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Espionage part of LSU-Oklahoma folklore

NEW ORLEANS -- A half-century later, Darrell Royal remembers most everything about the only other football game between Oklahoma and Louisiana State. The big plays, the easy win, and even a late hit on an extra point.

Oh, and the spying scandal.

"It was kind of a strange thing," the former Sooners quarterback and famed Texas coach said a few days ago.

Skullduggery always has been a part of sports. Current LSU coach Nick Saban tells of being a young defensive coach at Michigan State when a graduate assistant was sent to hide in the scoreboard to watch Duke practice under Steve Spurrier.

No such shenanigans leading into last night's Sugar Bowl with LSU and the Sooners. Besides, it would have been hard to top what happened the last time they played.

Oklahoma was bound for its first undefeated season under coach Bud Wilkinson when it headed to the 1950 Sugar Bowl to take on the Tigers. On their way to New Orleans, the Sooners set up camp in Biloxi, Miss., and practiced on a high school field.

A couple of days before the game, Wilkinson was summoned to the phone. A man who lived near the field wanted to talk to him.

"One of the neighbors called and said there's a guy crawling up a ladder and watching your practice," Royal said.

Wilkinson dispatched about a half-dozen people to trap the culprit. They found him wedged between two garages, covered by a tarp, peeking over a fence with binoculars and a camera.

They pulled the man down and took his picture before he got loose and ran away.

"Sure enough, it was Piggy Barnes," Royal said.

Walter Barnes was a lineman at LSU in 1946-47 who later played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. Royal was already familiar with him.

A year after Barnes played football for an Air Force team during World War II, Royal was on the same squad.

"I'd heard about Piggy Barnes from guys still on the team. He was a pretty popular guy," Royal said.

Not with Wilkinson.

"He was really upset, I remember," Royal said.

So mad, in fact, that Wilkinson accused LSU of cheating. According to the Oklahoma media guide, it was the only time the gentlemanly coach ever publicly sounded off about an opponent.

"Of course, they couldn't deny it," said Leon Heath, a star running back on that Sooners team. "They caught him red-handed."

Heath, who made it to the NFL with the Washington Redskins, said he has the old news clippings at his home in Chickasha, Okla., showing Barnes being nabbed.

"I've heard of scouting teams, but I didn't know you were allowed to take pictures," he said.

Barnes's espionage hardly helped. Oklahoma romped, 35-0, in the most lopsided game in its bowl history.

Heath scored on gallops of 86 and 34 yards in the second quarter, and ran for 170 yards overall in winning the Most Outstanding Player award. Royal capped the scoring with a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter.

"When we got that far ahead, we wanted to keep in the first team and score some more because of what they did to us," Heath said. "Bud wouldn't let us."

The Sooners finished No. 2 in the nation behind Notre Dame. Unlike this season, a brouhaha did not break out over who was best.

"There was no controversy, because Notre Dame was the glamour school of college football," Royal said. "To win the national championship, you had to beat them."

What really pained Royal, however, was a late hit he absorbed while holding for an extra point.

"He plowed me over. It was a personal foul, and they threw the rag, they threw the laundry," he said. "Back then, you took the point instead of the penalty. But because of that play, the next season they put in the rule that those penalties would be assessed on the kickoff."

Oklahoma's victory came during a 31-game winning streak, and Wilkinson later posted a record 47-game string with the Sooners. Royal went on to become one of college football's most successful coaches with the Longhorns.

After his NFL days ended, Barnes became an actor. He appeared in TV shows and several Westerns, including a role as sheriff Sam Shaw in "High Plains Drifter."

Barnes died in 1998 and, as the story goes, had his ashes spread over the field at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Among the LSU players in that long-ago Sugar Bowl was halfback Ken Konz, a future member of the Cleveland Browns.

"Yes, it was true about the spying. But we didn't know about it until after the game. We really didn't," he said.

"Whatever he was doing," Konz said, "evidently it didn't help."

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