‘The Superman Play’ at 20

TEDDY LEHMAN WAS twice an All-American at Oklahoma. In 2003, the stout linebacker gained the Large 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 decide, and he went on to spend elements of six seasons with the Lions, Buccaneers, Payments 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 correct 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 actual proper second to have historical past actually fall into his arms.

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 gained the sport for Oklahoma, cemented Williams’ legacy as top-of-the-line defensive gamers in program historical past.

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Twenty years later, forward of the newest installment of the Pink River Showdown (Saturday, midday 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 experience Roy Williams’ coattails for the remainder of my life.”


In the summertime of 2000, Lehman known as residence in the future to let his of us know the way 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 a giant 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, sometimes nobody ever will get a hand on the soccer,” Lehman stated. “There is not any go rush. It is an offensive drill. All summer season, I believe I touched one ball your entire time we had been in 7-on-7.”

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

“It was a endless 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-Large 12 choice, serving to lead the Sooners to an undefeated file and the BCS nationwide championship.

However the next season actually made Williams well-known. In 2001, he gained the Large 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 in opposition to Williams day by day in follow.

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

“He is thudding working 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 possibly can’t get by him. Some days I might get so mad I might say, ‘Roy, I’ll minimize you.’ And he’d say, ‘Come on, Coach! Come and minimize 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 kind of hybrid linebacker place.

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

Sooners large receiver Andre Woolfolk stated Williams wasn’t the most important or the quickest or the strongest, however he may at all times discover a solution 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 the planet. I simply felt like he actually knew soccer,” Woolfolk stated. “And that is how I have 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 but it surely’s downfield and the working again is open and someway I get there’ or ‘Oh, this man’s within the flat and this nook is enjoying a bit deep and I am simply gonna go steal this factor proper now.’ He simply knew the best way to use precisely the correct 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 in opposition to Texas, which Sooners receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. stated was “actually sort of unusual.” He remembers speaking to Venables through the week, who advised him they had been going to lean closely on their nickel package deal — 5 defensive backs and two linebackers — and “we’re gonna attempt to hold 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 may step to the gaps,'” Spurrier recalled. “You may overlook he hadn’t performed linebacker.”

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

The one comparability Arute may make was outdoors of faculty soccer.

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

Former Oklahoma star security Roy Williams attended the Pink River Showdown in 2011, 10 years after “The Superman Play.” J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI

Oklahoma and Texas have that sort of relationship, Arute stated, which is just 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 Truthful the place there’s already 1 / 4 of 1,000,000 folks and now 100,000 are popping out for recreation day.”

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

“The primary time you get an interplay with the ambiance is whenever you’re coming in by means of the honest,” cornerback Josh Norman stated. “I bear in mind my freshman 12 months was identical to, ‘What on the planet?’ You are going by means of 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 means of 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 slightly than rattle gamers, Arute thought it fueled them.

“You knew that it was going to be the perfect effort from each side,” he stated, “No person canine 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 need to throw the horns down.

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

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

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

THE 2001 GAME was no totally different. With Oklahoma ranked fifth nationally and Texas third, so much was driving on the Oct. 6 matchup.

Williams, chatting with 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 discuss be displayed out on the sphere.”

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

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops stated he did not even see the play that made Williams well-known and put the sport away for the Sooners. Ronald Martinez/Allsport

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

The Sooners had been clinging to a 7-3 lead. A profitable subject purpose would supply respiratory room, however a miss would depart 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 advised him. “We’ll cease ’em.”

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

Out of types, 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 tip zone. Oh, my!”

“We stated possibly somebody would make a giant mistake,” play-by-play analyst Gary Danielson responded. “Is that the large mistake?”

As an alternative of beginning the drive on the 20-yard line with a touchback, Texas took over backed up in opposition to 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 working again Brett Robin getting ready to come back on the sphere, which advised the linebacker it was seemingly going to be a go. The likelihood, he stated, was round 90%.

“We’re going by means of the totally 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 predict 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 advised him to not hassle placing his hand within the grime. 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’ prime 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 ft. 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 need to overcoach him,” Mike Stoops stated. “He did what he thought was proper, to make the correct resolution.”

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

Williams flies by means of the air to disrupt Texas quarterback Chris Simms’ throw, resulting in an interception return for a landing within the Sooners’ 14-3 win in 2001. John Biever /Sports activities Illustrated through Getty Photos

Williams was already flying overhead.

“He took a calculated probability,” Mangino stated. “However in case 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 ceaselessly.”

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

His timing was excellent, 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 massive second.

“I did not know he left his ft,” 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 may have simply been dominated a fumble — and bumped into the tip 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’d have considered it, I in all probability would have dropped it.”

Sarcastically, 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 a terrific drop after which all the sudden I hear all the pieces 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 working round and asking, ‘What the hell occurred?'”

“We’re all trying round on the bench at one another,” Mangino stated. “The offensive youngsters 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 course,” Woolfolk stated. “I stated, ‘Whoa! Uh-oh. Both one thing’s rolling up and so they’re working 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 whenever you’ve performed lengthy sufficient, there is a sure emotion that takes over — the canine in you that makes you need to scratch and claw and combat. 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 niche. He wished to be higher than that. He wished to be nice.”

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

“What was it Jack Buck stated? ‘I do not consider 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 possibly can return so far as my recollection of the ’70s and watching all these nice issues within the ’70s by means of the ’80s and ’90s, and to me it stands up there as one of many prime 5 performs in Oklahoma historical past,” he stated. “As a result of it is iconic and the impression that it made on the sport. That play just about gained 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 a giant play within the second, however its significance has solely grown with time.

“The extra you watched it over time 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 a giant second, you understand, it was an unbelievable play. After which it was such a great recreation. It could have been a terrific play at any level, however in such a important second and in such a recreation that is so necessary yearly, it simply actually magnified.”

Misplaced within the hype of “The Superman Play” is Texas’ first play from scrimmage after the pick-six: Williams intercepted Simms to seal the win. Ronald Martinez/Allsport

What’s been misplaced over time, 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 teach some unimaginable gamers, and he actually stands on the prime 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, possibly the very best at blitzing, no matter we requested him to do.”

Mangino remembers the workforce breaking into teams to observe movie the next Monday.

He stated he had little question 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 slightly 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 so much about Williams through the lead-up to the draft.

“He was nearly 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 decide by the Cowboys. He would wind up making the Professional Bowl 5 occasions.

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

Eleven years later, Spurrier was once more together with his dad, this time at South Carolina, when essentially 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 working again Vincent Smith, dislodging the soccer within the course of.

However as nice as Clowney’s play was, Spurrier stated, it is exhausting to check 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 correct place on the proper time.

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