As a self proclaimed "tique sniper," I recently found myself digging around the many self proclaimed antique stores in what was once considered our state's (Oklahoma) Territorial Capital. While winding down a long afternoon spent in Guthrie with nothing of interest discovered and with thoughts of leaving town, I reached for an old book on an old shelf at the very back of an old store. Although I could barely read the faded flat gold colored words of "OKLAHOMA KICKOFF" stamped on the book's spine, that was enough to peak a "tique" sniper's interest. The somewhat faded and imperfect red colored book looked to be from the 1940's or 1950's. Not exactly an antique per say for such a self proclaimed and particular "sniper," but, everyone knows anything with Oklahoma and Kickoff on it has to be looked at without hesitation.
Previous to the actual content discovery and while getting a little closer view of the book's old and faded spine, I found the name Harold Keith printed in the same old and faded flat gold color only in much smaller letters than the title Oklahoma Kickoff. Being a Sooner fan with a very early 1970's beginning of remembrance (Johnny Rodgers returning a punt for the Cornhuskers in a heartbreaking loss) that name Harold Keith struck a channel of thought processing but only with a similar faded essence of the gold colored imprinted letters on this old and faded book.
Accompanied by a little www research, the memory of who Harold Keith was came back to life offering a victorious moment of remembrance much like some of the more modern Sooner teams coached by the "King" Barry Switzer himself. Turns out Keith served nearly forty years as the first sports publicist for the University of Oklahoma from 1930 to 1969. If there's anyone who could put us in touch with the true Genesis Of Oklahoma Football, there's no question this guy would be our man. With a Master's Degree in history and such enthusiasm for Oklahoma University sports, Harold Keith is the ultimate time warped MVP contact to a Sooner fan's football past.
For what money is worth, a Lincoln imaged five spot spent on the first twenty-five years of Oklahoma football researched and written by Harold Keith calculates into the deal of a century. That adds up to a mere twenty cents per year. Whether it be in the twentieth or twenty-first century, it's money magnificently spent with endless reward of historical treasures. One such supreme treasure comes from 1904 and is found in Chapter 9. From Keith's awe-inspiring research and writing skills, the Genesis of Oklahoma's Bedlam legacy is brought to life with impressive precision and description. These descriptions being ones that no one else but Keith himself could document and preserve knowing that if only one futuristic person was interested in what happened one hundred and thirteen years ago, it would be worth his valiant effort.
Tradition has it that the Stillwater team that year was coached by the college music instructor. Three of their best men, Captain Spaulding, Cornstalk and Knauss, did not play so they were doomed long before the entertaining game began. The contest was matched at old Island Park, in South Guthrie. The Territorial capital stood approximately half way between both Norman and Stillwater and its live wire commercial club had sought and obtained the game. The Aggies couldn't come to Norman. Stillwater, then a prairie village without a railroad, was also impractical as a playing site.
It was a bitingly cold day with the northwest wind blowing a gale. The red waters of Cottonwood Creek, which almost entirely surrounded the playing field, were bank full and roiling angrily from a freshet that had fallen up ahead. Ice was beginning to form all around the water's edge. The creek looked shallow but in reality was seven feet deep in the middle.
The aquatic diversion for which the game is hallowed occurred on the fourth play. The varsity kicked off with the wind and right away the music-teacher-instructed Aggies flatted. Instead of touching the ball down behind the goal and gaining a safe conduct to their 20-yard line, they tried to run it out and were piled on their ten-yard line. Lining up with the freezing wind in their faces, they tried two plays but were forced back almost to the goal by the varsity's vicious tackling. On third and last down B.O. Callahan, a Hennessey boy who was their fullback, dropped back to punt. However an Owl Cigar sign situated directly behind Callahan blocked his retreat and he had to line up short, kick fast and lift the ball higher than usual in order for it to clear the backs of the Aggie linesmen.
He punted almost straight up and as the ball gained altitude, the raging wind caught it and swept it far back over his head. An excited shout burst from the numbed spectators. A loose ball! If some varsity man recovered it, it was a touchdown. If an Aggie got it, touchback. In those days a loose ball became the property of the team recovering it no matter how far it went beyond the boundary. But this ball was behaving strangely. Carried aloft, it followed the creek like a heron, finally striking the ground far behind the goal. With players of both teams in pursuit it bounded down a foot path and into the murky flood waters of the creek where it bobbed and floated like a cork as the swift current swept it down stream.
An Aggie named Baird seems to have reached the creekside first; at least he was squatted on the bank trying to fish the ball out with a stick when T. Becker Matthews, varsity tackle, came up behind him and struck him shoulder high, knocking him into the water. Perceiving that his flying block had precipitated his opponent within range of the ball, Matthews leaped into the water after him and both started wading side by side for the ball which was wet and slippery and kept squirting through their fingers. A howl of surprise and glee went up from the crowd which ran to the creek bank to observe the action better. Matthews finally rid himself of his opponent by ducking him. Not caring to play water polo, the Aggie fought his way to shore and crawled out. He must have had his share of courage at that for tradition has it he was unable to swim.
Meanwhile Ed Cook and Frank Long, two other university players, and Burleson, an Aggie, had also leaped into the creek and were fully clad in the heavy football regalia of the period. Cook, who could swim like a bull frog, finally reached the ball, convoyed it to the bank and touched it down in the sand for the oddest touchdown a varsity man ever scored.
While the crowd roared with laughter, the players waded out looking very wet and cold and bedraggled as the icy wind whipped drops of dirty water off their soaked quilted jackets and moleskin pants. Teeth chattering, they played the rest of the half in their water-soaked suits but between periods compelled their substitutes to hand over their uniforms and don civilian attire. In the borrowed dry uniforms, Cook, Matthews and Long then went back for the last half. The university won, 75 to 0.
Every man on the Oklahoma team scored a touchdown. Even Waggoner, the university center, scored by snapping the ball back then turning into his own backfield, taking a lateral from the quarterback and thundering around end for the touchdown. But even this unusual feat paled into anonymity before the bizarre appeal of the water touchdown, the fame of which has lived to the present day."
Author's Note: The Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys Bedlam football series will be 112 games old in 2017. Although the Genesis of the series traces back to 1904 (113 years ago), the two teams did not meet in 1905 and 1909. Including the upcoming 2017 Bedlam series game, OU and OSU will have played each other 107 times annually since 1910. To date, OU leads the Bedlam series matchup with an overall record of 86W-18L-7T.