An Inside Look at the 1985 Orange Bowl

It was aboard a cruise ship off the coast of Miami, that players from Washington and Oklahoma almost got into a brawl. Until that point, these pre-game activities leading up to the 1985 Orange Bowl had been congenial enough. Trips to the Everglades and Disneyworld made for fun memories and lots of laughs. But as the cruise ship left port and skimmed eastward toward international waters, the confined quarters led to some friction.

"There were three open bars and a casino on board," former Husky Strong Safety Jim Rodgers told "When we got out beyond the U.S. border, the casino opened for business, and everybody was drinking and gambling at the tables. It was a weird thing to be at a Blackjack table and look over and see Barry Switzer sitting next to you."

Then tensions between the two teams spilt over, and the tone for the 1985 Orange Bowl was set. As told by former Husky Free Safety Tim Peoples, "Everybody was having a good time, and the Orange Bowl people brought in girls for the players to dance with. Everybody was drinking. Next thing you know, somebody said something to someone, and both sides were in each other's face. It almost turned into a brawl. The Sooners were pretty cocky and talking a lot, like those Miami teams of old."

Confrontations aside, the Husky players felt that the Orange Bowl people knew how to host a bowl game, save for the food. "On Christmas Day they served us big juicy hamburgers-- if you can believe that", Peoples reminisced with a laugh. "I don't eat raw meat, and half of that stuff wasn't even cooked!"

Washington entered the game with a 10-1 record and the #4 ranking in the AP poll. Oklahoma sported a 9-1-1 record and the #2 national ranking. The Sooners were a team of big names, like Tony Casillas, Brian Bosworth, Keith Jackson and Steve Sewell. The Huskies entered the game with little fanfare, aside from the catchy moniker known nationally as the Purple Reign Defense. It was an aggressive and tough unit that led the nation in turnover ratio. The offense was loaded with quality players, but sputtered much of the season. Said Rodgers, "The defense played two seasons worth, in terms of minutes. The offense couldn't stay on the field long enough for us to catch our breath." Added Tim Peoples, "Don James finally told the defense to not say anything bad to the offense, to get off their case." The Husky offense did come to life late in the season, and led by QB Paul Sicuro, the Dawgs secured a trip to Miami.

They entered into the Orange Bowl as decided underdogs, and then had additional adversity to contend with. "By the Washington State game our defense was hanging by a thread", said Rodgers. "We were really beat up. Tim Meamber was deaf in one ear, and I was playing with a broken arm and an injured knee. We had worked really hard and were ready. Then two days before the game, (Defensive Coordinator Jim) Lambright decides to go live (full goal-line scrimmaging). So what happens? Linebacker Joe Krakowski blows out his knee and is out. The whole defense was so pissed."

So the scheme was changed, and youngsters David Rill and Albert Tufono were asked to step up. "There they were draining 60 CCs of blood out of my knee, and what does Lambright do?" asks Rodgers incredulously. "He puts me on the motion guy! Lambright is a great guy, and he and I can laugh about this now, but damn it!"

Free Safety Tim Peoples had his own dramatic opinion about that unfortunate turn of events. "I'm not sure that OU would have even scored at all if Krakowski had been playing. He was a really dominant player. It really hurt us not to have him in there. And I know it really tore him up not to able to play."

Both teams took to the field, and a throng of 56,000 buzzed amid evening air that was thick with heat, humidity and anticipation. Husky offensive tackle Al Robertson had built up a lot of pre-game animosity toward Brian Bosworth. From the very start, the two were entwined in multiple heated exchanges. The whole Sooner team was giving Washington an earful. The field was in awful condition, and was basically a mixture of gravel and dirt between the 30s, and near midfield the Orange Bowl logo had simply been painted upon the dirt. As center and captain Dan Eernissee told, "If you look at pictures of me at the end of the game, I'm absolutely filthy."

The Huskies came out with a great game plan, utilizing fullback and tailback trap plays that kept Oklahoma's bull-rushing defenders off-balance all night. Don James also utilized something else that is common now, but was a novelty back in 1985. He lined up the tight end in a 2-point stance, and then right before the snap, moved him in motion to the other side. This befuddled the Sooners all game long.

