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Why a former Notre Dame quarterback will root for Oklahoma on Saturday

Don Bucci was a backup QB for the Irish when they played OU in 1952 and '53. But he will be cheering on OU this time around.
by Berry Tramel Published: October 23, 2012

Don Bucci's old pals aren't going to be too happy with him Saturday. His Notre Dame teammates and classmates will be disappointed.

Bucci's loyalties don't lie with the Fighting Irish. Not this week.

Bucci was a backup Notre Dame quarterback in 1952 and 1953, seasons in which the Fighting Irish beat the Sooners.

Bucci hopes for a different result Saturday night. And here's why. He was Bob Stoops' high school coach.

Funny how small the world can be. A guy who had a hand in jump-starting Notre Dame's domination of the Sooners also had a hand in developing the coach who has restored Oklahoma gridiron glory.

And Bucci makes it clear. Water is thicker than sheepskin.

“I could never root against Bobby Stoops,” Bucci said.

Just like the Stoops clan, Bucci was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. He went off to Notre Dame and played for Frank Leahy, the legendary coach who in 11 Irish seasons lost 11 games.

Two of Notre Dame's greatest victories were over the Sooners, 27-21 in 1952 at South Bend and 28-21 in 1953 at Norman.

“That's when they (OU) had Billy Vessels and Eddie Crowder and that crew,” Bucci said of the '52 game.

Vessels was sensational, mounting a campaign that brought him the Heisman Trophy. He rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns, monster numbers for those days.

But Bucci remembers the opening kickoff, when Notre Dame captain Dan Shannon nailed OU's Buck McPhail, causing a fumble.

“Kind of set the tone for the whole game,” Bucci said. “From that point on, the rest of the season, they referred to that hit as ‘Shannonized the kid from Oklahoma.'”

A year later, Bucci made the trip to Norman for the season opener, and 59 years later, he mostly remembers the heat.

“It's hard to remember the details,” Bucci said. “All I remember is, it was so hot. Frank Leahy had us put on these Buck Rodgers hats.”

I don't know what a Buck Rodgers hat is, but I know the Heisman Trophy when I see it. Notre Dame's Johnny Lattner won it that year, perhaps in part because he intercepted a late Buddy Leake pass, and the Irish ended OU's 25-game homefield win streak.

“One hell of a game,” Bucci said.

The Sooners didn't lose again, anywhere, for 4½ seasons. On Nov. 16, 1957, the Irish ended OU's 47-game winning streak.

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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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