Bob Femimore looks back at Cotton Bowl trip of ‘45

Fifth-nine years ago was when Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) received its first bid to play in the 1945 Cotton Bowl. <BR><BR> When coach Jim Lookabaugh took his doughty band of some 40 football warriors to Dallas there was a long string of firsts for the budding bowl and the young men from the Stillwater campus.

The Cowboys bounced TCU, 34-0, in the most one-sided performance to that date in the Dallas classic, the largest crowd ever (35,000) for the Cotton Bowl and the first such venture for All-America Bob Fenimore to showcase his talents and those of his teammates.

So complete was the Cowboys' dominance the Horned Frogs didn't cross midfield until the second half of the game. Meanwhile, Fenimore and company were harvesting 494 yards of total offense. Since then, the game has been a rallying point for members of that Cowboy varsity and the one the following year that won the Sugar Bowl.

Fenimore, who now resides in Stillwater, recalled, "There were probably only 40 of us on the team and we knew each other by first name. Neill (Armstrong) has always been a dear friend; in fact, he's like a brother to me."

From his Ft. Worth residence, Armstrong added, "There weren't as many people and athletes in the department then. We attended all of the athletic events … basketball, track, wrestling or baseball, and even though we didn't live in a dorm, we knew and pulled for everyone.

"The dorms were occupied by those guys in the service, so, we were scattered all over town. This didn't keep us from being close."

In those days, Lookabaugh had only two assistant coaches, Jack Baker and Toby Greene, but the Pokes weren't short on discipline. They were the architects of A&M's highly successful single winged offense, copied by many schools in the Stillwater area.

"I remember we resumed practice on December 9," Fenimore said. "We got a couple of days off for Christmas and went to Dallas on December 26th.

"Veta Jo (Fenimore's wife) and I were guests for the 50th Anniversary of the Cotton Bowl. Texas A&M played Auburn and we met some real great players like Doak Walker (SMU) and Bobby Layne (Texas), who had played in the Cotton Bowl."

When asked about some of the lead players of that era, both Fenimore and Armstrong broke into big smiles when describing their teammates.

"No, we didn't have any team clowns," Fenimore said. "Ralph Foster and Jake Colhouer were older than most of us and we respected them the most.

"They were both leaders. If you didn't go along with Jake he might pop you right in the mouth. Ralph was just as strong but more tactful."

Armstrong added, "In my sophomore year, coach Lookabaugh made me the play caller. I did that the rest of my college career and one thing he told me was not to let any conversation go on in the huddle.

"Now, Foster would give me some of his ideas on the way back to the huddle but to his credit, he never said a word after we huddled up."

Armstrong laughingly added, "We had a play called '45 cruncher.' Bob hated the play but Ralph loved it.

"We ran an unbalanced line to the right, Ralph was the left guard and I was the left end. Bob would fake dropping back to pass then carry the ball over left guard. "Ralph and I were supposed to double team the defensive tackle but Ralph would tell me, ‘you just bump the guy and I'll grab his shirt and hold him long enough.'

"It didn't work all of the time but it did well for us in the Cotton Bowl."

Fenimore recalls when the team, orchestrated by Captain Foster, approached Lookabaugh and threatened to go on strike if the school didn't buy each player a new suit of clothes.

"Jim just looked at us for a while before he said a thing," Fenimore said. "Then he said, ‘I know what you're thinking and let me tell you, you're digging a hole for all of the players and coaches on this team … a hole we'll be in the rest of our lives.'

"There wasn't a word said after that, and we went back to practice."

Armstrong actually agreed to attend A&M on a basketball and track scholarship while Fenimore, who hailed from Woodward, said Lookabaugh's quick reply to his letter requesting a catalogue on the university convinced him to go to Stillwater.

"Our high school principal was an A&M graduate and always urged me to go there," Fenimore added. "I wrote coach Lookabaugh for a catalogue and he phoned me to tell me he was mailing one to me that very day.

"That was big time recruiting attention in those days."

The Cotton Bowl allocated 2,500 tickets to the Cowboy administration in 1945 and among those attending the game included Gov. Bob Kerr along with OU president George Cross.

Last year, the Houston Bowl originally gave OSU 12,500 tickets but the Cowboy followers totaled approximately 35,000 by game time.

Armstrong, whose grandson Cole Farden is OSU's deep place kicker today, was also the kickoff man for the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl.

"I did that for four years and Cole has promised me he is going to tie that record before he leaves OSU," Armstrong laughs. "Fenimore had to hold the ball on kickoffs for me because we didn't use a tee on those days. In fact, I don't ever remember trying to kick a field goal.

"I don't know how many times I kicked Bob in the hand but I'll bet he can tell you about every time it happened."

Armstrong and his wife Jane stay at the Fenimore home for every OSU home game and Neill is determined to get Bob to come to Dallas.

"We must owe them 35 or 40 overnight visits but Bob says he plans to stay at home and watch the Cotton Bowl on television," Armstrong sighs. "I'm going to work like heck to get him to change his mind.

"He's worried about being able to get up and down on the stadium steps. I can help him do that and Bob's rather frugal but he won't have to pay for a room.

"If would be a shame that after all these years of talking about the bowl game we didn't get to see it together."

(Pat Quinn, who worked in the OSU sports information office from 1958-87, now writes for the Stillwater NewsPress.)

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