Eernissee had a plan for the constant challenge of blocking All-American Tony Casillas. "I had no chance if I tried to overpower Casillas, as he was just too strong. So I used a scramble blocking technique, with the key being to get to the point of attack before he did, using my quickness." That blocking helped lead the way for the game's MVP Jacque Robinson, who tallied 135 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The Husky defense was prepared, but the Sooners had early success moving the ball by running right up the middle. Heading back to the huddle, Rodgers went up to freshman linebacker David Rill and grabbed his facemask. "David mother#$#$%! These bastards are running right at you! You gotta stick your nose in there and don't give ‘em an inch!"

Rill went on to play a very solid game and was a key factor.

After that the Husky defense clamped down. They had felt going in that if they could keep the Sooners from getting outside, they would be unable to throw and would thus be rendered feeble. Washington bolted to a 14-0 lead, and it could have been 21-0, had Danny Greene not bobbled a sure touchdown throw from Paul Sicuro that was subsequently intercepted. Oklahoma utilized a couple of big plays and tied it at 14-14 going into halftime. But even then, the Dawgs were psyched. "We knew we were thirty minutes away from beating Oklahoma, we felt we still had momentum", exclaimed Rodgers.

The only tackle that the legendary Tony Casillas had made all night was born of a Husky mistake. Husky linemen Dan Eernissee and left guard Tim Burnham each made a slip block on Casillas and both went after Bosworth, leaving Casillas free. The two Husky linemen apologized to each other on the way back to the huddle, and the mistake was not repeated again. Said Eernissee, "in retrospect, we should have probably apologized to the running back, too!"

Sooner Schooner

The arrival onto the field of the Boomer Schooner in the 3rd quarter was one of the most bizarre occurrences in college football history. After a successful field goal had already been negated by a formation penalty, the famous Calistoga wagon came racing out to celebrate unwittingly. It proceeded to drive a wedge right in the middle of the Husky huddle, parting the defenders like the Red Sea. A male Sooner cheerleader was hanging out of the back waving the OU flag right in the Huskies' faces. Husky linebacker Joe Kelly swung his foot in the direction of the wagon in disgust, and several players reacted animatedly. It was at this point that Jim Rodgers had his only regret of the evening. "In high school my Dad had sternly warned me about throwing tantrums, that he would never let me play another down of football again if I ever lost my temper on the field… That thought raced through my head… And it was the only thing that kept me from reaching up, grabbing that damn flag and yanking it and that little bastard right out of the wagon!"

The subsequent 20 yards worth of penalties left the Sooners with a longer field goal attempt. Safety Tim Peoples roared around the left side and blocked it magnificently. The Husky sideline went absolutely berserk. The NBC announcers were giving the credit to Ron Holmes for getting a big mitt on the ball. "It wasn't Holmes, it was me. I got a hand on it", affirmed Peoples with a laugh. "They were always giving Holmes all the credit!"

Oklahoma did ultimately take a 17-14 lead, but the Huskies' perspective, the momentum favored them, not the Sooners. Hugh Millen entered the game and delivered on a key throw to Danny Greene on 3rd down that set up a TD. There was also a situation when the Husky offense broke huddle and came up to the ball. It was one of those awkward moments when there is a TV timeout and both teams just stand at the scrimmage staring at each other.

Only by now, Oklahoma was singing a different tune.

"The Sooners were a bunch of good ole boys", said Eernissee. "They were saying `Man, your coaches are awesome! We don't have a clue what the hell is going on! Or what you're gonna do next. And what's the deal with moving the tight end around?'"

The Huskies' precision and toughness took over in the 4th quarter. Washington tallied two touchdowns, and amassed a 28-17 lead. The defense completely throttled the sputtering Sooners at that point, and Washington emerged victorious as Orange Bowl Champions. Don James was lifted up and perched upon the shoulders of his players.

Both Tim Peoples and Dan Eernissee stated that this was the biggest win in their Husky careers. Said Eernissee, "taking on Casillas, the best lineman in the country the last two seasons, and shutting him down, was very satisfying."

Jim Rodgers is more pro-active in his remembrances of that game. "Every time I meet a new woman and we have a first date, out comes the Orange Bowl tape!" he exclaims with a laugh.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories