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OU football: 1979 photo of Bob Stoops, Billy Sims bridges two eras of Sooner football

Funny how a photo can span so much history. On Sept. 15, 1979, the Sooners and Hawkeyes met for the first time. A photo from that game shows Iowa safety Bobby Stoops trying to stop Billy Sims, OU's reigning Heisman Trophy holder at the time.
by Berry Tramel Published: December 22, 2011

photo - Iowa's Bobby Stoops, right, tries to stop OU star Billy Sims during a 1979 game. PHOTO PROVIDED
Iowa's Bobby Stoops, right, tries to stop OU star Billy Sims during a 1979 game. PHOTO PROVIDED

* * *

OU football was glorious in the 1970s. Switzer lost seven games in the seven seasons from 1973-79. But season openers often were dicey: 28-11 over Baylor in 1974, 25-23 over Vanderbilt in 1977, 35-29 over Stanford in 1978.

Iowa was no different on this Band Day in 1979. The Hawkeyes scored first, on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Phil Suess.

And Iowa was playing defense. OU's wishbone would rush for just 269 yards that day, and Sooner carelessness and hard Hawkeye hitting led to seven OU fumbles. Iowa recovered five of them. In a stretch of 136 seconds, OU lost three fumbles and Iowa threw an interception.

The Sooners resorted to blitzing, usually with linebacker George Cumby, to keep the Hawkeyes at bay.

OU scored on Sims' touchdown, with backup quarterback Kelly Phelps directing the final 50 yards of an 80-yard drive after J.C. Watts was banged up.

The Sooners' John Hoge missed field goals of 47 and 24 yards — Stoops was jinxing OU kickers, even back then — and Iowa trailed just 7-6 after three quarters.

Finally, the Sooners wore down the Hawkeyes. Watts returned, and his passing keyed two more touchdowns, and OU survived 21-6.

Sims rushed for 106 yards on 23 carries, a nondescript game, other than a snapshot of a wild-eyed safety trying to bear down on the greatest offensive player in OU history.

Sims today says he sort of remembers Stoops in that game. “He was a pretty decent tackler,” Sims said. “One thing I did know about him, he would try to make the tackle. He wasn't trying to run the other way, that's for sure.”

Switzer, unaware that Fry was building something special and that the Hawkeyes would play Nebraska within 24-21 the next week, was not impressed with his Sooners.

“Well, he was used to hanging half-a-hundred on everybody,” Alvarez said. “So maybe we made it a little tougher on him than he expected. Matter of fact, I do remember seeing him after the game. He looked pretty disgusted.”

* * *

That game was Stoops' first at Owen Field. It also was the first OU game I ever covered.

I was 18 years old, working for the Norman Transcript the September after I got out of high school. My assignment was the Iowa locker room.

Thirty-two years later, I've encountered few postgame news conferences more entertaining. Fry filled every reporter's notebook.

“Men, I just told the football team what's wrong with this ballclub,” Fry said. “We get our --- kicked and get complimented. And if I see one guy that's got a smile on his face, I'm going to bust him right in the mouth.

“I'm proud of them. They've been working their tails off. But damn it, they've got to grow up and start winning some football games. Losing and looking good doing it is just a bunch of crap. Who is Iowa and who is Oklahoma? Just a bunch of 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids out there.

“I didn't come to Iowa to lose, and I don't think these kids enrolled in school at Iowa to lose. These kids have been babied, pampered, petted and complimented so much when they lose that it makes me sick.

“Sure, I know we played a hell of a lot better than the experts and point spread predicted, but that isn't enough. We still lost.”

I don't believe I talked to Stoops that day. Don't know why I would have. I certainly didn't quote him.

Just an interesting football game at Owen Field. I had no idea what it would mean. That it was a small part of helping Iowa build something special, and a flying safety building a football pedigree that would one day bring him back to Norman.

“His whole career was like that,” Fry said of Stoops' launch. “He was very tough, very aggressive and very intelligent.

“He became what I call a bellcow. You know how it is on the farm, with the one cow with a bell that leads the way? When you want to feed the herd, you listen for the bell.

“He was my leader. He was my bellcow. We played for a Rose Bowl two years later.”

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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