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Texas Tech’s disaster brings back memories of similar agonies

Nov 25, 2008 5:03 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein |

Three weeks ago I rhapsodized in this space about the beauty of football, and about Texas Tech and its thrilling victory over arch rival Texas and its improbably named quarterback Colt McCoy.

Last week I agonized over cheap field goals winning games.

Then last weekend, with greatly mixed emotions, I watched a wrecking crew at work, as Bob Stoops’ demolition team gave 82,000 or so Southwesterners, and tens of million more of the rest of us, an exhibition that will rank along with Will Rogers as part of the permanent lore of Oklahoma.

What the Sooners did to Texas Tech was not only improbable but seemingly impossible. It was the worst massacre in the west since Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Watching the bloodshed, two visions from the past arose.

One was a football memory from 1940, when as a kid still in high school I listened to my then hero, quarterback Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears, dismember the Washington Redskins 73-0. It was the introduction of the T-formation by coach George Halas that produced that crusher, and last Saturday night, watching the Sooners stifle Texas Tech, I could not help wonder if Stoops had somehow spent the week in possession of and studying Tech’s playbook.

His defensive team anticipated every offensive move and stifled each, and nothing could go right for Texas Tech. They were as helpless as one of those vaunted Texas high school teams would have been against Oklahoma, and in addition to nothing going right everything they tried went wrong.

Texas Tech’s quarterback Graham Harrell, who must have walked onto Owen Field, the Sooners’ home lair in Norman, Oklahoma, dreaming of the Heisman Trophy, walked out with the shattered remnants of a nightmare. He did complete 33 of 55 passes for 361 yards, but even the arbiters who award that cherished trophy will not be able to forget or overlook Harrell being overrun in the 65 to 21 rout. He is a cool and classy kid, and it was close as to whether to feel sorrier watching him stuffed and sandwiched time after time, or seeing Tech coach Mike Leach stand suffering for four quarters as his world collapsed around him.

I mentioned a second vision from the past, and this one came in baseball, also ancient history, 57 years ago last month.

It was the game’s "Shot Heard Round the World," Bobby Thomson’s home run off Ralph Branca that sent the New York Giants past the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-4 in their three-game National League pennant playoffs in 1951 (the two teams had tied in regular season play, both winning 96 and losing 58).

It is largely forgotten today that Thomson also hit a 2-run homer off Branca to win the first game of that series 3-1, in the Dodgers’ home ballpark, the storied Ebbets Field.

Branca wishes to this day it had ended there.

Ralph was a personal friend when I lived back east, a very smart, quiet and likeable guy, and a highly successful businessman after Thomson’s final shot. I last spent time with him at a party at my home, when someone – there always was a someone – brought up his pitch to Thomson. Ralph and a lot of others believed there were stolen signals that day, and that was my thought last Saturday night watching Oklahoma crush Texas Tech.

None really was needed. Mike Leach, the Texas Tech coach, had learned much of his craft from his days as a Bob Stoops’ assistant, and Stoops knew his playbook without having to see or study it. He simply nullified it, even to the extent of keeping Michael Crabtree, hero of the Tech victory over Texas and the nation’s leader with 18 touchdown catches, shut down all night. Crabtree never saw the end zone except when he walked on the field before the game.

Fumbles and intercepted passes played a large role in the slaughter, of course, and left the BCS standings a bigger mess than usual. Stoops pointed out the problem, saying if you couldn’t put Oklahoma ahead of Texas because the Longhorns had beaten them 45-35, then you would logically have to keep Texas Tech ahead of Texas, which suffered its only loss to Tech.

Stoops was wrong, for the only time last week. When the BCS ratings came out Sunday night, idle Alabama remained secure in first, with Texas second at .9209, Oklahoma third at .9125, Florida fourth at .8755, and Texas Tech seventh, at .7789.

It may be heresy, but I think Texas, Oklahoma and Florida all can beat Alabama. Take that to the bank, if it’s still open, and see my lawyer if I’m wrong.