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Stillwater Produced Top Guns

Everywhere I looked at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium Friday night, there were signs and banners and lights declaring that something called the Sea World Holiday Bowl was the featured attraction.

However, I knew better.

With apologies to Shamu, this one should have gone to Disneyland.

If this wasn’t the Frontierland Bowl, there never was one.

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Let me introduce the participants . . .

On the north side, in the orange uniforms, were the Oklahoma State University Cowboys from the village of Stillwater.

On the south side, in the white uniforms, were the University of Wyoming Cowboys from the hamlet of Laramie.

Frontierland? These guys should have had their showdown at the O.K. Corral. I expected the quarterbacks to be Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

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Frontierland? Stillwater and Laramie are what might be called “one-off-ramp towns” a few miles from anywhere with more than two stoplights and one meter maid.

Frontierland? Stillwater traces its origins to a land rush, Laramie to a railroad pushing across the tundra toward the Northwest. Jim Bridger might still be at home in either place.

But these communities and these universities were brought together Friday night because they happen to be homes to two of the finest football teams in the land. These were modern-day fast-gun artists, Oklahoma State averaging 47.5 points a game and Wyoming a touchdown behind at 41.5.

This was a perfect blend of game and participants. Understand that the Holiday Bowl, in its first 10 years, produced scores such as 38-36, 38-37, 46-45 and 39-38. The game had become San Diego’s real-life imitation of the wildest of wests.

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Of course, there was another part of this bowl’s legacy that these teams were expected to uphold. The wildest thing about this bowl is that it must come down to the final seconds, as the scores above would seem to indicate. Only once had anyone been rude enough to win by more than a touchdown.

It might also be appropriate to note that Oklahoma State’s Cowboys had the fastest gun in the land. That would have been Barry Sanders, the most modest Heisman Trophy winner in the history of Heisman hype.

Sanders probably thought no one would ever find him in Stillwater, but he was wrong. It may have taken either smoke signals or the Pony Express, but the world became aware that he rushed for 2,628 yards to shatter Marcus Allen’s single-season rushing record. They had to find him in Tokyo, of all places, to let him know he won, not that he cared.

If Sanders had his way, the trophy would have been cut into at least seven pieces. Those would have gone to Vance Vice, Mike Wolfe, Chris Stanley, John Boisvert, Jason Kidder, Byron Woodward and Garrett Limbrick, the guys who did the bulk of the blocking.

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All of this sounded modest to the extreme, except those blockers went right out Friday and showed why their man spoke so highly of them. On Oklahoma State’s first possession, with the ball at the Wyoming 33, Sanders burst off right tackle through a hole roughly the size of the Oklahoma panhandle and ran for a touchdown.

At about that point, The Sanders Gang was looking as if it might blow those other Cowboys out of the corral before they got their guns out of their holsters. It wasn’t going to take them much longer.

Wyoming’s Cowboys had this problem. Their best runner was their quarterback, a kid named Randy Welniak who bootlegged 4 yards for a touchdown near the end of the first quarter.

Now it was time for the Cowboys with the most weapons to take over Main Street, the center stage and the game. They turned out to be the ones from Stillwater.

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Oklahoma State could move the ball with The Sanders Gang, Barry and His Blocking Bunch, as well as quarterback Mike Gundy and wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes, who has enough cockiness for him and Sanders both. Dykes, for example, volunteered to take the Heisman if Sanders didn’t want it, and he undoubtedly felt it would not have been undeserved.

Gundy would complete 20 passes in 24 attempts for 315 yards, and Dykes would catch 10 for a Holiday Bowl-record 163 yards, and the Oklahoma State offense would set a Holiday Bowl record with 698 yards.

But the evening belonged to the man who shuns the spotlight.

Barry Sanders should know by now that he cannot rush for 222 yards and 5 touchdowns and not be noticed, especially when he also throws to Gundy for 17 yards to set up one of those touchdowns.

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There was one fleeting moment in the second half, in fact, when Wyoming thought it just might get back in the game. The magic of Welniak produced a scrambling 4-yard scoring run that narrowed the Oklahoma State lead to 24-14.

How fleeting was the moment was?

On Oklahoma State’s first play from scrimmage, Sanders raced 67 yards for a touchdown.

At the end of the third period, with a 38-14 lead, Oklahoma State Coach Pat Jones holstered his weapon. Sanders finally had his solitude, and little did it matter to him that he needed only 3 more yards for the Holiday Bowl rushing record.

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When it was over, it was as high-scoring as the Holiday Bowl traditionally has always been . . . but the guys from Stillwater had the biggest gun. It’s not unusual for 76 points to be scored in a Holiday Bowl, just for one team to get 62 of them.


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