‘The Superman Play’ at 20

TEDDY LEHMAN WAS twice an All-American at Oklahoma. In 2003, the stout linebacker received the Huge 12 defensive participant of the 12 months award, the Dick Butkus Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award. In 2004, he was a second-round NFL draft choose, and he went on to spend elements of six seasons with the Lions, Buccaneers, Bills and Jaguars.

However the second he is greatest recognized for, the second he spends every October reliving, is one he stated took place as a result of he simply so occurred to be in the appropriate place on the proper time. He was nonetheless coming into his personal again then, in 2001, solely half-heartedly speeding the quarterback and counting to a few earlier than trying up on the precise proper second to have historical past actually fall into his palms.

That is when his star teammate Roy Williams took flight and etched each their names within the storied historical past of the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry — when “The Superman Play” was born on the Pink River Showdown.

And for that, Lehman stated, “I believe all of us owe Roy a beer.”

The play, which led to a Lehman landing and successfully received the sport for Oklahoma, cemented Williams’ legacy as probably the greatest defensive gamers in program historical past.

Twenty years later, forward of the newest installment of the Pink River Showdown (Saturday, noon ET, ABC), Williams’ teammates and coaches recall that second, a seminal play of their careers — even when their involvement was solely a matter of luck, as Lehman insists his was.

Lehman stated he can title 100 performs in his profession throughout which he carried out higher individually, however all of them pale as compared.

“All proper,” he stated with fun, “I am going to journey Roy Williams’ coattails for the remainder of my life.”


In the summertime of 2000, Lehman known as house someday to let his of us understand how issues had been going at Oklahoma.

A freshman, Lehman had grown up 150 miles east of Norman in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, the place he was sort of an enormous deal. As a senior in highschool, he led the Tigers to the state championship recreation, recording an eye-popping 151 tackles whereas speeding for 1,252 yards. As if that wasn’t sufficient, he additionally averaged a Class 4A-best 39.6 yards per punt.

However what Lehman noticed throughout his first week on campus was one thing he felt he wanted to inform his dad about. There was this child from California who was dominating all of the player-led practices. His title: Roy Williams.

Williams was a 12 months forward of Lehman, a sophomore security who hit like a linebacker and tracked the ball like a canopy nook.

“In 7-on-7, usually nobody ever will get a hand on the soccer,” Lehman stated. “There is no move rush. It is an offensive drill. All summer season, I believe I touched one ball your complete time we had been in 7-on-7.”

However it was nothing, Lehman defined, for Williams to come back away with double-digit move breakups and a pair of interceptions.

“It was a unending parade each single day of Roy Williams highlights,” he stated, “and that is earlier than I ever noticed him play in pads.”

That season, Williams emerged as an All-Huge 12 choice, serving to lead the Sooners to an undefeated file and the BCS nationwide championship.

However the next season really made Williams well-known. In 2001, he received the Huge 12 defensive participant of the 12 months award, the Jim Thorpe Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

Oklahoma offensive coordinator Mark Mangino remembers what a chore it was to go towards Williams each day in follow.

Williams was so disruptive, Mangino stated, and his “soccer aptitude was off the charts.”

“He is thudding operating backs up on the line of scrimmage. He is blitzing the quarterback and slapping him on the butt as he goes by,” Mangino recalled. “I imply, [on] inside drill, you may’t get by him. Some days I would get so mad I would say, ‘Roy, I’ll reduce you.’ And he’d say, ‘Come on, Coach! Come and reduce me!'”

Defensive assistants Mike Stoops and Brent Venables did not attempt to match Williams right into a field, dropping him again to play a extra conventional security position as typically as they pulled him down into the field to play a form of hybrid linebacker place.

Williams defied rationalization, so that they created a brand new time period: “Roy backer.”

Sooners vast receiver Andre Woolfolk stated Williams wasn’t the largest or the quickest or the strongest, however he might at all times discover a strategy to hit you. Williams was at all times across the ball, “whether or not it is scooping a fumble, inflicting a fumble, getting a well timed interception.”

Woolfolk stated it reminded him of Corridor of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.

