COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just like Ohio State’s first and only previous trip to Norman, Okla., — a 24-14 win for the No. 6 Buckeyes over No. 2 Oklahoma — the game Saturday will feature a pair of top-15 teams when the No. 3 Buckeyes meet up against the No. 14 Sooners.
The Buckeyes walked into a wild environment that day and managed to come out winners. Offensive coordinator Glen Mason had seen Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium during his days as an Iowa State assistant in the 1970s, as had OSU head coach Earle Bruce when he was the Cyclones’ head coach from 1973-78, but it was a different atmosphere with the Buckeyes in town.
“By Big Ten standards it wasn’t an overly big stadium like The Horseshoe or The Big House or some of the other venues, but it’s close to the field and the fans are very avid,” Mason said. “They’ve got the wagon and the horses circling the field all the time and they’ve got the RUF/NEKS cheerleaders shooting shotguns on the sidelines. It was a big game and a very hostile environment.”
And while the 1983 and 2016 editions even share the same date and location, it’s a good bet that the latest meeting between the two teams won’t come close to matching the weirdness surrounding what was mostly an ordinary game on the field.
Ohio State scored two early touchdowns to get out to a 14-0 lead, with quarterback Mike Tomczak connecting with John Frank for scoring passes of 16 and 15 yards to put the Buckeyes on the board. The plays were perfectly typical but the backstory was anything but.
The sacred Jewish celebration Yom Kippur happened to fall on Sept. 17 in 1983, and Frank’s Jewish faith left him with a decision. He ultimately chose to play against the Sooners but otherwise observed the customs surrounding the holy day.
“That Friday before the game, he couldn’t do anything and couldn’t go to any meetings and couldn’t eat,” Mason said. “He had to fast the whole day. The next day he played just a tremendous game.”
What might be most remarkable is that Frank performed so well not only while fasting but also in extreme heat. The heat index got into triple digits and the surface of the field reached 135 degrees on a brutally hot afternoon in Norman.
Frank responded by producing a game-high eight catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
“Not many people knew much about what John was going through other than himself, and we just respected whatever decision he was going to make,” Tomczak said. “He had a marvelous, marvelous performance. It was tremendously special for him.”
Ohio State’s defense got a reprieve when Oklahoma’s star running back Marcus Dupree left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury. It was one of the last games he ever played for the Sooners, as the former top recruit finished with just six carries for 30 yards. Three weeks later, a concussion against Texas knocked him out of that game, and he returned home to Mississippi and never again played a down of college football.
A third-quarter touchdown from Roman Bates helped the Buckeyes hold off Oklahoma’s comeback attempt, as did Tomczak’s 234 passing yards, which well outpaced the Sooners’ total of 170 yards through the air.
The Buckeyes escaped with the 10-point win, but the damage wasn’t yet done. As the team traveled to Oklahoma City to fly home, Tomczak experienced full-body cramps that Mason said left the star quarterback completely stiff and sent teammates scrambling to offer him their drinks from the boxed lunches they’d been given in an attempt to combat the cramps.
“I used up every ounce of energy in my body that game, so much so that my whole body cramped up after the game and it was the worst feeling I ever experienced in my whole entire life,” Tomczak said.