Two bushy little fellows named Boomer and Sooner, ponies leading a miniature covered wagon across what they probably presumed was just another over-mowed cow pasture, will forever romp across the mind of Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer. But who can hate the precious darlings, what with their manes all tufted up and their broad bellies wrapped in silver-studded harness leather, even after their scamper across the floor of the Orange Bowl prompted a crisis of confidence for the Sooners, who came into the game with hopes of winning the national championship.
"That horse-and-buggy scheme," Washington Coach Don James said this morning with a giggle, "we gave our game ball to them."
Even a mule wouldn't want to be a horse in Norman, Okla., today, and pity the poor shetlands. Boomer and Sooner may never run again, at least not across the terrain of a football stadium pulling the Sooner Schooner. Their happy excursion onto the turf after Tim Lashar kicked a 22-yard field goal, giving the Sooners an apparent 17-14 lead early in the fourth period, drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. It came after the Sooners were called for illegal procedure, and virtually pushed Lashar out of field-goal range.
His subsequent 42-yard attempt was blocked by linebacker Tim Peoples, and the miss shifted the momentum to the Huskies and added a bizarre, almost mystical twist to the game. Although Lashar came back to kick a 35-yard field goal with 8:45 left, Washington followed quickly with two touchdowns in less than a minute en route to winning, 28-17.
Rex Harris, the driver of the carriage, said, "They (Oklahoma) scored a field goal. We saw the referees signal that it was good, and that was our cue to go on the field. We get out there and the referee threw a flag on us and said, 'You just cost your team a field goal.' "
Doug Madden, who presides over the Ruf/Necks, the outfit responsible for the Sooner Schooner, said they had permission from Dan McNamara, executive director of the Orange Bowl, to go on the field. "What caused the problem was that because there was a penalty, time was still active. We didn't know that," Madden said.
"We've had the schooner since 1965. Had it at every home game, had it at every bowl game, we've even brought it to Texas. And nothing like this ever happened."
At a press gathering after the game, Switzer expressed more anger over the procedure penalty than the dead-ball foul against the schooner. The first flag came when Mark Hutson, a tackle wearing jersey No. 98, set up at the end of the line. Because he was wearing the number of an interior lineman, Hutson was supposed to report to the officials his intentions of anchoring the end of the line. He failed to do so, but Switzer had told the referees before the game that the field goal team would use an interior lineman as an end.
"Why don't they tell us we have to report every single time?" Switzer said. "The officials knew we were going to do it (because) we've been doing it all year."
Switzer posed another question for the team of Southeastern Conference officials: "And why don't they tell us before the game that the wagon can't come out on the field? That's Oklahoma. It's tradition. We've been doing it forever."
Kris Sampson, who rode with Harris on his historical trip to infamy, was at a loss for words after the incident. Asked why she was on board, she replied, "I'm theRuf/Neck queen. I swing the paddle."
The bizarre manner in which this game was decided may one day be attributed to the Sooner Schooner's odyssey. The presence of two dancing beasts did not determine the outcome of the game, but their timing was certainly crucial.
"I have never seen horses get penalized in my life," James said, this time with total seriousness. "From our standpoint, it pushed them 15 yards back and enabled us to block that kick. But I can't calculate what it meant to the overall picture of the game. We played a great football team, the best we've played all year, and we won with a tremendous effort. That's what should be remembered."
Still, one cannot help looking for comparable incidents and remembering a crazy afternoon at the 1955 Cotton Bowl in Dallas, when Rice all-America Dicky Moegle took a pitch around right end and headed up field. As Moegle broke into open country, running untouched toward a certain touchdown, Tommy Lewis ran off the Alabama bench and dragged him down. The officials awarded Rice the touchdown, figuring Moegle would have made it without cosmic intervention. The Owls went on to win, 28-6.
"One time I saw a dog on a field," Oklahoma quarterback Danny Bradley told reporters after the game. "He stopped right in the middle. . . and . . . That was pretty weird, but I think this turned out worse."
In all likelihood, history will come to embrace the pair of happy horses as fulfilling some grotesquely high-minded deus ex machina. The mystical will call it fate or destiny and point to their astrology charts. And the rest of us will simply decide that Boomer and Sooner accomplished what a team of football players apparently could not do alone.
Washington had a much-troubled time letting the Sooners know that some things, like the college football national championship, were not meant to be. To be sure, it was the Huskies, with a little help from the horses, that called down judgment in the end.