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The Modern Version of an Okie Land Rush Leaves UCLA in Dust

You should be ashamed of yourself, John Steinbeck. Take back what you said about Oklahomans.

You know that image you gave the world of an Okie. This was a guy who put the mattress on the roof of the family jalopy, put the kids and the chickens in the back seat and took off for California and the potato patches of Bakersfield. A victim of the Grapes of Wrath.

Let me tell you what an Okie really is nowadays. He’s somewhere between 6 1/2 and 7 feet tall, he can run down a rabbit in a fair chase and he plays football better than anyone in the universe in his bracket.

Forget the Dust Bowl, concentrate on the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta or Sun bowls. That’s his natural habitat.

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You know the Oklahoma Land Rush? In frontier lore, that’s the time in 1889 when a whole bunch of guys in covered wagons jumped the gun across the Kansas border and rushed to homestead bottom land before the rest of the sodbusters could get to it.

Well, if you think that was unstoppable, you should see the Oklahoma Land Rush the state’s football team unleashed on the UCLA Bruins here Saturday afternoon. It was as unstoppable as a glacier. It could have gouged out creek beds. It turned UCLA into one big hole in the ground. It ground out 479 yards of total offense and 38 points. That’s hard to do in 60 minutes, if the other guy shows up. The game ended 38-3. Actually, it wasn’t that close. I know that joke is old, but in this case it was also true. The game was as one-sided as a bullfight. Oklahoma should have got the tail and two ears.

All UCLA had to practice really was kickoff returns. The only times the Bruins really got the ball all day was when Oklahoma gave it to them.

The Sooner quarterback, Jamelle Holieway (honest, that’s his name), is a fine player--till he cocks his arm. He completed one pass to his own people--and two to the other guys. He short-circuited two drives by his team with his incompletions.

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The UCLA quarterback, Matt Stevens, threw five interceptions. He could have done as well putting a note in a bottle.

The Oklahoma style of attack, called the “wishbone” by football scholars, is about as subtle as a brass knuckle. It is modeled after the German Army’s wheel through the low countries or the tack a buffalo herd takes in a thunderstorm.

They showed up with about a hundred guys named “Bubba.” You’re not likely to see anything this big and tough this side of a stockyard. They weren’t recruited, they were rounded up. You’re surprised they don’t moo.

There’s an old story about the writer who was at Princeton one day 40 years ago and wrote the lead: “Two of the finest football teams in the nation ran out on the field at Princeton’s Palmer Stadium here today. They were shortly joined by the Harvard varsity.”

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Well, the Nos. 1 through 3 football teams in the AP poll ran out on the field here Saturday. And they were all wearing red. UCLA was just scenery. Like the Indians in a John Wayne movie. They all died in the first act. Oklahoma didn’t seem to know they were there.

If you’ve never been to a football game in Oklahoma, it’s a cultural experience. Kind of honky-tonk football. You just get yourself this big hat and reptile boots, a six-pack and a Johnny Cash cassette. You wear red. And you yell for blood. The game was played in front of 75,004 Neros, and the stands looked like a leak in a ketchup factory. With two minutes to go in the half, everyone goes out for a beer at one of the tents surrounding the stadium, but nobody got out of line. Football is not a game in Oklahoma, it’s a religion. High Mass.

This is probably the only place they had a football team before they had a state. They founded the university and an hour later they founded the football team. Or maybe it was the other way around. The fact there was a university connected with what they did sometimes seemed to have escaped the notice of some football players.

The state has improved a lot since Steinbeck--and the Joads--were here. If they had this football team then, the San Joaquin Valley might just be a lot of water towers and rattlesnake farms today.

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Oklahoma is still not to be confused with the Swiss Alps, despite what Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote. If you stand on a chair you can see clear to Mexico.

It makes it easy to spot football players, and Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, who was born in Grapes of Wrath country himself in Arkansas, gets first call on every able-bodied specimen in a three-state area where a capacity for administering and absorbing pain is in the genes.

Switzer expressed compassion for a foe that had to depend on something as unmanly as the forward pass. “They play in that passing league (the Pacific 10),” he said not unkindly but much as you would commiserate with a guy who needed eyeglasses to see or a crutch to walk. Reliance on the forward pass is an infirmity, something like not being able to ride a horse in a range war.

"(UCLA Coach) Terry Donahue told me, ‘You guys were just too big and too physical for us,’ ” Switzer said after the game.

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“It was what we hoped for before the game, and it’s what happened. Our running game was dominant. We were too big and too physical for them on our offensive and defensive line. When we knew we could stop their run, we just dropped back five backs. We helped confuse them. They’re in a league that really doesn’t run the football, and when we took the pass away from them, they didn’t know what to do.”

It’s the revenge of the Joads. The Grapes of Wrath bear vintage wine. The sign on the back of the Okie sedan is no longer, “California Or Bust,” it’s, “We’re No 1!” Match that around Hollywood and Vine. Take that, Steinbeck. Oklahoma, OK!


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