Keeping it 100: A story of flu, football and Dr. Phil
The game shouldn’t have happened.
It’s Nov. 23, 1968, and a measly 3-7 Tulsa Golden Hurricane team enters the Astrodome to play to the No. 11-ranked Houston Cougars. As the last game of the season, Tulsa will try to salvage its pride while Houston is looking to build on a 5-1-2 record ahead of a potential bowl game.
Head coach Bill Yeoman has the Cougars cooking late in the season and the team is fresh off of a 77-3 win against Idaho a week earlier. Although Thanksgiving is still five days away, the Cougars are preparing to serve a performance that will not settle well in the already churning stomachs of Tulsa: a 100-6 defeat.
The 94-point loss can probably – or definitely – be attributed to a virus that spread rampant through Tulsa’s athletic dorm the week before the game. Many key players were forced to stay behind as a mix-match of able-bodied athletes embarked to the Bayou City. By the time the team pulled up to the back doors of the Astrodome, even more had fallen ill.
”We should never have played,” then-Tulsa head coach Glenn Dobbs recalled 17 years after the troubling defeat. “We took the doctor on the plane with us, and he told me the boys wouldn’t be able to do a thing. But I just never liked backing out. They tried to act energetic, but they were so weak. My sons Glenn III and John, backup quarterbacks, were on the team, and their eyes were glazed with fever.”
Call it admirable, or gutsy, but the Golden Hurricane trotted out for the opening kickoff down 15 starters against the top-ranked offense in the country. Players with only the strongest of immune systems remained unaffected by this point, and you can imagine the mental state of this group.
Luckily for them, Phil McGraw, whom you may know better by his show business name, “Dr. Phil,” was a jack-of-all-trades member of the flu-stricken Tulsa team.
Before he began his day job mediating unruly teenagers with a zest to fight their mothers outside, the Oklahoma native actually dabbled in NCAA football. In a Sept. 9, 2013, interview with David Letterman on The Late Show, McGraw recounted his experience that unfortunate night:
McGraw: I played for University of Tulsa, and I was there the year that we got beat by Houston a hundred to six.
Letterman: Woah, 100 to six? What position did you play?
McGraw: Well, I was a middle linebacker and a tight end and just kinda any — I mean, at halftime, I was lookin’ out the ear hole of my helmet, so I don’t know where I was playin’.
Letterman: So you helped out on that defensive effort?
McGraw: Boy, I shut ’em down, I tell ya. Nobody breaks a hundred on me.
All things considered, the first quarter went well.
Tulsa trailed 14-0, but given the circumstances of the evening, things could have been far worse.
“You may not believe this, but we thought we could stay right with them,” Dick Miller lamented to the Orlando Sentinel years later. ”We only brought two defensive linemen, and one of those passed out in the locker room with 102-degree fever. It was a patchwork team, but we thought if we could stay within a couple touchdowns, we might get lucky.”
Well, they didn’t.
In the second quarter, Houston increased its 14-point lead to 24, still without a score from Tulsa.
Regardless, both teams had to have headed to the locker room satisfied with the first half’s outcome.
It took a valiant effort for Tulsa to return to the field following the intermission as they presumably carried with them significant fevers, unrelenting nausea and the typical wear-and-tear that comes with playing 30 minutes of college football.
Not only did Dobbs’ team return for the remaining half hour, his son – Dobbs III – found a receiver for a 14-yard passing score to open the third. The extra point sailed wide right, but it appeared for a moment that Tulsa’s dignity had been salvaged.
That is, until Houston got the ball.
Yeoman’s signature Veer offense proceeded to rattle off four touchdowns to finish off the third quarter with a 51-6 lead. With that, the starters exited the game to prevent showboating and injuries, but it didn’t make a difference.
Whether on purpose or by accident, the Cougars absolutely dismantled the Golden Hurricanes in the fourth quarter. The unprecedented offensive outburst has since become a subject of much debate and scrutiny in determining what proper blowout etiquette should look like.
The Cougars rattled off six more TD’s to begin the fourth, a welcomed sight by whoever remained of the 34,089 in paid attendance.
Up 93-6 with less than a minute left in the abomination, Tulsa was forced three-and-out deep inside its own territory. The punt sailed into the outstretched arms of the Houston returner Mike Simpson who, to the surprise of everyone, did not call for a fair catch.
Instead, the opportunistic Simpson seized the moment and took the ball to the house to put his team up 99-6, just an extra point away from the century mark.
According to a fan who was in attendance, chants of “make that kick!” filled the stadium as onlookers were keenly aware of what was at stake. The kick sailed through the uprights, and the place erupted.
Putting scrutiny aside, the events that unfolded that night were nothing short of bizarre, and no team has reached or given up 100 points since.
Still, just a few questions remain.
Did Yeoman try to run up the score? Maybe. Should the Cougars have been content with 93? Probably. Did the damaging mental effects of a 94-point loss lead McGraw into the field of psychology?
That, my friends, we may never know.