“As a result of I’ve by no means thought that Ray Lewis was, like, the best athlete on this planet. I simply felt like he actually knew soccer,” Woolfolk stated. “And that is how I take a look at Roy — like he actually knew soccer. He would discover a approach, like, ‘Oh, man, I do know that is not my man on the market however it’s downfield and the operating again is open and in some way I get there’ or ‘Oh, this man’s within the flat and this nook is enjoying somewhat deep and I am simply gonna go steal this factor proper now.’ He simply knew how you can use precisely the appropriate expertise on the proper time and has been round soccer sufficient to know what he can and can’t do.”

To take advantage of out of Williams’ nostril for the ball, coaches devised a particular plan towards Texas, which Sooners receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. stated was “actually sort of unusual.” He remembers speaking to Venables throughout the week, who instructed him they had been going to lean closely on their nickel bundle — 5 defensive backs and two linebackers — and “we’re gonna attempt to maintain Roy on the sphere no matter what their personnel is.”

“And [Venables] stated, ‘It is wonderful how pure he’s at filling that place. It is wonderful how good his stance was and the way good his reads had been and the way he might step to the gaps,'” Spurrier recalled. “You could possibly neglect he hadn’t performed linebacker.”

THE TEXAS-OKLAHOMA RIVALRY, carrying all its rigidity, is not like virtually another. Take it from longtime sideline reporter Jack Arute, who has lined greater than his justifiable share of Sooners-Longhorns video games and labored the 2001 contest for ABC.

The one comparability Arute might make was exterior of school soccer.

Arute stated it was like watching heavyweights Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier do battle within the boxing ring in that “neither a type of guys was gonna blink, and so they had been gonna beat the residing crap out of one another.” They did not like one another, he stated, “however they did respect one another due to what they did.”

Oklahoma and Texas have that sort of relationship, Arute stated, which is simply magnified by the setting of the sport.

“You place them 100 miles away from their respective campuses,” he stated. “Then you definately take them to this rickety previous Cotton Bowl within the midst of the Texas State Honest the place there’s already 1 / 4 of 1,000,000 individuals and now 100,000 are popping out for recreation day.”

It is into that Dallas mass that every crew’s buses should navigate.

“The primary time you get an interplay with the ambiance is once you’re coming in by the honest,” cornerback Josh Norman stated. “I bear in mind my freshman 12 months was similar to, ‘What on this planet?’ You are going by a sea of individuals. They’re banging on the bus, pushing the bus, just like the bus is sort of rocking as you are going by the gang. The Texas followers are flipping you off and cussing at you. That simply sort of units the tone for what to anticipate when you get within the stadium.”

However quite than rattle gamers, Arute thought it fueled them.

“You knew that it was going to be the easiest effort from each side,” he stated, “No person canines it. This is not enjoying North Texas State. This is not even enjoying Nebraska. OK, that is your archrival.”

There was one thing about it, Woolfolk stated, that made you wish to throw the horns down.

“You simply discover a strategy to morph right into a Texas hater,” he stated.

The scene was so supercharged with emotion that Arute would stroll exterior of the stadium throughout the recreation and really feel it.

“There can be only a regular play, perhaps a cease on third down, and the noise from that bowl would come spilling over on to all the those who had been ready for corn canines,” he stated.

THE 2001 GAME was no completely different. With Oklahoma ranked fifth nationally and Texas third, quite a bit was using on the Oct. 6 matchup.

Williams, speaking to ESPN in 2011, stated the Sooners had a chip on their shoulder, feeling overshadowed by the Longhorns and their quarterback, Chris Simms.

“They sort of downplayed us, as if we had been nothing,” Williams stated then. “However we weren’t a lot for speaking. We had been going to let our speak be displayed out on the sphere.”

And for the higher a part of 3½ quarters, neither aspect flinched.

Going through fourth-and-16 from the Texas 28-yard line with 2:12 remaining, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops had a tough resolution to make.

The Sooners had been clinging to a 7-3 lead. A profitable subject aim would supply respiratory room, however a miss would go away Texas with favorable subject place to attain a go-ahead landing.

Stoops turned to his brother and co-defensive coordinator, Mike, for recommendation.

“Let’s pooch it down there,” Mike instructed him. “We’ll cease ’em.”

In what would have been a wildly unpopular resolution right this moment, Bob opted for the punt — solely with a wrinkle. Oklahoma lined up as if it was going to aim a subject aim, however when the ball was snapped to the holder, he flipped it again to the kicker who punted.

