September 17, 2019
The things you learn while listening to podcasts while driving to court….
The year is 1959. The University of Oklahoma enters the season on quite a roll. Oklahoma has been arguably the greatest college football team of the decade: The Sooners won 31 games in a row between 1948 and 1950, and then set a record that still stands, winning 47 games in a row from 1953 through 1957. The 1958 team lost one game all season, a 15-14 heart-breaker against arch-rival and then #2-ranked Texas.
The first game of the 1959 season is at Northwestern, then coached by future Notre Dame legend Ara Parseghian. Oklahoma comes into the game riding a 28-game road winning streak. You’d think Oklahoma would roll over Northwestern. You’d think wrong. The Wildcats pummel the Sooners by a score of 45-13. A Bud Wilkinson-coached Oklahoma team had never lost by more than seven points before that game.
But — wait! — there’s much, much more.
There are those who believe that the game was fixed. But not by anyone associated with Oklahoma.
The Thursday night before the game, the visiting Sooners were treated to a lavish dinner at the now-defunct Chez Paree supper club in Chicago, which was well-known for hosting such talents as Frank Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis, Jr. As the players entered the club, the hostesses asked what position they played. The players were then served a meal, starting with a fruit salad.
Almost immediately, a large number of the players got violently ill, many requiring emergency stomach-pumping at a local hospital. Every affected player was a starter and, in all, 20 of the 38 players on the roster were sickened. And while the entire team managed to make it to the stadium for the Saturday game, Oklahoma was terrible (the Sooners had 12 fumbles).
Those who don’t believe that there was a conspiracy point to the fact that Oklahoma went on to lose two more games that season. Those who DO believe point out that the betting line — which had started with Oklahoma as 6 point favorites — dipped precipitously to three points that Thursday evening, suggesting the a boatload of money was pouring in on Northwestern just as the players were eating the fruit salad.