In The Undefeated: The Oklahoma Sooners and the Greatest Winning Streak in College Football
, The Junction Boys
author Jim Dent chronicles how Charles "Bud" Wilkinson helped the dust-bowl-depressed state of Oklahoma regain self-respect by building a program that became one of the most dominant in college sports history. From 1948 to 1957, an era when players played both sides of the ball--170-pounders played tackle, and some players smoked three packs a day--the Oklahoma Sooners dominated college football in incredible fashion: they tied twice and lost four times, and amid their 94 wins they compiled winning streaks of 31 and
Dent has an eye for detail, and the book is equally the story of coach Wilkinson and his eccentricities, with halftime speeches and an innovative coaching style that implemented schemes not found in the NFL for decades. Also of interest are the plight of Prentice Gautt, the first black OU player during a time of racial intolerance; the hardscrabble backgrounds of the tough-as-nails players; and how preparation for big games included espionage and decoy playbooks. Most of all, Dent retells game highlights in dramatic fashion, including how an opposing receiver, after potentially ending one of OU's streaks by scoring in the final seconds, confessed he had trapped, not caught, the ball. The refs discussed the matter, and "[w]hile the man in the gray flannel suit waited, watched and paced, a crowd of 50,878 held its collective breath, and prayed."
As the wins accumulated, it became increasingly difficult for Wilkinson to motivate players and fend off all comers. In like fashion, Dent loses steam, but not before making the heartfelt case that Wilkinson's Sooners fielded some of the greatest teams in history. --Michael Ferch
From Publishers Weekly
The 1954-1956 University of Oklahoma Sooners played heroic, near-perfect football under the Patton-like command of Bud Wilkinson, leaving a towering legacy of college football records: 47 consecutive wins in Division I. It remains, almost 50 years later, "the greatest winning streak in college football history." The characters and the high (and sometimes low, and comic) moments of "the streak" bear recounting in this era of evanescent sports records. Dent (The Junction Boys) conveys different aspects of his story unevenly, but his earnest documentation of the players on their own heartland turf will make the book of interest to nonfans. The Sooners' three seasons unwind in a leisurely haze, a game-film of an America, a brand of college life, and a kind of player that no longer exist. The complex, handsome and stoic Wilkinson, who makes Tom Landry seem like a chorus line director, was known (without irony) by the players and campus officials as "Great White Father," ostensibly because of his regal head of silver hair. Perhaps the backroom reverence for Wilkinson, handed down across the High Plains generations, stops Dent from criticizing Wilkinson's womanizing and blatant recruiting corruption. For Dent and the Sooners, what matters is that Wilkinson's winning teams drew the entire region out of its dust-bowl Okie funk into the bright orbit of national sports respectability. His own booster instincts working against his terse style, Dent barely avoids falling into overwrought nostalgia peddling, and offers college football purists a look straight back at an astounding moment in a bygone era and a good primary-source record of "the streak." 16 pages b&w photos not seen by PW.
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