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Topic: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic

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CWSooner

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OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« on: September 13, 2021, 02:16:07 PM »
The birth of Sooner Magic: How Oklahoma used 2 trick plays on the final drive to defeat Nebraska in 1976

By Jason Kersey 2h ago

Editor’s note: This is the second of a six-part series examining some of the most iconic plays in the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry before the Huskers and Sooners meet Saturday in Norman.

Oklahoma halfback Elvis Peacock jogged onto the field at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium on Nov. 26, 1976, and gazed into the crowd. Peacock, who grew up in Miami, chose OU largely because he so loved watching the Sooners and Cornhuskers play as Big Eight rivals every year on television. Here he was, preparing for his third OU-Nebraska game and taking it all in.

His eyes locked on one spot in particular, where a fan held up a big, white cardboard sign with red lettering.

“PLUCK THE PEACOCK!”

“It was funny to me, but it also fired me up,” Peacock recalled in a recent phone interview. “They were obviously thinking about me.”

Those Nebraska fans were definitely thinking about him at the end of the game.

The Sooners mounted a last-minute comeback with two iconic trick plays on the same drive. Woodie Shepard, Dean Blevins, Steve Rhodes and Peacock, who would score all three of OU’s touchdowns in the 20-17 victory, forever etched their names in Sooners lore with the sequence. It became the impetus for the now oft-invoked phrase “Sooner Magic” and secured OU a share of the 1976 Big Eight title.

Said former OU coach Barry Switzer: “Kinda hard to do, two big-ass plays like that on the same drive.”

Rhodes signed with OU in 1976 out of Spruce High in Dallas. He arrived with big dreams, hoping and expecting to be a major part of the offense like he was in high school, in which he constantly had the ball in his hands. Unfortunately for Rhodes, Oklahoma had just ridden the wishbone to consecutive national championships, and split ends were mostly there to help block.

Early in the season, Rhodes repeatedly badgered his position coach, Don Jimerson, about needing the ball more.

“I was always, ‘Hey Coach, I’m open!’” Rhodes said. “‘I can do this, I can do that.’ I just wanted to contribute to the team.”

So around the middle of the year, Jimerson told Switzer about those conversations, earning Rhodes an invitation into Switzer’s office.

“Did you come to the University of Oklahoma to catch passes and score touchdowns? Or did you come here to win games?” Switzer asked him.

Rhodes responded that winning was the priority.

“Well, just know that’s why you’re here,” Switzer told him. “Pass catching and other things are secondary to the big picture.”

And the conversation was over.

But Rhodes’ role continued to evolve, and he actually ended up as OU’s leading receiver that season.

His stat line? Six receptions, 160 yards. Quite different from today’s Oklahoma football, when the leading receiver in any given season usually has north of 60 receptions.

“We went two or three games without throwing a single pass that year,” Rhodes said.

Two of his six receptions came against Nebraska. They were the only two passes the Sooners attempted the entire game, and both became unforgettable moments in the rivalry.

The Sooners entered the season ranked No. 5 in The Associated Press poll after their consecutive national titles, having lost quarterback Steve Davis, running back Joe Washington, defensive linemen Lee Roy and Dewey Selmon, receivers Billy Brooks and Tinker Owens and linebacker Jimbo Elrod, among others.

Nebraska began the season ranked No. 1.

But by the time the two rivals met, the stakes weren’t as high. Both teams were 7-2-1. It was a rare OU-Nebraska game in that neither squad remained in the national championship hunt, but a share of the Big Eight title was on the line. The winner would split the title with Colorado and Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma struck first with Peacock’s 1-yard first-quarter touchdown run. The Sooners led 7-3 at halftime, but the Cornhuskers broke a couple of big plays and scored twice in the third quarter, taking a 17-7 lead into the fourth quarter.

The comeback began on Oklahoma’s first possession of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Thomas Lott pitched to Horace Ivory, who gained 12 yards to the OU 49-yard line. On the next play, Lott pitched to Peacock, who broke free for a 51-yard touchdown. The Sooners’ two-point conversion attempt failed, though, when a Nebraska defender stopped Peacock just short of the goal line, leaving OU down 17-13 with 12 minutes, 28 seconds to go.

