Book excerpt: The rise of Derland Moore

ESPN.com's SoonerNation is running excerpts from Jake Trotter's “I Love Oklahoma/I Hate Texas,” the first book to detail the Red River Rivalry from the Oklahoma viewpoint, examining the games, moments and heroes Sooners fans love to remember. And those they hate to remember, too. Read the first excerpt from Trotter's book here.

“I Love Oklahoma/I Hate Texas” is on sale now in Oklahoma bookstores and online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. View the book's Facebook page for more information.

From the chapter, "Red River Heroes We Love," read the excerpt after the jump:

Derland Moore

Oklahoma was going through a regular Friday Texas walkthrough before traveling to Dallas. But as coach Chuck Fairbanks was about to dismiss the players so they could load the bus, defensive coordinator Larry Lacewell spoke up. “Just in case Texas comes out and tries to quick-kick, let’s do something to be prepared for it,” Lacewell told the team, curiously. As the Sooners went through their quick-kick defense, Lacewell passed by defensive tackle Derland Moore and suggested that Moore slide a step to the middle, between the guard and tackle. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll mess up their blocking,” Lacewell said. Such a subtle suggestion would forge Moore’s career path going forward.

The Poplar Bluff High football field has since been named after Moore, but he was hardly a star there. Growing up at the foothills of the Ozarks in southeast Missouri, Moore spent far more time working his dad’s 2,000-acre wheat farm than playing football. Moore’s top high school sport was actually shot-put. He set his high school’s record in the event and qualified for the regional junior Olympic meet, which in 1969 was held in Norman. “This might be hard to believe, but I had never heard of the University of Oklahoma or the Sooners,” Moore said. “I thought there were Indians still running around there. That shows how worldly I was growing up in the Missouri Ozarks.”

Only Memphis State had even offered Moore a partial track scholarship. But, after a few minutes watching Moore throw, OU track coach J.D. Martin gave him a full ride on the spot. Paul Moore wanted his son to stay in Missouri, but when Moore told him he was also going to walk on to the OU football team, a compromise was reached. But it didn’t take long for Moore to try and break it. “I quit after the first day,” Moore said. “But when I told my dad what I had done, he basically told me, if I didn’t get my ass back there, I had better be able to whup his ass.” Besides being a farmer, Paul Moore was a state trooper and a lieutenant colonel in the Missouri National Guard. “I knew he meant business,” said Moore, who figured he’d have better luck sparring with OU’s offensive line. Instead of taking on his father, Moore returned to practice intent on pummeling everyone else. “I was pissed off,” Moore said. “I went out there with an attitude. I must have gotten into 13 fights that day.” Moore had one memorable skirmish with fiery tight end Steve Zabel. “Here’s Steve Zabel, first-round draft pick, big, tough sonofabitch, and this freshman goes toe-to-toe with him,” Barry Switzer said. “Man, he was tough.”

That’s essentially how Moore fell in love with football. It’s also how the Sooners fell in love with him. Immediately after practice, Lacewell called Moore up to the coaches’ office. Moore thought he was getting the boot. Instead, Lacewell talked him into going on football scholarship.

By 1972 Moore had become one of the anchors on a defensive front that included Lucious, Dewey, and Lee Roy Selmon. “Derland gets lost in the conversation because of the Selmons,” said halfback Joe Washington. “But he was a really good player.” The Sooners had destroyed the Longhorns 48–27 the year before and were unbeaten and ranked second heading into the Cotton Bowl. Texas was better in ’72, but Darrell Royal knew he was outmanned. So the week of the game, Royal installed the quick-kick to give the Longhorns a chance of controlling the field position. If Texas encountered any hopeless third-and-long situations, quarterback Alan Lowry would punt the ball away, eliminating the possibility of a turnover or punt return. Royal didn’t know it at the time, but the Sooners would be waiting for it.

The week of the game, oil man and longtime Lacewell acquaintance Lonnie “Wolfman” Williams found his way into Texas’ practices. Rumor has it that he posed as a construction worker, a perfect disguise with Texas’ stadium under renovation at the time. Surreptitiously, Williams took in everything the Longhorns did, including the covert quick-kick, and reported back to Lacewell. “Darrell four years later in ’76 accuses us of spying,” Switzer said. “When the press and people were asking me—it’s semantics here—‘Did you spy on them? Did your staff spy on Texas?’ ‘No.’ I was an assistant coach in charge of the offense when we spied on them. Chuck [Fairbanks] was the head coach. So did my staff spy on them? ‘Hell no, they didn’t.’ But I didn’t volunteer that, in ’72 under Chuck, we did.”

As Royal had anticipated, the game turned into a defensive struggle. Despite forcing five turnovers, the Sooners clung to a 3–0 lead in the third quarter. With Texas facing thirdand-16 at its own 25, Royal called in the quick-kick. To his horror, the OU defenders began hollering “Quick-kick!” before Texas even broke the huddle. The safeties ran back for a return, and Moore, recalling Lacewell’s instruction, cheated inside. On the snap, he barreled past All-America tackle Jerry Sisemore and the guard untouched to block the punt. Defensive end Gary Baccus cleared out Lowry, allowing Lucious Selmon to pounce on the ball for a touchdown. Royal was dumbfounded. “I know a lot of folks who paid $7 will question the quick-kick,” he said afterward. “I didn’t think it would be expected.”

Moore, who finished with 10 tackles and also forced Lowry into an interception, put the finishing touches on his career performance in the fourth quarter. Off a stunt, Baccus knocked Lowry’s option pitch attempt to the ground, shooting the ball all way to the Texas end zone. Moore gave chase and fell on it for OU’s second defensive touchdown, putting the Sooners ahead by the final score of 27–0. All told, the OU defense blocked a punt, intercepted four passes, recovered four Texas fumbles, and scored two touchdowns while handing the Longhorns their first shutout in 101 games. “Our defense played its finest game of any defensive unit I’ve coached at the University of Oklahoma,” Fairbanks wrote the following week in his newsletter. “Our defense not only held Texas scoreless, but it was directly responsible for all three of our touchdowns, two of them outright.”

After the game, Moore began to suspect the impetus for his good fortune. “I kinda figured something was up when, after the game, Coach Lacewell said, ‘Now don’t tell the press we worked on blocking that quick-kick,’” Moore said. “I kinda felt bad, but it was just one of those things that happened.”

The defeat proved to be devastating for the Longhorns. Texas won every other game, and could have contended for a national title had it not been for the loss to OU. Instead, USC captured the national title, and the Longhorns finished third in the polls, a spot behind the Sooners.

Moore went on to national acclaim after his Texas performance. He was named the Associated Press’ national lineman of the week, and would later become an All-American and second-round draft pick of the Saints. “The weird thing is, that [punt block] really propelled me into the national limelight,” he said. “Probably responsible for me becoming an AllAmerican and a real high draft choice.”