Our greatest father-and-son moment: the Sooner Schooner game

For every good moment I can remember of my father, I can remember many bad ones. A mechanical, electrical, and electronic wizard, he obtained a master’s in a subject to which his bachelor’s degree did not pertain. With honors. While working full time and coming to all my Little League games. When I joined the Cub Scouts, he volunteered as Cubmaster.

How he could go from that to religious fanaticism and domestic violence, I am not sure I will ever understand, but he died in my twenties within two weeks of the attempt to reboot our relationship. In any case, most of what I learned from him was negative, as in “never be that kind of man.” We only had a few truly great moments, and at halftime Saturday, my alma mater celebrated one of them. (It was all we had to celebrate, as we lost to Cal. But we didn’t lose as badly as Oregon did to Utah. Even during our anniversary dinner, I had Deb keep checking the score. Just the look on her face was golden, especially when she would burst out laughing.)

On New Year’s Day 1985, I was home from UW for the holidays. When in school, I honestly didn’t care that much about football, and with all the foolhardiness of youth, I took the Huskies’ success for granted. I did respect the players as fellow students, because Don James ensured that they behaved themselves. In my first year as an RA, I had a tailback, a tackle, and a defensive tackle living in the cluster right next to me. Some of the nicest ‘dents I had, and that year, I had very many. I had trouble with men’s basketball players, and the men’s crew, but never football players. One of the quarterbacks, whom I knew from a Willis class (non-UW folks: to understand this, google ‘Willis Konick’, and believe me when I tell you that nothing you read is exaggerated), had a sister living in my floor’s elevator cluster. Paul Sicuro was bright, personable, and was destined to start under center for the Huskies in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1985. He is now an oncologist, and I suspect a very good one.

Now, the old man loved college football. His viewpoints on it were dogmatic and Big 8-biased, but he watched it all day every Saturday in fall. My mother still hates even the mention of the sport. I didn’t watch very often, but here we had a rare convergence of his ideas and mine. You see, my father was a Jayhawk who also liked Nebraska, and he hated Oklahoma Sooners football like I hate Oregon D*cks football. I’m fond of saying that if the University of Pyongyang showed up to play Oregon, I’d be out there holding up a big picture of the Dear Leader, chanting communist slogans in Korean. Well, if there were a school titled the New York Atheist University Fighting Evolutionists, and they showed up to play the Sooners, my father would have been out there waving a copy of Origin of Species. Knowing him, he would have been drawing vocal and unflattering inferences with regard to the covered wagon opposition and the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder.

I have enough friends from Oklahoma not to feel quite as strongly about this as my father, but I certainly didn’t mind it. For my part, I was a Husky of Kansan origin, and this was the Orange Bowl, and it was obvious which team I would support. Our interests and opinions were aligned if not identical, a rare arrangement indeed.

The game didn’t begin too well for my Dawgs. Switzer had a good football team in Norman, with stud defenders like Tony Casillas and Brian Bosworth (who failed in the pros but was a force of nature in college ball). My man Sicuro didn’t have his best game. Three quarters in, with the score tied, Oklahoma lined up for a chip shot field goal to take the lead. Their kicker made it, but the referees called the play back for illegal procedure. Another try, right, but surely a 27-yarder isn’t much harder than a 22-yarder? Might even be easier, depending on the location of the ball between the hash marks? Then as now, no Division I-A kicker considers 30 yards or less to be a distance issue.

Ah, but…you see, the Oklahoma mascot is a Conestoga wagon maintained by a pep group, drawn by impressive horses and titled the ‘Sooner Schooner.’ Having not seen the penalty flag, the drivers brought it onto the field to celebrate. It got stuck in mud in front of the UW bench in a gesture that surely wasn’t meant as a deliberate middle finger, but looked like one to an observer. My father and I watched in disbelieving, unrestrained hilarity: did the Okies really just bring their covered wagon onto the football field in the Orange Bowl? Yes, they had.

Being killjoys, the officials didn’t think it was very funny. They tacked unsportsmanlike conduct onto the Sooners, and the former chip shot was now a 42-yarder. For longer field goals, a kicker will generally go for lower trajectory in search of distance. Oklahoma lined up to kick again, and Husky safety Tim Peoples blocked this attempt. My dad and I came unglued again. He was actually in tears of laughter, face the color of a brand new breast cancer ribbon, emitting his peculiar rutting-rhino laugh. (Imagine Arnold Horschack with real lungs.) It was hard to credit the TV evidence. Looking back, I still have a hard time believing it. I’m reading a retrospective news article from an authoritative source, and it’s still hard to believe what I saw.

The Huskies went on to win that game with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, as father and son broke out in periodic snickers, chuckles, giggles, and guffaws.

As I approach the age at which he died, I guess it’s natural to reflect on my father and compare. Too often, I think of the face frozen in ruddy and violent fury, the indifference he showed as I spiraled down to a very dark time in life, the oppressive religious fanaticism, and how much more I hated the man every time I saw the way he treated my mother (and us). Now and then, I think of one of the good moments. This was one.

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