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FREEDOM BOWL : Tulsa’s Glad, or a Reasonable Facsimile Thereof : College football: Bowl-hungry community peppered Freedom Bowl with mail, and the Golden Hurricane hopes to deliver against San Diego State.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They come from the city once referred to as the oil capital of the world. And in November, they gave a pretty good effort to making it the fax capital of the world.

Introducing . . . the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

The team without the “s.”

The city that nearly blew out the fax machines in the Freedom Bowl offices.

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It started in early November, when Tulsa, creeping toward the top 25 but scared to death it would be passed over come bowl time, cranked up its publicity machine. Tulsa officials implored people to fax their interest to officials from bowls that had scouted their team, and a Tulsa newspaper even printed the addresses, telephone numbers and fax numbers for three bowls--the Freedom, the Independence and the Copper--on the front page of its sports section.

Tulsans bit. As the Freedom Bowl became the school’s best chance at postseason play, telephone lines between Tulsa and Orange County began sizzling.

And about the time Tulsans figured the Freedom Bowl office might be running low on fax paper, they shipped a box to the Orange County Sports Assn. containing more paper and several blue and gold pom-pons.

Then, when Freedom Bowl officials visited Tulsa on Nov. 16, the day before when bowls could extend official invitations, several corporations arranged the lights in their office buildings to spell “TU” at night.

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“Everything broke just right,” said Rick Dickson, Tulsa athletic director. “Every major high-rise lit up with the TU logo. We have good corporate support in this town.

“When (Freedom Bowl officials) left here, they told us there were probably going to wait a week and see what happens. The next day, they called at 2 p.m. and the place exploded.”

And Tulsa is still excited, although running back Chris Hughley, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, was dismissed from the team Friday because he didn’t meet Coach David Rader’s academic standards.

A few more fax on Tulsa, San Diego State’s opponent in the Dec. 30 game:

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Peter Cottontail? Roger Rabbit? Or Is It Bugs Bunny?

Michael White is the leading tackler in Tulsa history. He is a 6-foot, 235-pound dream of a linebacker.

His nickname is “Hammer,” and he posed for a Tulsa promotional poster before the season. He had a jackhammer in his hands and a gold necklace with the letters HAMMER around his ample neck.

Four months later, White still wears a gold chain around his neck. Only now, the letters on it read BUNNY.

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It seems Monstrous Michael has a new girlfriend. And it must be true love, because they traded necklaces.

White, though, has no comment. He is too busy shoving his new necklace inside of his shirt. He forgot he left it out, and he is embarrassed.

From Bunny to Hammer

The ironic thing is, the Tulsa football team, 9-2 and ranked 23rd in the nation, took the opposite approach of White. The Golden Hurricane were bunnies last season--3-8--and turned into hammers in 1991.

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They are the only team in the nation to defeat Texas A&M--35-34; on Sept. 21. Tulsa also gained more yards of total offense against No. 1 Miami this season (390) than anybody except SDSU (427).

One key to its offense--a one-back set, like SDSU’s--is keeping the other offense off the field. Tulsa has run 59 more plays than opponents this season. The Golden Hurricane offense is built around the rushing game, using roughly two running plays for every pass attempt (500 rushes to 274 passes).

Quarterback T.J. Rubley, who sat out most of last season with a knee injury, still is 12th on the all-time NCAA passing list with 9,324 career passing yards in 47 games. Hughley was fifth in the nation with an average of 132.6 yards a game (1,326 yards on the season). Junior Ron Jackson, who began the season as a starter but was overtaken by Hughley, will be Hughley’s replacement. Jackson has 674 yards this season.

Receiver Dan Bitson, involved in an auto accident that nearly claimed his life two years ago, fell only 43 yards short of the Tulsa career receiving record when he finished the season with 3,300 yards. Bitson is eighth all-time on the NCAA receiving list.

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Another key is the addition of 11 community college transfers, seven of whom are playing regularly.

A Man Among Giants, or a Giant Among Men, or Something Like That

Some might shrug at the fact that Bitson finished second on Tulsa’s all-time list, but know this: Tulsa has had some resplendent receivers in its time. Howard Twilley, Drew Pearson and Steve Largent all attended Tulsa and, if you’re not familiar with them, grab an NFL record book.

Ground Control to Major Tom

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Tulsa’s offensive line is comparable to SDSU’s. It is big, fast and athletic.

“It is a better line than anywhere I’ve been,” said Tulsa offensive coordinator Rockey Felker, who has also coached at Alabama, Mississippi State, Memphis State and Texas Tech.

Guard Jerry Ostroski (6-4, 305) is an Associated Press All-American and will play in the Senior Bowl. Senior center Todd McGuire (6-4, 280) has been selected for the Blue-Gray game.

And then there is junior tackle Mark Govi (6-5, 273), whom Felker said might be the best lineman on the team.

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“Their players want to hurt you, and we haven’t played a team like that--where their number one goal is to dominate you physically,” SDSU Coach Al Luginbill said.

Service With a Smile, It Ain’t

The Golden Hurricane defense--a basic 4-3 set from which they run multiple schemes--has limited opponents to only 19 points per game, 144 yards passing per game and 149 1/2 yards rushing.

SDSU’s Marshall Faulk led the nation with an average of 158.8 yards per game. Tulsa has a photo of Faulk plastered on a bulletin board outside the team locker room. There is also a list of NCAA statistics on the bulletin board, with all of SDSU’s numbers underlined.

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The Golden Hurricane defense is not intimidated.

“We ask them to swarm to the ball with reckless abandon,” Rader said. “That’s kind of our motto. As one coach said, ‘Get to the ball in a hurry, and when you get there, be in a bad mood.’ ”

Any Way You Slice It, He Won’t Put Up With Loafers

Tulsa defensive coordinator Pete McGinnis gives out “loafs.” Loafs are bad.

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“Anybody who shuts down early (on a play) gets a loaf,” McGinnis said. “And you have to do five loaf drills for every loaf.”

A loaf drill?

“They lay on their belly on the practice field,” McGinnis said. “I’ll yell ‘Ball!’ and they sprint up to the football and work their feet around it until I yell ‘Stop!’ Five times for every loaf.”

The first game, McGinnis estimated, 10 or 12 players had to do 15 or 20 loaf drills each. All this after conditioning. But as the season progressed, McGinnis can’t remember anyone having to do loaf drills.

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Maybe each player learned to hustle. Or maybe McGinnis is loafing.

Yeah, But What Would the Attendance Have Been in San Diego? Three?

Tulsa set a school attendance record this season by attracting 218,652 fans in seven home games. Athletic department personnel still are amazed because the sun was not in attendance for six of those games. Rain, cold, wind and snow seemed like season ticket-holders. And how do you think San Diegans would have liked Tulsa’s home finale, which was played against Ohio University--under cloudy skies and with a game-time temperature of 43 degrees?

The Big One That Didn’t Get Away

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It was the victory over Texas A&M; that kick-started Tulsa’s road to success. The Golden Hurricane was 2-1, coming off of a loss to Kansas (23-17) and facing back-to-back home games against Texas A&M; and Miami.

“The A&M; game really gave this football team a lot of confidence,” Felker said. “That’s what got us to where we are right now.”

Which is in line for their first “real” bowl invitation since 1976. Sure, the Golden Hurricane was in the 1989 Independence Bowl, but barely. Tulsa was part of a four-school consortium in which one would get an automatic Independence berth--but Tulsa was the only school of the four to have a winning record that season. Tulsa finished 6-5.

“The bowl wasn’t excited about us and we weren’t too excited about the bowl,” Erickson said.

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This year, things are different.


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