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Carlson: Why the Superman play is only part of Roy Williams' legacy with OU football

Jenni Carlson
Oklahoman

NORMAN — Just mention Roy Williams and the Superman play, and DaShaun White starts smiling.

The OU linebacker was only a toddler when Williams catapulted over a Texas defender and flew into Longhorn quarterback Chris Simms. But of course, White has seen the play. Every Sooner has. 

It was the most memorable moment in Red River Rivalry history, and it ranks among the best in college football history, too

“One of most mind-blowing plays ever,” White said. “It’s one of those plays that, as a kid, you visualize yourself doing something crazy, off-the-wall like that.”

It’s been 20 years since Superman soared into Sooner lore, and as OU prepares to face Texas again Saturday, big defensive plays like that would definitely come in handy. Longhorn running back Bijan Robinson is a load, and quarterback Casey Thompson is no slouch either. 

This will be the OU defense’s biggest test so far.

Turns out, these Sooners are better prepared for the moment because of Superman.

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OU legend Roy Williams flies into Texas quarterback Chris Simms during the 2001 Red River Rivalry. The Sooner safety knocked the ball loose, and Teddy Lehman caught it for a victory-clinching interception return for a touchdown. Now known as the Superman play, the moment ranks as the greatest in the history of the rivalry.

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Roy Williams has become a mentor to many Sooner defenders

After nine years in the NFL that included five Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro selection, he settled in the Oklahoma City-area. He has a family. He started a business. While those things keep him busy, he regularly makes time to go to Norman, going to practice and meeting with players.

Several Sooners have his phone number and can call him any time.

Then again, sometimes Williams is the one reaching out to them.

“Roy just called me Sunday after the (Kansas State) game,” Sooner safety Pat Fields said. “He’s been a great mentor and resource for all of us.

“He stays checked in with us, helping us with little things we can improve in our game.”

Williams, by the way, isn’t the only past Sooner helping current ones.

Teddy Lehman is involved. Ditto for Dusty Dvoracek and Curtis Lofton. But there are others. And numerous other alums including Jammal Brown have been involved in the past.

"Having those guys around, man, it's one of the coolest things about this place," Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said. "It's one of the best things about this program, the former players, the former coaches that want to get back, that care about it."

The program started actively engaging program alums when Bob Stoops took over as OU coach. He encouraged them to return to Norman. He told them he always wanted them to be a part of the program.

Riley said any event for former players is well attended.

"It's always great energy, great pride about this place," he said. 

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And those former players who invest in the current players take that relationship a step further. They become invaluable resources, talking to players not only about college football but also about the transition to the pros or life after football.

"I think it creates a very cool culture where it's almost like a big fraternity," Riley said. "What’s happened is these guys, when they were here maybe before they were household names, they had previous players that kind of helped them grow and learn. Not necessarily just guys on that team but guys that moved onto the NFL and are done with their careers. They were helped along the way.

"It’s kind of this ‘pay it forward’ thing where guys that came into this program experienced that and they in turn feel the responsibility when they’re out of here to continue to give back, most importantly with their time and effort just helping the current players in the program."

Of course, several OU alums are on the coaching staff. Cale Gundy. Calvin Thibodeaux. Brian Odom. DeMarco Murray. Joe Jon Finley. 

But having alums who aren’t getting a paycheck from OU come back can hit differently. Players see their care, their interest, their passion.

No past Sooner brings that more than Williams.

“It’s been over 20 years since he’s been here,” Sooner defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas said, “and he still has that culture to come back and try and instill that in us. It’s great. It’s motivating. It’s uplifting. It’s inspiring.”

Sooner rush linebacker Nik Bonitto said, “You see, like, ‘OK, this guy played here, he’s done his time.’ These are the guys that we’ve got to go out and play for. These are the guys that we got to go out there, lay it on the line for — blood, sweat and tears — because they've done great things here.

“Who are we to diminish that and not uphold the standard that they already brought here?”

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OU's Roy Williams (38) celebrates an interception while Texas' Roy Williams  (4) sits in disbelief late in the 2001 Red River game.

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Superman is now Clark Kent, but he’s still doing right by OU football. His Sooner legacy stretches way beyond that October afternoon in the Cotton Bowl.

“Having him around all the time, just getting to know him and seeing how down to earth he is, how smart and articulate and intellectual he is,” White said, “honestly, it’s special for a player like me here in the system right now to be able to learn from one of greats.”

Make no mistake, though — one of the reasons Roy Williams carries a lot of weight with these Sooners is that Superman play. Sure, his résumé is deeper and wider than one play, but that play in that game in that moment?

With a little over two minutes remaining in the game, OU clung to a 7-3 lead. The Sooners had opted to punt from well inside Texas territory, a pooch kick that surprised Longhorn return man Nathan Vassar. Instead of letting the ball go into the end zone for a touchback, he fair caught it at the 3.

The OU defense decided to blitz on first down, trying to force Texas into a bad situation on the goal line. 

Williams had jumped on a similar play earlier in the game, and he got undercut. Mike Stoops, then co-defensive coordinator, told to stay on terra firma.

“Do not jump,” Stoops told Williams.

“OK,” Williams replied.

“Do not jump.”

“OK.”

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But of course, Williams jumped, timing the leap perfectly over the blitz-protecting running back and nearly grabbing the ball right out of Chris Simms’ hand as he prepared to throw. The ball fluttered through the air and landed right in Teddy Lehman’s hands.

Two steps.

Touchdown.

All these years later, that play resonates.

“I got here and remember Coach Thibs telling me, ‘If you make a big play in this game, you’ll always be remembered in OU history,’” Thomas said. “So whenever I see Roy Williams — or anyone sees Roy Williams — that’s one of the first things they think of, the Superman play.”

White, smiling again, said, “Just an absolutely crazy play.”

A play still resonating from a Sooner still adding to his legacy.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.