Out of kinds, Texas’ Nathan Vasher fielded the ball on the 3-yard line.

“What was Vasher doing?” announcer Brent Musburger shouted on the printed. “It was headed for the top zone. Oh, my!”

“We stated perhaps somebody would make an enormous mistake,” play-by-play analyst Gary Danielson responded. “Is that the large mistake?”

As a substitute of beginning the drive on the 20-yard line with a touchback, Texas took over backed up towards its personal finish zone on the 3-yard line.

A timeout was known as and each sidelines huddled. Oklahoma’s protection watched Texas rigorously.

All day Oklahoma had been one step forward of the Longhorns, understanding their tendencies based mostly on personnel and formation. Lehman spied Texas operating again Brett Robin getting ready to come back on the sphere, which instructed the linebacker it was possible going to be a move. The chance, he stated, was round 90%.

“We’re going by the completely different calls that we could also be in in the event that they go in 12 personnel,” Lehman stated. “In the event that they’re in 11 personnel, that is what they are going to attempt to do. So, we expect they’re popping out in 11 personnel, and that is what it was. And Mike Stoops, Brent Venables, Bob, they’re all standing there within the huddle and stated, ‘We’re coming with a blitz.'”

The play was known as “Slamdogs.” Williams would blitz and shoot the hole between the left guard and deal with.

Bob Stoops grabbed defensive finish Cory Heinicke and instructed him to not trouble placing his hand within the filth. To hurry up his drop into protection, he instructed Heinicke to play from a standing place and fall again as quickly because the ball was snapped to chop off Simms’ throwing lane to Texas’ high receiver, who occurred to be named Roy Williams, as properly.

Fortunately for Sooners followers, nobody approached Oklahoma’s Williams with any last-minute recommendation earlier than play resumed.

On the same defensive name earlier within the recreation, Williams had damaged one of many cardinal guidelines of soccer by leaving his toes. He had leaped to attempt to make a deal with, misplaced leverage and was simply taken out of the play by a block at his knees.

Trying again, it is honest to wonder if that was all a setup.

“Roy has nice instincts, and you do not wish to overcoach him,” Mike Stoops stated. “He did what he thought was proper, to make the appropriate resolution.”

This time, Williams blitzed and simply knifed by the offensive line on a path to Simms. However when Robin dove at Williams’ knees for the reduce block, the operating again got here up with nothing however air.

Williams was already flying overhead.

“He took a calculated likelihood,” Mangino stated. “However should you see when he leaps, his legs are coiled. He simply did not say, ‘Nicely, I believe I am going to leap up within the air.’ He is like springs going over the road of scrimmage.”

Williams later stated he felt “like I used to be within the air eternally.”

His physique horizontal, his arms stretched out in entrance of him, Williams appeared just like the comedian e-book hero Superman minus the cape.

His timing was good, dive-bombing into Simms proper as he was beginning his throwing movement.

If Simms had dropped again any additional, Williams stated, “There would not have been a ‘Superman Play.'”

That opened the chance for Lehman’s huge second.

“I did not know he left his toes,” Lehman stated. “I believe I simply barely sort of noticed him passing by Chris Simms’ bottom, because the ball sort of flipped up within the air. … The ball popped up, and I grabbed it.”

Lehman made the interception — which might have simply been dominated a fumble — and bumped into the top zone for a landing, icing the sport. An additional level made the rating 14-3 with 2:01 remaining.

“Fortunately, I did not have time to consider it,” Lehman stated. “If I might have thought of it, I in all probability would have dropped it.”

Satirically, Bob Stoops noticed none of that. Neither did Mangino or Woolfolk.

“My eyes are dead-on Cory,” Stoops stated. “I see Cory on the market and I am like, ‘Sure! He did it!’ So, Cory will get an ideal drop after which all the sudden I hear every little thing explode. Everybody goes loopy. And I do not know what occurred. I did not see the blitz. I used to be watching the D-end. So, I am operating round and asking, ‘What the hell occurred?'”

“We’re all trying round on the bench at one another,” Mangino stated. “The offensive children are ready to return on the sphere, and earlier than they begin cheering, they’re trying round at one another like, ‘Did we simply actually see that occur?’ It was unbelievable.”

“All I hear is a roar that is going the opposite route,” Woolfolk stated. “I stated, ‘Whoa! Uh-oh. Both one thing’s rolling up and so they’re operating proper behind me as a result of they broke a play out or we did one thing.’ Then I flip round and I am like, ‘Oh, my God.'”

