  • Finished in the top five of the AP poll eight years out of the decade. Fell outside of the top five only in 1951 (#10) and 1959 (#15)
  • The Sooners only lost two home games in the entire decade. Both losses were against Notre Dame.
  • Oklahoma played in four Orange Bowls in the 1950’s. The Sooners won all four by a total score of 96-33.
  • Wilkinson only lost three games to Texas in the decade. The Longhorns never won by more than a touchdown.
  • Never lost to Oklahoma State in the 1950’s. Won each game by an average score (rounding up) of 38-5.
  • Only lost one game to Nebraska. Oklahoma won on average by four touchdowns.
  • During the span of OU’s 47-game win streak, Oklahoma shut out their opponents 22 times.

Notable Players:

  • Billy Vessells, Running Back (1950-52)
    • Career: 2,084 rushing yards, 31 rushing touchdowns
    • Won the 1952 Heisman Trophy
    • Consensus All-American in 1952
    • Drafted second overall in the 1953 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts
  • Tommy McDonald, Running Back (1954-56)
    • Career: 1,696 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns
    • Consensus All-American in 1956
    • Finished third in the 1956 Heisman Trophy voting
    • 1956 Maxwell Award winner
    • Drafted 31st overall in the 1957 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Clendon Thomas, Running Back (1955-57)
    • Career: 2,228 rushing yards, 32 rushing touchdowns
    • 1957 Consensus All-American
    • Finished ninth in 1957 Heisman voting
    • He led the NCAA in rushing touchdowns in 1956
    • Drafted 19th overall to the Los Angeles Rams in the 1958 NFL Draft

Stats via CFB Reference