A few top 100 lists had been attempted, yet it had been a while. Still, putting together a list of the top 125 Sooners ever to lace up their cleats didn’t feel like an impossible order.
Then I did it.
It took longer than I’d ever figured it would. The first 7-8 hours was spent coming up with top 15 to 20 lists at every position.
Weeks of ruminating became a solid 12-13 hours of trying to get it right and, though I know it will spark heated disagreement, I stand by it.
I stand by it knowing there was a bias for the last, oh, 48 years, rather than the more than 70 that preceded them — because I’m 50, not 150 years old — though I did my best to make it exhaustive and accurate.
Also, I stand by it knowing I’ve reinterpreted some Sooners, thereby ranking them significantly lower and higher than previous arbiters have judged.
Though OU claims four Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks, who entirely or mostly earned the trophy via their ability to throw the football, the shadow of Barry Switzer continues to loom so large over the program.
That’s why running backs continue to be treated so well, in front of all other positions, on most lists.
I tried to do something about that, ranking Ryan Broyles No. 8 over Billy Sims at No. 9 and Joe Washington at No. 10 and still I think I may have shortchanged Broyles.
Do you realize that when he finished up, four games sooner than he should have, thanks to a senior-season-ending knee injury, he’d caught more passes, 349, than any other Division I player ever? Or that his 45 TD catches ranked fifth on the all-time list and that his 4,586 yards ranked second and still ranks third?
No Sooner running back put together that kind of career, not one, though you know who came close?
That would be Samaje Perine, who came in No. 18, 13 spots behind Greg Pruitt, nine behind Sims, eight behind Washington, yet 11 spots in front of Steve Owens, 15 in front of Quentin Griffin, 32 in front of the historically underrated DeMond Parker and 44 in front of the — sorry — the historically overrated Adrian Peterson.
Do you realize the leading ground grainer in Sooner history is Perine? Or that he chalked up those 4,122 yards and 49 touchdowns in only three seasons and that his 6.0 yards per carry over his career is significantly better than Peterson’s 5.4 and far and away better than Owens’ 4.3.
Indeed, no Sooner may be more difficult to rank than Owens, who won the 1969 Heisman Trophy, playing for a 6-4 Sooner team, averaging only 4.3 per tote.
On the one hand, DeMarco Murray, who is not on the list, was a more effective statistical ball-carrier than Owens. On the other, Owens, like Herschel Walker his Heisman season and Ron Dayne his Heisman season, was practically the whole offense.
I was prepared to rank Owens on the backside of 50 (or 60), before it occurred to me that one man was the entire Sooner offense for two seasons and though that team won just 13 of 21 games, it might have won five or six without him.
A few choices stunned me as I made them.
Billy Vessels came in No. 4, mostly because everything you read and hear about the 1952 Heisman Trophy winner makes him sound more like Babe Ruth than a mere standout from an era when players played both sides of the ball.
Yet, it was Pruitt at No. 5, in front of every other modern era Sooner running back, that legitimately surprised me. I just couldn’t get away from a junior season in which he averaged 9 yards per carry over 196 attempts.
Still, the biggest stunner was No. 87.
Before I got started on the list, I figured there’d be a place for Uwe von Schamman, who kicked the most famous field goal in Sooner history, a 41-yarder to beat Ohio State in 1977.
What history forgets is von Schamann was kicking into wider uprights, off a tee on hardpan astroturf and that, over three years as OU’s kicker, he made just 30 of 49 field goals, total. He’s still a Sooner legend, though not the superior of, perhaps you guessed it … Austin Seibert.
Seibert hit 79.7 percent of his field goals and 85 percent over his final two seasons, might have been the best punter in Sooner history, too, and was a touchback machine as a kick off man.
For four seasons, in one player, OU didn’t have to worry about three different and very important positions.
That alone is incredible. That he’s OU’s all-time leading scorer — 498 points — and third all-time in the college game is gravy.