Nebraska had a chance to put the Sooners away. The Cornhuskers recovered a Sooners’ fumble, then drove to the OU 16-yard line. Nebraska went for it on fourth-and-2, but OU safety Zac Henderson, who would become a two-time first-team All-American, broke up Vince Ferragamo’s pass intended for Dave Shamblin with 3:30 to go.

Oklahoma took possession and Shepard entered the game at left halfback. Shepard’s name should be familiar to OU fans as his brothers Darrell and Derrick Shepard also became Sooners. Derrick’s son Sterling starred at receiver for the Sooners from 2012 to 2015.

Here’s the thing about what happened next: Oklahoma under Switzer rarely ran trick plays because it almost never needed to. There was no mystery about what Switzer’s Sooners were going to do: line up in the wishbone and run the ball until the opponent proved it could stop them.

“We were gonna be fundamental,” Rhodes said. “We weren’t gonna take a lot of chances.”

But extreme situations require extreme measures so in came Shepard, who hadn’t played a snap in the game to that point and wouldn’t play another.

Oklahoma in those days typically went through its trick plays on Fridays. The Sooners tried to perfect them, but those times in practice were mostly about fun. OU gave several players a chance to throw the halfback pass in practice; Shepard’s arm proved the best.

So when Rhodes saw Shepard jogging in from the sideline, he knew what was up.

Lott jetted to his right on a triple option and pitched the ball back to Shepard, who had to scramble a bit to get room to throw. Shepard leaned as he threw the bomb all the way from the OU 10-yard line to just past the 50, where Rhodes hauled it in behind two Nebraska defenders.

“We always hoped that thing would be just a no-brainer touchdown,” Rhodes said. “But there were those guys right in front of me. Luckily, I got ahold of it.”

After the big gain, Blevins grabbed his helmet, put it on and stood next to Switzer.

Blevins started the first four games of the 1976 season — all wins — but became ill and had to be hospitalized just before the Texas game.

Lott was better suited for Switzer’s wishbone — Blevins was more of a passer — and after starting the Texas game, he held onto the job. But something told Blevins that he might be needed at that moment in Lincoln.

OU-Nebraska games were typically played in cold weather, and 1976 was no exception. According to Weather Underground, the temperature hovered in the mid-30s, and the wind speed stayed north of 24 mph.

“So it’s freezing cold, it’s windy, and I’ve been on that damn bench except for a 20-minute break at halftime,” said Blevins, who has been sports director at Oklahoma City’s KWTV since 2001. “I’d been over there for like a day, just standing.

“That’s the crazy thing as I look back on it, being able to even function, let alone come off the bench and make a play.”

But before OU needed Blevins, the Sooners ran a few plays, including another, less-successful trick in an end around to Rhodes. He tripped before being handed the ball and lost 5 yards. On the next play, Nebraska sacked Lott for a 4-yard loss, bringing up third-and-19 with 1:10 left and the clock ticking. Oklahoma was out of timeouts.

“Nebraska was so concerned about the option that they played an eight-man front,” Switzer said. “A three-deep secondary. I was kinda shocked at that. Single coverage on Rhodes. Gave him a big cushion, so I thought, ‘Well, f[***], that’s perfect for the damn hook and lateral.’”

(A quick aside: Switzer has never understood why the media and fans call it “hook and ladder” colloquially. “What’s a ladder got to do with anything?” Switzer asked with a hearty chuckle. “It’s a hook and lateral. A lateral.”)

Switzer sent Blevins in for his first and only play of the day: 317 Stop and Lateral.

Blevins faked a handoff and quickly threw a pass on the run to Rhodes.

“It felt like a million bucks coming out of my hand,” Blevins said. “And Rodeo just never dropped a pass.”

Rhodes jumped straight in the air to catch the ball, then perfectly flipped it to Peacock, who had slipped out of the backfield from his left halfback position. Peacock barrelled down the sideline, getting all the way to the 2-yard line before Nebraska’s Kent Smith knocked him out of bounds.

