NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Even 50 years after his Hall of Fame college career ended, Tommy McDonald still gets teary-eyed when he starts talking about Bud Wilkinson.
The architect of Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak that still stands as a record a half-century later, Wilkinson left as indelible a mark on McDonald as he ever did on the record books.
"He was absolutely our spark plug. The spark plug made the motor run, that's what it was," said McDonald, a halfback who won the 1956 Maxwell Award during Oklahoma's second straight national championship season.
"It was fantastic. He was just absolutely brilliant with his speeches and stuff like that. What a speaker he was. I mean to tell you, he could motivate you."
The speech that stands out to McDonald came at halftime of Oklahoma's 1956 game at Colorado. The Sooners had just walloped Notre Dame 40-0 for its fifth straight blowout of the season, and the team played an emotionless first half to trail the Buffaloes 19-6. At the time, they were four wins shy of matching Washington's 39-game winning streak that stood as the record.
His voice shaking with emotion, McDonald said he'll never forget Wilkinson's halftime speech: "I want you individuals to know you're letting that jersey down today. You're not playing to the potential of that jersey what you can play at. You're not living up to your reputation of what that jersey has. Now let's see if we can go out there in the second half and you can put that reputation back on the line of that jersey."'
"Boy, did we," McDonald said. "I don't even think we went through the door. I think we went through the wall."
The Sooners outscored Colorado 21-0 after that speech to emerge with a 27-19 victory. Four more routs followed to lift Oklahoma to the record of 40 consecutive wins, its second straight national championship and its third straight undefeated season.
By the time Wilkinson's squad beat Missouri 39-14 on Nov. 9, 1957, the streak had reached 47 and lasted more than four calendar years. In a half-century since, no major team has come closer than a dozen wins of equaling the mark. Mount Union of Division III holds the overall NCAA mark with 55 straight wins, and it also owns a 54-game streak.
Toledo came the closest to challenging Oklahoma's mark when it won 35 games between 1969 and 1971, and two powerhouses got about that far more recently. Miami won 34 games before its controversial double-overtime loss to Ohio State in the 2003 Orange Bowl, and Southern California had an equally long run until Vince Young and Texas snapped it two years ago in the Rose Bowl to win the BCS title game. The longest current streak is 10 wins, shared by Hawaii and Kansas.
"It's special, I don't care what the circumstances," said current Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, who once put together a 20-game winning streak. "The rules and everything were different back then. No one else was doing it, so it's still pretty darn impressive and special because other people had the same opportunities and he obviously made the most and took advantage of the landscape at the time and did it better than anybody."
Wilkinson did it with the Split-T offense first used by Missouri's Don Faurot. The innovative attack spread the offensive linemen out to create seams in the defense, and Billy Vessels mastered it to win the Heisman Trophy under Wilkinson in 1952. McDonald followed with the Maxwell four years later.
"That T-formation, that option play, there was nobody that could stop that. Nobody," McDonald said. "You go for a first down and it was just automatic."
In the midst of the streak, the Sooners led the nation in rushing offense in 1953, 1955 and 1956 and total offense those last two years. After a 19-14 win against Texas got it going, only seven other opponents came within a touchdown of the prolific Sooners over the course of the streak. Twenty-two of the wins were by at least 30 points.
As the victories kept coming, so too came a confidence that the Sooners would just continue rolling. But never an air of invincibility.
"I think that's the one thing that you fight against," McDonald said.
Fans didn't necessarily share that belief. A crowd of 62,000 came to Norman on Nov. 16, 1957 -- 50 years ago this Friday -- to see the Sooners play a Notre Dame team that had lost two straight games and that it had throttled 40-0 only a year earlier. It was certain to be an appropriate celebration for the 50th anniversary of Oklahoma becoming a state.
The Fighting Irish had a different idea. Hardened by that blowout loss and signs that boasted about how the Sooners would win, Notre Dame held Oklahoma to only 145 total yards, including 98 on the ground, and won 7-0 on Dick Lynch's 3-yard touchdown run in the final minutes.
"We were definitely outclassed. They had a lot of All-Americans and they just had a heck of a record," said Dick Prendergast, a captain on that Irish team. "We got on the field and just outplayed our abilities."
The stunned crowd remained in the stands well after the game, while Wilkinson consoled his players.
"Bud was a good friend and a gentleman. He shook hands. He hated to lose. Of course he had won 47 straight. But he was a perfect gentleman," said Terry Brennan, who coached Notre Dame to the win. "The silence was deafening."
According to an account passed along to Harold Keith for his book "Forty-Seven Straight," Wilkinson had another memorable speech even in defeat: "You have done something no other major college football team has ever done before or will ever do again. You have won 47 straight football games. I am proud of you. You have been just as much a part of this as any other Oklahoma team.
"The only ones who never lose are the ones
who never play."