A Heisman-Flavored Recap Of The Red River Showdown

Ricky Williams rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Texas' 1998 Red River win over Oklahoma.

The last Red River Showdown under the Big 12 flag is upon us as No. 3 Texas and No. 12 Oklahoma — both 5-0 — get ready to meet at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

A rivalry replete with Heisman history will belong to the SEC a year from now after both schools join the conference for the 2023-2024 athletic season. For now, it’s still a Big 12 matchup and the Red River Showdown is going out with a bang thanks to a pair of Heisman hopefuls leading both teams.

Texas is off to its best start since 2009 behind quarterback Quinn Ewers while the Sooners are unbeaten and led by signal caller Dillon Gabriel.

In honor of the game’s Big 12 swan song (and formerly the Big Eight), we are highlighting the Heisman performances that helped make the rivalry as great as it is.

Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray is the last Heisman winner to play in the game and almost led a historic comeback. Almost. The Sooners trailed 45-24 midway through the fourth quarter when Murray led them on three consecutive touchdown drives to knot the score at 45-45. That included a 19-yard TD pass (one of his four scoring passes on the day) from Murray and his 67-yard scoring run. But Texas had the last laugh, winning the game on a 40-yard field goal with nine seconds left.

Kyler Murray. Photo by Ty Russell

A year earlier, the Sooners lost all of a 20-0 lead but 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield brought them back in the fourth quarter with a 59-yard touchdown pass with 6:53 to go. Mayfield passed for 302 yards and two scores in the win and Oklahoma did not lose again in the regular season.

The 2008 version of the game pitted the eventual Heisman winner in Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and the trophy’s second-place finisher, Texas’ Colt McCoy. And while Bradford came away with the hardware in December, McCoy came away with the win in this meeting, leading the Longhorns to a 45-35 win over the No. 1 Sooners. Bradford did his part, completing 28-of-39 passes for 387 yards and five scores, the last bringing Oklahoma to within 35-30, but the Sooners would get no closer.

The 2003 game, featuring Heisman winner Jason White, held little drama as White led Oklahoma to a dominant 65-13 win, the Sooners scoring the most points ever in the series while the 52-point margin of victory was also a series record. White completed 17-of-21 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns in a win over a Longhorn team that saw eventual Heisman runner-up Vince Young see action as a backup. Oklahoma led 37-13 at the half and piled on four more touchdowns in the second half.

Fifteen years earlier, 1998 Heisman winner Ricky Williams helped Texas to a blowout win in the game as the Longhorns took care of the Sooners, 34-3. Williams — fresh off back-to-back 300-yard rushing efforts — carried the ball 31 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns to go with two receptions for 27 yards. Williams, who would rush for 2,124 yards on the season, also helped the Longhorns win in 1997, 27-24.

Two decades prior, 1978 Heisman winner Billy Sims led a top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners team to a decisive 31-10 win over Texas. Sims rushed for 131 yards and two scores on 25 carries, finding the end zone on an 18-yard first-quarter run and on an early second-quarter one-yard run. He led the country in rushing that year with 1,762 yards.

In 1977, Earl Campbell won his first Red River Showdown in his final try, rushing for 124 yards on 23 carries, scoring the game’s only touchdown, a 24-yard jaunt late in the first half. Texas lost its first- and second-string quarterbacks in the game and leaned on Campbell and third-string QB Randy McEachern to secure the low-scoring win as they beat the No. 2 Sooners for the first time in six years. Sims was a sophomore in the game.

Oklahoma’s 1969 winner Steve Owens rushed for 123 yards on 30 carries and scored once but it wasn’t enough for the Sooners, who lost to the top-ranked Longhorns, 27-17. 

Billy Vessels was the first eventual Heisman winner to play in the series, the running back helping No. 12 Oklahoma to a 49-20 win over Texas with 106 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries. The highlight was a 60-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to go with 1- and 2-yard scoring runs.