Forever I’d thought Curtis Lofton was underrated, wrongly put behind Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman as Stoops era linebackers. All three made the list, but Lehman came in first among them at No. 42.
Jamelle Holieway may not be as difficult to rank as Owens, but he’s not easy. He was a magical optioneer, won a national championship and enjoyed three super seasons before injury had him backing up Charles Thompson.
At No. 57, he’s the eighth quarterback on the list behind Baker Mayfield, Jason White, Sam Bradford, Jimmy Harris, Darrell Royal, Steve Davis and Jack Mildren.
Joaquin Iglesias, also historically underrated, came No. 97, ahead of Tinker Owens, Kenny Stills and Billy Brooks, all of whom made the list, and Malcolm Kelly, who did not.
It only seemed right to find a place for at least one Stoops era fullback, and Trey Millard received the nod at No. 90. Dimitri Flowers and Brody Eldridge received consideration, but Millard was the most productive of the three the rare times OU put the ball in his hands.
Finally, in future lists, Travis Lewis may receive greater consideration and perhaps putting him No. 118 will allow him to be remembered more fondly.
His 2008 freshman season was one for the ages — 144 tackles, 12 for loss, four interceptions — and had it come his senior year he would have been an All-American.
Instead, he earned four all-conference honors, twice as a first-teamer, twice as a second-teamer.
There are so many other stories in the list. That’s just a few of them. It’s the nature of lists. Also, it’s the nature of 125 years of Sooner football.
The stories never end.
Researched and compiled by Transcript Senior Sports Columnist Clay Horning
1. Baker Mayfield, QB, 2015-18
2. Lee Roy Selmon, DT, 1972-75
3. Roy Williams, DB, 1998-2001
4. Billy Vessels, B, 1950-52
5. Greg Pruitt, RB, 1970-72
6. Brian Bosworth, LB, 1984-86
7. Jerry Tubbs, C-LB, 1954-56
8. Ryan Broyles, WR, 2008-11
9. Billy Sims, RB, 1975-79
10. Joe Washington, RB, 1972-75
11. Jason White, QB, 1999-2004
12. Buddy Burris, G, 1946-48
13. Tommy McDonald, RB, 1954-56
14. Keith Jackson, TE, 1984-87
15. Rod Shoate, LB, 1972-74
16. Sam Bradford, QB, 2007-09
17. Jim Weatherall, T, 1949-51
18. Samaje Perine, RB, 2014-2016
19. George Cumby, LB, 1975-79
20. Tommie Harris, DT, 2001-03
21. Tony Casillas, NG, 1982-85
22. Jimmy Harris, QB, 1954-56
23. Mark Clayton, WR, 2001-04
24. Daryl Hunt, LB, 1975-78
25. Derrick Strait, DB, 2000-03
26. Kurt Burris, C-LB, 1952-54
27. Greg Roberts, OG, 1975-79
28. Rickey Dixon, DB, 2000-03
29. Steve Owens, RB, 1967-69
30. Jammal Brown, OT, 2000-04
31. Tom Catlin, C-LB, 1950-52
32. Steve Zabel, TE-DE, 1967-69
33. Quentin Griffin, RB, 1999-02
34. Gerald McCoy, DT, 2006-09
35. Darrell Royal, QB-DB, 1946-49
