The universities of Texas and Oklahoma will face off this Saturday in the annual Red River Showdown, at the Texas State Fair. The rivalry goes all the way back to 1900, with many years of gamesmanship in between. In 1999, Mike Leach, Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, played a prank before the game that led to Oklahoma gaining a 17-point lead in the first quarter.
Jake Trotter, a college football writer for ESPN, says offensive coordinators commonly map out their first few plays in order to practice them the week leading up to the game. That’s called a play script. The idea for a decoy script started off as a joke between Leach and Assistant Coach Cale Gundy, about messing with Texas before the game. Leach then decided to actually do it, and formulated a plan that would not only throw off Texas, but give Oklahoma an edge.
“The week of the game, he’s coming up with this fake play script, and there’s a lot of nuance in it because he wants to create a script, should Texas use it, that’s gonna complement the plays he’s actually gonna run,” Trotter says.
Before the big game, Leach gave the decoy script to one of his players, then-freshman tight end Trent Smith. The plan was for Smith to pretend to put the script in his pads or belt, then let it fall as he jogged by the Texas bench. He went ahead with the plan, and Texas team-assistant Casey Horny picked up the script.
“He takes it to the Texas locker room and gives it to the defensive coordinator, Carl Reese who cannot believe that they have found a gold mine like this, and can’t believe the break that they’ve caught,” Trotter says.
Texas struggled during the first quarter of the game; the team was playing with the belief that it knew OU’s plays. Eventually OU was in the lead, 17-0. After realizing they had been duped, members of the Texas team went back to the plays they had originally planned.
Despite the hinky play script, Texas beat Oklahoma that year, 38-28. Trotter says that it was Texas’ biggest comeback in 34 years. Despite the heated rivalry, even Texas Defensive Coordinator Reese had a laugh about the trickery.
“They thought it was funny 19 years later,” Trotter says. “And they especially think it’s funny cause they ended up winning the game. As Mike Leach put it, it would have been a lot more legendary had Oklahoma won this sucker,” Trotter says.
Written by Alexia Puente.