It wasn’t until early December 2020 that former Oklahoma wide receiver and cornerback Andre Woolfolk watched all of the No. 1 Sooners’ 13-2 win over No. 2 Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl for the first time.
But when he was invited to a team reunion over Zoom, Woolfolk decided to take a trip down memory lane. In watching the game and meeting with former teammates, a flood of memories came back to him: the undefeated season, the legendary Torrance Marshall monologue to Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke during the coin toss and OU quarterback Josh Heupel taking victory formation and pointing to the crowd as the Sooners took home the program’s seventh national championship.
In the Zoom call, led by former head coach Bob Stoops, the team caught up with one another, updated each other on their lives, went through the games throughout the season and joked around like old times. The team also held a moment of silence for the late Brandon Everage, a freshman defensive back for the Sooners that year. Everage died in 2011 at the age of 30.
Woolfolk admits the team has drifted farther apart over the years since sharing that special season (former running back Quentin Griffin and Heupel were absent), but says the reunion ignited the urge to come together more often.
“It was amazing to see how many people still cherish those times,” Woolfolk said. “I felt right at home, back with the players and the coaches ... all the stories, it just made it where it's really a time to remember for the most part, because that unit of it built then was part of the reason why we were able to win.
“I was sparked into actually getting into better contact with everybody. … That's when I say ‘brotherhood,’ they basically become part of your family. And whether you speak to them maybe once a year, every few years, once you're around them, you're treating them the same way as you would treat your own family.”
The former Sooners were also able to acknowledge the most important aspect of the 2000 season: It prompted Oklahoma back to national prominence after a 15-year championship drought.
The title rewrote the destiny of OU football for the next two decades, which saw three more national championship appearances, three Heisman Trophy winners and four College Football Playoff berths, and the program has yet to be left out of the national powerhouse discussion since.
“It 100 percent set the tone to bring Oklahoma back to what we knew it was supposed to be,” former wide receiver Curtis Fagan said. “That team brought grit, that team brought termination. … You saw the difference in the fans from the two years previous. You could just feel the difference in the fans.
“They felt this is what Sooner sports are supposed to be about.
OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione, then in his third season with the Sooners, had already been to the Orange Bowl multiple times as a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There was a moment when he was a spectator at the 1985 Orange Bowl between the Sooners and Penn State that he realized he wanted to be a part of a program that would play in the venue in the future. Of course, at the time, he didn’t know he’d have that opportunity in 2001.
As an up-and-coming athletics director, Castiglione watched his program craft a masterful undefeated season with six top-25 wins, two of those victories being against No. 2 Kansas State and No. 1 Nebraska in consecutive game weeks. But Florida State had the Heisman winner in Weinke and an offense that averaged over 42 points a game entering the championship contest.
But the Sooners, then 11-point underdogs as a top-ranked team and obviously annoyed by the Weinke winning the Heisman over Heupel, came to play, leading to a quote from Marshall not soon to be forgotten by Sooner fans.
"I'm here to get my boy's Heisman Trophy back."
“I looked in the eyes of our players as they came out of the locker room after they warmed up,” Castiglione said. “If I had any anxiety, it was gone right then.”
There was also the narrative that a one-loss No. 3 Miami team should’ve taken Oklahoma’s place, since the Hurricanes had beaten Florida State earlier in the season. Fagan never forgot that opinion, and brought it up to Stoops three weeks ago in the Zoom conference, saying that if anyone said the Sooners could’ve been defeated that year. “Let them know that there was nobody going to beat us, and make sure those Miami boys know that.”
“We just really only had one mission, and that was just to shut everybody up,” Woolfolk said. “The fact is, we were undefeated, we did what we needed to do, we got into the game and then we won, so there's really nothing else to be discussed.”
Oklahoma’s defense obliterated any offensive efforts from Florida State, holding Weinke to 25-of-51 passing and 274 yards with no touchdowns. Sooner fans still relish the performances from linebackers Marshall and Rocky Calmus, and defensive backs J.T. Thatcher, Roy Williams and Derrick Strait.
A forced fumble by Calmus into the hands of Williams set up the only touchdown of the game two plays later — a 10-yard run by Griffin to give the Sooners a 13-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Marshall recorded an interception of his own to make up for an OU fumble on its first drive.
“They couldn't do anything versus our defense, so we knew we could trust them,” said Fagan, who made a 39-yard catch to set up the Sooners’ second field goal of the game in the third quarter. “They came through. We knew as an offense that when that defense was on the field, we better get ready because we're going to be back on that field pretty soon.”
Heupel, who was battling an elbow injury known only by those close to him at the time, finished the game 25-of-39 for 214 yards, producing just enough offense to solidify a dominant, yet low-scoring, victory. Griffin capped off an 823-yard, 17-touchdown season by handing the Sooners their biggest lead of the night with his score. He had 11 carries for 40 yards, but a handful of big plays was all the Sooners needed that night. Marshall was named the game’s MVP behind his interception and six tackles, not to mention OU’s defensive suffocation of Weinke.
“He really made it where they weren't able to capitalize on mistakes that we had made, or any kind of slow start that we had going on,” Woolfolk said. “There was defensive play after defensive play, over and over again.”
In the aftermath, Heupel was famously hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates as the Sooners marched into the new era of Oklahoma football.
“It was the foundation upon which we built other success,” Castiglione said. “It takes something epic like that to get them to believe. But that's why when we do win a championship, and have won many since, you always think about the people that stepped up and believed in each other and what was being done.”
Castiglione said OU, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is trying to reschedule a celebration of the 2000 team some time in 2021. The plans are still in the beginning stages, as it could be a banquet or moment during a game at halftime in the 2021 season. But the Zoom conference was a good start.
“You don't talk about becoming part of a family during a recruiting process, or when they first come to campus, if you don't live to the values of what family really means,” Castiglione said. “We really try to live to the idea of what a true family is all about.
“Once the Sooner, always the Sooner, and no matter where they might live, no matter how many years they may have been away from the university. Because whatever life takes them that way, there’s still always a place here for them.”
For more from The Daily's OU 2000 season series, here are more stories below: