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”.