“We’d practice that play once or twice a week in practice, and it was probably 50-50 on whether I’d pitch it right,” Rhodes said. “Sometimes I’d pitch it over Elvis’ head, sometimes it’d be late and he’d have to slow down. I was a little concerned when I split out there because the coverage was tight.”

Said Blevins: “It was just like clockwork. Beautiful. The most beautiful thing you could ever see, because the play just developed so perfectly.”

To this day, Peacock wishes he’d scored on the play. But on the very next snap, he snagged an option pitch from Lott and scored the game winner anyway.

“I always had a good game against Nebraska,” Peacock said. “When we’d have big games, I always kinda stepped up. I’ve never been the type of guy who wanted to boast about anything, but I was fortunate and blessed to make some plays to help us win some big games.”

Switzer would write about the win in his 1990 memoir, “Bootlegger’s Boy.”

“The term Sooner Magic really came into use in 1976,” Switzer wrote. “We were a young team, and Nebraska was clearly better than we were.”

Sooner Magic has since been used to describe hard-to-explain comebacks like the 2000 Texas A&M game and the 2019 Baylor game.

Rhodes worked in the elevator business in Oklahoma City for many years, retiring from ThyssenKrupp Elevator Americas at the end of 2020. One of his last tasks before retirement was to help oversee the acquisition of an Omaha, Neb., company called O’Keefe Elevator.

That company, naturally, is full of Cornhuskers fans.

Rhodes traveled to Omaha near the end of last year to negotiate the deal. One manager opened a meeting by pointing at him and saying, “You’re the guy. You’re the guy that did it to us in 1976.”

“I was shocked,” Rhodes said, “that Nebraska people remembered that play so vividly.”
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CWSooner

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2021, 09:03:17 PM »
Here's the video of the OU comeback-with-trick-plays.  It starts with the Huskers facing 3rd and 9 at the OU 22.  They're leading 17-13.  OU's Zach Henderson (I remember him well) just broke up a nice pass from Vince Ferragamo on 2nd and 9.

A first down here means that the Huskers can lock up the game.


https://youtu.be/H2HDE4YXNd4?t=4099
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utee94

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2021, 07:33:01 PM »
I don't know anything about Sooner Magic but I'll be happy to get the chance to watch NU and OU renew their rivalry on Saturday.

Thumper

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2021, 10:28:42 PM »
I remember that game.  I had to work that Saturday and had to listen to the game on a transistor radio (remember those) in my shirt pocket.  I had already conceded the game when that 3rd down came up.  It was hard to believe what happened.

MikeDeTiger

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2021, 09:35:48 AM »
I like a good hook and ladder.

MikeDeTiger

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2021, 09:52:12 AM »
I was -3 when this happened. 

I always thought football started in 1986 when dad took me to my first tigers/ole miss game.  Who knew?  

utee94

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2021, 09:53:39 AM »
Football started in 1977 when Earl Campbell won the Heisman.

MikeDeTiger

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2021, 10:06:51 AM »
Does that mean Billy Cannon's halloween run was some sort of scrimmage? :'(

utee94

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2021, 10:10:45 AM »
Wait.  If I don't allow football to start until 1977, then I'm eliminating 3 of Texas' four NCs.

So, I'll say it began in 1963.  Yeah, that's the ticket.

FearlessF

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2021, 10:20:02 AM »
football started in 1962 - I was born and Devaney came to Lincoln
"Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport."

FearlessF

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2021, 10:20:29 AM »
May be an image of 2 people, people standing and text that says 'GOD & LAHOM THE DEVIL'
"Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport."

utee94

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2021, 10:38:22 AM »
Trick question.

They are both the devil.

FearlessF

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2021, 11:13:49 AM »
it's not a question.  It's a statement
"Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport."

CWSooner

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Re: OU-Nebraska: The Birth of Sooner Magic
« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2021, 09:28:59 PM »
I like a good hook and ladder.
Do you also like a shuttle pass?
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