36. Dede Westbrook, WR, 2015-16
37. Terry Crouch, OG, 1979-81
38. Steve Davis, QB, 1972-75
39. Jim Owens, E, 1946-49
40. Kyler Murray, QB, 2016-18
41. Duke Robinson, OG, 2005-08
42. Curtis Lofton, LB, 2005-07
43. Sterling Shepard, WR, 2012-2015
44. Mike Vaughan, OT, 1974-76
45. Dewey Selmon, NG, 1972-75
46. Bob Harrison, C, 1956-58
47. Teddy Lehman, LB, 2000-03
48. Jack Mildren, QB, 1969-71
49. Ralph Neely, OT-DT, 1962-64
50. DeMond Parker, RB, 1996-98
51. Reggie Kinlaw, NG, 1975-78
52. Rockey Calmus, LB, 1998-01
53. Antonio Perkins DB-PR, 2001-05
54. Granville Liggins, NG, 1965-67
55. J.D. Roberts, G, 1951-53
56. Carl McAdams, C-LB, 1963-65
57. Jamelle Holieway, QB, 1985-88
58. Jermaine Gresham, TE, 2006-08
59. Bo Bollinger, G, 1953-55
60. Jack Mitchell, QB, 1946-48
61. Derland Moore, DT, 1970-72
62. Adrian Peterson, RB, 2004-06
63. Randy Hughes, DB, 1972-74
64. Jack Jacobs, QB-P, 1939-41
65. Jim Grisham, FB, 1962-64
66. Anthony Phillips, OG, 1985-88
67. Zac Henderson, DB, 1974-77
68. Kevin Murphy, DE, 1981-85
69. Marquise Brown, WR, 2017-18
70. Eddie Hinton, WR, 1965-68
71. Thomas Lott, QB, 1975-76
72. Lucious Selmon, NG, 1971-73
73. Tom Brahaney, C, 1970-72
74. Mark Hutson, OG, 1984-87
75. J.T. Thatcher, DB-PR-KR, 1997-00
76. Louis Oubre, OT, 1978-80
77. Dante Jones, LB, 1984-87
78. Darrell Reed, DE, 1984-87
79. Orlando Brown, OT, 2015-17
80. Leon Heath, FB-B, 1948-1950
81. Max Boydston, E, 1951-54
82. Jimbo Elrod, DE, 1973-75
83. Prentice Gautt, RB, 1957-59
84. John Roush, OG, 1972-74
85. Zac Henderson, DB, 1972-74
86. Josh Heupel, QB, 1999-00
87. Austin Seibert, K-P, 2015-2018
88. Clendon Thomas, RB, 1955-57
89. Rick Bryan, DT, 1980-83
90. Trey Millard, FB-TE, 2010-13
91. CeeDee Lamb, WR, 2017-19
92. Cedric Jones, LB, 1992-95
93. Claude Reeds, FB, 1910-13
94. Trent Williams, OT, 2006-09
95. Joaquín Iglesias, WR, 2005-08
96. Darrol Ray, DB-P, 1976-79
97. Trent Smith, TE, 1999-02
98. Mark Andrews, TE, 2015-17
99. J.C. Watts, QB, 1977-80
100. Kelly Gregg, DT, 1995-98
101. Ken Mendenhall, C, 1967-69
102. Bob Kalsu, OT, 1965-67
103. Tinker Owens, WR, 1972-75
104. Dusty Dvoracek, DT, 2001-05
105. Tony Jefferson, DB, 2010-12
106. Kenny King, FB, 1975-78
107. Dan Cody, DE, 2000-04
108. Wade Walker, T, 1946-49
109. Bill Krisher, G, 1955-57
110. Jackie Shipp, LB, 1980-83
111. Claude Arnold, QB, 1948-50
112. Kenny Stills, WR, 2010-12
113. Eddie Crowder, QB, 1950-52
114. Mike Gaddis, RB, 1988-91
115. Billy Brooks, WR, 1973-75
116. Bobby Boyd, DB, 1957-59
117. Buck McPhail, FB-P, 1950-52
118. Travis Lewis, LB, 2008-11
119. Terry Webb, OG, 1973-75
120. Bob Warmack, QB, 1966-68
121. Marcus Dupree, RB, 1982-83
122. Raymond Hamilton, DT, 1970-72
123. Buster Rhymes, RB-WR, 1980-84
124. Andre Woolfolk, WR-DB, 1998-01
125. Gabe Ikard, C, 2009-2013