“We had star players everywhere on both sides of the ball,” said then-defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. “We got it. We were disciplined.”
National media, fans and — for the first time — even their own coaches were praising the Sooners in media interviews.
“I basically heard Mike Stoops and Coach (Brent) Venables tell me how bad I was for four years,” Lehman said with a chuckle. “And then coaches were talking about how great the team was. It was weird to hear them say that stuff on television.”
Then, just days before OU faced Kansas State, Mike Stoops announced that he was leaving to take Arizona's head coaching position, but would stay with the Sooners through the Big 12 title game.
“You can never be in two places at one time; that's just the way this business is,” Mike Stoops said of the tough days of practice after his announcement. “Everything changes immediately.”
Dvoracek and Lehman insisted Mike Stoops' announcement had no negative effect on their performance; only that it made them want to play harder for him.
In what would become an accurate prediction, word came that the Big 12 outcome wouldn't have any bearing on Oklahoma's expected spot in the Sugar Bowl, where the Sooners went on to lose 21-14 to LSU for the national title.
“There's nothing to show for it,” Lehman said of the season. “There were a bunch of award winners, but no one cares about that. They care that up in the stadium, it should've said, ‘2003 national champions.'”
Mike Stoops returned as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator last offseason. He will face his old boss and the Wildcats' powerful rushing attack for the first time since that December 2003 night. The No. 15 Wildcats bring their reliably powerful rushing attack, led by senior quarterback Collin Klein, to Norman on Saturday.
“You've got to play 11 on 11,” Mike Stoops said. “If somebody breaks down, they're gonna usually get a decent play.”
Breakdowns are exactly what cost Mike Stoops' defense in his last battle with Snyder; those mistakes still haunt Dvoracek and Lehman, who today are co-hosts on an afternoon sports talk show on KREF.
“We were the best team in the country that year,” Dvoracek said. “As bad as it was in Kansas City — and it was bad — we had a chance to redeem ourselves in New Orleans, and we didn't.
“At the end of the day, they kicked our butts, man. Darren Sproles was amazing, and their defensive line put Jason through the ringer.”