Woolfolk stated he would wind up watching the play lots of of occasions attempting to determine it out.

“Roy knew I solely have one shot to get this and I’ll go all out,” Woolfolk stated. “And once you’ve performed lengthy sufficient, there is a sure emotion that takes over — the canine in you that makes you wish to scratch and claw and battle. And mainly, he already knew the jig was up, I am already right here and all I can do is soar excessive. Both that or I’ll be lifeless within the water and filling a spot. He needed to be higher than that. He needed to be nice.”

Arute in contrast Williams’ effort to Kirk Gibson’s walk-off house run within the 1988 World Collection.

“What was it Jack Buck stated? ‘I do not imagine what I simply noticed,'” Arute stated. “That is just about what got here into my thoughts.”

Norman stated the play is on the extent of the Joe Washington punt return and the Keith Jackson reverse.

“I imply, you may return so far as my recollection of the ’70s and watching all these nice issues within the ’70s by the ’80s and ’90s, and to me it stands up there as one of many high 5 performs in Oklahoma historical past,” he stated. “As a result of it is iconic and the influence that it made on the sport. That play nearly received us that recreation.”

CURRENT OKLAHOMA COACH Lincoln Riley, whose sixth-ranked Sooners will play No. 21 Texas on Saturday, was nonetheless in highschool in West Texas when Williams soared into the chest of Simms and took over the 2001 Pink River Showdown.

Riley stated he knew it was an enormous play within the second, however its significance has solely grown with time.

“The extra you watched it through the years and noticed the replays and simply grew to become fairly amazed simply by all it took for Roy to make that play,” he stated. “I imply, the athleticism, the timing, the instincts, the willingness to take an opportunity in an enormous second, you realize, it was an unbelievable play. After which it was such an excellent recreation. It might have been an ideal play at any level, however in such a crucial second and in such a recreation that is so necessary yearly, it simply actually magnified.”

What’s been misplaced through the years, Bob Stoops stated, is what occurred subsequent.

After the kickoff, on Texas’ first play from scrimmage, Williams did it once more, clinching the win by intercepting Simms for the fourth time that day.

“I have been fortunate between Florida and Oklahoma to educate some unbelievable gamers, and he actually stands on the high of all of them or proper there with anyone,” Stoops stated of Williams. “He is by far and away one of many only a few greatest defensive gamers I ever coached in each approach — protection abilities, tackling, perhaps the very best at blitzing, no matter we requested him to do.”

Mangino remembers the crew breaking into teams to look at movie the next Monday.

He stated he had little doubt what play was being proven within the defensive assembly room when he heard a refrain of laughter and cheers from down the corridor.

“Roy was a humble man, not one to brag,” Mangino stated. “However he loved it.”

Williams turned professional quite than come again for his senior 12 months.

Spurrier additionally left on the finish of the season to affix his dad within the NFL with Washington. Spurrier remembers defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis asking him quite a bit about Williams throughout the lead-up to the draft.

“He was pretty much as good a defensive participant as I’ve ever been round,” Spurrier stated.

Washington traded down from No. 18 to 32, which was properly out of attain of Williams, who was taken with the eighth choose by the Cowboys. He would wind up making the Professional Bowl 5 occasions.

“I bear in mind nevertheless a few years later, Marvin saying, ‘You realize what? Trying again, we must always have discovered a approach to ensure we drafted him,'” Spurrier stated.

Eleven years later, Spurrier was once more along with his dad, this time at South Carolina, when probably the most viral hit of the twenty first century occurred when defensive finish Jadeveon Clowney break up the offensive line and launched himself into the chest of Michigan operating again Vincent Smith, dislodging the soccer within the course of.

However as nice as Clowney’s play was, Spurrier stated, it is arduous to match it to Williams’ in 2001.

“Actually,” Spurrier stated, “that Oklahoma-Texas recreation, that meant extra.”

Which is why for the previous twenty years, Lehman cannot go the month of October with out listening to concerning the play from somebody. It is bizarre, he stated, as a result of he thinks he was fortunate to be on the receiving finish of Williams’ heroics. Lehman occurred to be in the appropriate place on the proper time. | ‘The Superman Play’ at 20


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