Oklahoma football: Sooner Schooner has been bringing it for 58 seasons

Sep 11, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners sooner schooner during the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 11, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners sooner schooner during the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

There are few college mascots as unique and widely recognized on a national basis as the Sooner Schooner, a longtime traditional part of Oklahoma football games.

While the Sooner Schooner is the only OU mascot most of us have ever known, it did not become the official mascot of the University of Oklahoma until 1980, in Barry Switzer’s eighth season as head football coach (that was also the first season that legendary Billy Tubbs coached the OU men’s basketball team).

The iconic Schooner has been a traditional part of Oklahoma football games for 58 seasons. First introduced in 1964 during a fall home football game against USC, the scaled-down version of a Conestoga wagon rolls out of tunnel and onto the playing surface in celebration after every Oklahoma score during a home game.

The Sooner Schooner is reminiscent of the mode of transportation used by the pioneers who settled the Oklahoma Territory during the time of the 1889 Land Run and is pulled by a pair of white ponies appropriately named “Boomer” and “Sooner,” again a throwback to what the two groups of settlers were called in the rush to stake land claims in the unsettled Oklahoma Territory.

Those who rushed out early ahead of most of the settlers were called Sooners; the many who held back and followed the rules in staking out their claims were known as Boomers.

The Schooner is maintained and driven by a male spirit group known as the Ruf/Neks and its affiliated Little Sis organization. The Ruf/Neks are a group that predates the Sooner Schooner itself by some 50 years.

The current Schooner is a replacement for the one that took a tumble on the turf of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium during a football game with West Virginia. During the second quarter of the game after the fourth Sooner touchdown and after the ponies made the turn to return to the tunnel, the Schooner tipped over to the right, toppling the riders to the playing surface. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries except for the damage to the Schooner, which had to be completely rebuilt.

The new Schooner, which is wider, shorter and heavier than the previous model, did not arrive back in Norman until the end of June 2020.

A sticky situation at the 1985 Orange Bowl

There was also an embarrassing incident involving the Sooner Schooner at the 1985 Orange Bowl. The Miami area had received rain prior to the Orange Bowl game between OU and Washington. The game was tied 14-14 in the third quarter when the Sooners lined up for a 22-yard field goal, which would have given Oklahoma a 17-14 lead. The kick appeared to be good and the Schooner headed out on the wet, mushy field in celebration, only to find out that the field goal had been nullified by an OU illegal procedure penalty (a Sooner player failed to report his temporary jersey number before entering the game).

The Sooner Schooner was already out on the sloppy natural turf and in trying to get off the field got stuck in a muddy patch right in front of the Washington sidelines. The Schooner also drew an additional 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The orginal 22-yard field-goal try became a 42-yard kick, and the re-kick was blocked, leaving the score deadlocked at 14 apiece.

Oklahoma wound up losing that Orange Bowl game with Washington prevailing 28-17.

The original University of Oklahoma mascot was actually a dog

In the early part of the 20th century (1915-28), a stray dog named Mex became the mascot of the Oklahoma baseball and football teams. Mex the Dog wore a red sweater with a big red-letter “O” on the side.

A U.S. Army field hospital medic named Mott Keys found the dog in 1914 in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution unrest. He found the dog among a litter of abandoned pups on the Mexican side of the border.

The dog was adopted by Keys’ Army company, and after his military service ended and he returned to Hollis, Oklahoma, he took Mex with him. Keys later attended OU, and Mex followed him to college.

“Mex became Oklahoma’s most famous dog,” is the description provided on the OU athletic web page talking about the Sooner mascots. “‘A joyous staccato bark cheered Sooner touchdowns’ at football games and a ‘victory woof’ punctuated home runs at baseball games.”

In the fall of 1924, the Oklahoma football team headed to Des Moines, Iowa, for a game at Drake. Mex somehow did not board the train in Arkansas City, Kansas, when the team switched trains to travel on the Des Moines. The Sooners obviously were lost without their beloved mascot, and they fell 28-0 to Drake.

The headline the next morning in the Arkansas City Traveler read: “Crushing defeat of Bennie Owen’s team is Charged to Loss of Their Mascot Here.” Mex was eventually discovered in Arkansas City pacing the train station platform.

Mex the Dog died of old age in 1928. He was so popular that the university closed for his funeral. He is reportedly is buried in a small casket somewhere under the existing football stadium, which at the time was simply known as Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.