Book says '54 Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State game was fixed by mobsters
OKLAHOMA CITY -- As a boy, Steve Budin listened as his father, a New York bookmaker, regaled him with stories about the sports gambling business.
One always stood out to Budin -- a claim that the 1954 football game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) had been fixed by mobsters, who allegedly used a horse laxative to poison some of the Sooners' players. When Budin decided to write a book about his life, he said he knew that story had to be included.
"When you have somebody that is poisoning athletes, that would be a terrorist attack today," said the 36-year-old Budin, a Miami Beach, Fla., man who developed one of the early offshore sports betting companies and later started an online handicapping service.
"My dad told that story many, many times."
The tale is recounted in four pages of Budin's 254-page book, "Bets, Drugs, and Rock & Roll," which will be in bookstores on Monday. If true, it would seem to merit a major place in the lore of Bedlam athletics.
Proving its veracity could be tricky, though, judging from the recollections of those who had connections with the Sooners' 1954 squad.
"This is completely new to me," said Carl Allison, a senior end on the team who now is an administrator for a church of Christ in West Monroe, La. "I don't remember anything like that," added former Oklahoma sports information director Mike Treps, who in 1954 was an OU broadcast journalism student.
According to Budin's book, his father moved money for a mobster in the Midwest -- whom Budin identifies only as "J.R." -- who ran a major bookmaking operation, and the mobster was adept at fixing games.
In 1954, the Bud Wilkinson-coached Sooners were undefeated and in the midst of what would become a 47-game winning streak, which remains the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) record. The Bedlam game, the season finale for both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, was set for Nov. 27 in Stillwater.
The book said Budin's father received a call from J.R. early in the week preceding the game, asking him to "bet as much as you can on Oklahoma State this Saturday, at any number, and make sure you bet it early because I don't know how long it is going to stay on the board."
Budin said in the book that by Thursday of that week, reports had surfaced in newspapers about a mysterious illness hitting Oklahoma football players and that two days later, on the day of the game, it was announced that the Sooners would play without many key players.
He recounts how J.R. told his father that one of J.R.'s cohorts had threatened, then paid off, a cook to slip the laxative into a pot of soup at a hotel where the Sooners were staying, and that 37 players ate the soup. The laxative took effect so quickly, the book said, that many of the players were unable to make it to a restroom in time.
"The movie scene appeared in my head, of them going into the kitchen, infiltrating, getting the laxative into the soup and how that must have worked," Budin told The Associated Press. "The graphic scene of the players losing control of their bowels almost immediately was very funny."
But did it actually happen?
"I don't remember anything about anyone getting sick at any time," said Pat O'Neal of Ada, a senior quarterback on the 1954 team who later coached at East Central University.
Allison and Treps also said it would be likely they'd recall a story like that if it had occurred. And no articles in the Daily Oklahoman -- the state's largest newspaper -- in the days leading up to the game mentioned such a scenario.
Oklahoma finished a 10-0 season with a 14-0 win over the Aggies (who later became known as the Cowboys) but did not cover the point spread, which Budin said in the book was 20 points.
"They played well against us in the game," Allison said of the Aggies. "I'm just glad we got out of there and won."
The book also briefly mentions that a similar scenario occurred in 1959, when Oklahoma played at Northwestern and many Sooners players fell ill after eating at a Chicago nightclub two days before the game. Treps said that story is well-documented.
As for the 1954 Bedlam game, Treps theorizes that Oklahoma's dominance in other games -- the Sooners pounded Big 7 Conference runner-up Nebraska 55-7 a week before the close call against Oklahoma State -- might have fueled rumors that "something must have happened" against the Aggies. But Treps is skeptical of Budin's claim.
"I can't say it did not happen," Treps said, "but Wilkinson never said anything about it ... It just sounds so bizarre I have to doubt it ever happened. If it did, they got the wrong guys because our best guys played in that game."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press