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Oklahoma football: Don James and the legacy of the OU-Washington 1985 Orange Bowl

by Erik Horne Modified: October 24, 2013 at 4:45 pm •  Published: October 24, 2013

FOOTBALL OU UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA ORANGE BOWL 1985 04.jpg: Caption reads "Washington halfback Jacque Robinson (28) is pulled in two directions by OU defenders during Tuesday night's Orange Bowl game in Miami." Photo taken by Doug Hoke. Date photo was taken unknown. Photo was published in The Daily Oklahoman 1-3-1985.
FOOTBALL OU UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA ORANGE BOWL 1985 04.jpg: Caption reads "Washington halfback Jacque Robinson (28) is pulled in two directions by OU defenders during Tuesday night's Orange Bowl game in Miami." Photo taken by Doug Hoke. Date photo was taken unknown. Photo was published in The Daily Oklahoman 1-3-1985.

The passing of legendary former University of Washington coach Don James earlier this week brought up memories of the Huskies’ and Sooners’ classic Orange Bowl matchup in 1985.

Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist and co-founder of Sportspressnw.com Art Thiel put together this excellent piece on that 28-17 Orange Bowl upset by the Huskies, the brilliance of James and the contrasts of styles between the two coaches — James and then-Sooners coach Barry Switzer. You can read the full column here.

 

A few bulletpoints Thiel touches on:

* Popping the question: Thiel opens the column with an anecdote about asking Switzer about the “black hats vs. white hats” idea, essentially the battle of good vs. evil, with the Sooners taking the role of the bad guys. Brian Bosworth, Tony Casillas, Switzer and gold-chain swag against the by-the-book discipline of James’ program. Two one-loss teams, two coaches couldn’t have been any more different:

“Jeezus,” Switzer said, not waiting for the question. “I just step off the damn plane and you hit me with that.”

* James’ master plan: Oklahoma entered the game No. 2 in the polls behind eventual national champion Brigham Young, so the Sooners were naturally the favorite against a Washington team that didn’t even win the Pac-10. But Thiel said James had a plan, centered around stopping Casillas, the Sooners’ All-American defensive tackle:

The idea was to double-team Casillas each time he positioned himself over the center, then give the ball to fullback Rick Fenney, who ended up with 66 yards and a touchdown in nine carries. If Casillas lined up over a guard, a trap play on Casillas was set, and the ball given to (Jacque) Robinson. Seventeen times they ran it, and the Sooners never figured it out.

Added Thiel: James later said the trap checks were one of his greatest ideas.

* The game’s lasting impact: With OU losing, college football was turned upside down. BYU was voted national champion after going unbeaten, and the controversy surrounding that pick is often referenced as a launching point of the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

The column is a tribute to not only James’ overall impact, but it’s an appreciation of James’ greatest coaching feat, according to Thiel: Taking down the Sooners in 1985. Thiel questions whether of not the Huskies will ever return to that type of greatness.

And we didn’t even mention the Sooner Schooner.

by Erik Horne
Online Sports Editor
Erik Horne joined The Oklahoman as a sports web editor/producer in September 2013, following a five-year stint at The Ardmoreite (Ardmore) – first as a sports writer, then sports editor. At The Ardmoreite, Horne reported on everything from prep...
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