DENTON, Texas -- When the viral videos had run their course, when every flapping set of anchorman gums from here to El Paso had stilled, Wren Baker realized what North Texas football had accomplished.
"I would doubt that North Texas has ever in a year gotten the publicity we got in 24 hours," said Baker, the Mean Green's 40-year-old athletic director.
The glow is still resonating from the famous fake punt return four weeks ago at Arkansas. If you don't remember the Week 3 play in Fayetteville, then shame on you.
North Texas returner Keegan Brewer deked the Hogs' coverage team into what they thought was a fair catch by standing still after he caught the ball at his own 10. After a one-Mississippi count, Brewer bolted down the left sideline to score and help lead his team to a 44-17 win.
The play broke the internet, the backs of the Hogs and what impression a lot of us had of North Texas.
According to media impressions gathered by the school, there was an "ad value equivalency" of $19.5 million. Almost 600 million people were exposed to the school through video, social media and print media. That means something whether you're marketing at Alabama or in a Group of Five school staff meeting just trying to get exposure.
"If you run that play against Middle Tennessee, it probably gets some attention but nothing like that," Baker said. "If you beat Arkansas, it gets some attention but nothing like that. The combination of those two things happening in the same game is probably a little more everything coming together."
At the season's halfway point, there are plenty of Group of Five stories that slip through the cracks as the gap widens between the haves and have-nots. Lane Kiffin has hogged the runway at FAU. UCF has its "national championship." Halfway through 2018, only five teams in the country have a better conference record than UAB (3-0, 5-1 overall).
But here in Denton, two men have blended football with sideshow. Baker is the ringleader with the right coach at the right time.
Considering Seth Littrell's pedigree and record, he won't be long for North Texas. Baker knows this. In his third season, Littrell has already played for a Conference USA title, won nine games and -- this season -- has the program off to its best start (6-1) in 30 years.
"I'm so tired of talking about how good you are," Littrell said to his boss.
"Same here," Baker said.
They are joined at some sort of metaphysical hip. Littrell went along for the ride as Baker arranged for what was called the first-ever wrestling event at a college football stadium following the season opener against SMU.
The Mean Green won that night as North Texas set an attendance record. That mark was smashed in the second home game against Louisiana Tech. That promotion was a bit more traditional. A statue of "Mean" Joe Green (North Texas, 1966-68) was unveiled.
"There were thousands of people out there for that," Baker said. "I expected two [hundred] or three hundred. There was a mass of people as far as the eye could see. There were grown men crying."
"Brewer's Bluff" might have been the biggest play of the first half of the season. It took Littrell to trust the mad scientist mind of his special teams coach Marty Biagi to install it. North Texas had already trusted Littrell, a former Oklahoma fullback who came up the old-fashioned way. This is his sixth coaching stop since 2002.
It did not go unnoticed that North Texas won in an SEC stadium for the first time since 1975.
"People thought maybe we could play with them," Littrell said, "thought maybe we could beat them if we play real good. But I don't think they thought we could dominate them. It opened some people's minds."
In short, Littrell might as well be this year's Tom Herman. Not so much in terms of temperament but career track. After a similar extended assistant coaching career, Herman blew up when he won a national championship with a third-string quarterback (Cardale Jones) at Ohio State in 2014.
Herman is 43, four years into his head-coaching career. Littrell, 40, is a third-year coach having come up as an assistant to Mike Leach (Texas Tech), Mark Mangino (Kansas), Mike Stoops (Arizona), Kevin Wilson (Indiana) and Larry Fedora (North Carolina).
One of their few similarities might be the state in which they coach. Herman is already chasing a College Football Playoff berth in his second year at Texas. Littrell can't help but hear his name as College Football's Next Hot Model.
"I've been asked [about job opportunities] quite a bit lately," Littrell said. "I'm so focused in on resetting with my team, I'm scared to lose. I have that fear of failure every week which drives people."
Super agent Jimmy Sexton saw enough in Littrell to add him to his stable of high-profile coaches. That portends some sort of jump soon to the big time.
Littrell's Indiana offenses finished second in the Big Ten in both 2012 and 2013. In 2005, North Carolina was second in the ACC total offense with Littrell guiding Marquise Williams. Halfway through this season, North Texas is second in Conference USA in scoring, passing and total offense. There appears to be life beyond Kiffin in the league.
"Seth's got his own unique way: very aggressive, very confident," said Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, Littrell's former boss at Indiana.
Littrell is every bit that former Oklahoma fullback, a plug of chewing tobacco often bulging from under the Muskogee, Oklahoma, native's lower lip. Like Herman a few years ago, Littrell has just enough deviltry and innovation in him to draw the right attention.
The Mean Green practice on Fridays, the day before games.
"I guess there has been research when you do a walk through on Friday, there's been 48 hours [between when you] play football," quarterback Mason Fine said. "Here we do walk throughs on Thursdays."
As a player, Littrell was in on the Oklahoma ruse to convince Texas coaches they had OU's game plan prior the 1999 Red River Showdown. As a coach, he was the guy who took a chance on an undersized quarterback from Peggs, Oklahoma. Fine was counting on a preferred walk-on offer from Oklahoma State that never came.
"I know his high school coach real well," Littrell recounted. "Mason had great tape, two-time Gatorade Player of the Year. I said, 'What's the issue?' The coach said, 'He's not going to fit any of the measurables.' I started watching the tape, watching game after game after game it's a no brainer. He's 5-foot-10. We don't have anything to lose right now. Last I checked, we were 1-11 last year."
That was 2015, the season before Littrell took over. 247Sports listed Fine as the nation's 164th-best quarterback in the Class of 2016.
Three years later, Mason is on track to beat the single-season passing record he set last year (4,052 yards). His 16-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is surpassed only by Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa (21 touchdowns, no picks).
There isn't an obvious landing place for Littrell at the moment. He's too good to jump up to Power Five at a moribund program like Kansas, but a good fit like Texas Tech looks like it won't open after this season. It's not like he's trapped. The goals are different. In Texas' meeting room, the ultimate goal is the national championship. At the top of Littrell's pyramid is a more modest goal.
"Maximize our skills," he said.
It's fitting that North Texas exists on the periphery of both the college football power base and the Dallas metroplex itself. The campus of 38,000 is closer to the Oklahoma state line (40 miles to the north) than AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys (44 miles to the south).
North Texas shares Tier I Research University status with the likes of Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale.
"Early on, there was a misconception this was a commuter school," Littrell said. "It's a great community."
The coach and AD came to conquer at almost identical times. Baker was hired July 2016, seven miles after Littrell took the job.
Baker grew up in southeastern Oklahoma watching wrestling on over-the-air broadcast television. While working at the University of Memphis, he got a feel for it again watching the NBA's Grizzlies stage wrestling nights.
"Memphis still has a wrestling tradition," Baker said. "What would the WWE do? In college, you've got to be a little more sportsmanlike. If I could tie a wrestling event to football, I'd do it."
And so last month, wrestling legend Kevin Von Erich, whose family grew up in Denton County, flew in from Hawaii. Two of the Von Erich sons appeared, as did Jim "Hacksaw" Duggan, a former SMU football player.
Yes, the lines between football and sideshow were blurred. So what? At this level, there isn't much difference between a fake punt return and a folding chair to the shoulder blades.
"If you're a place that has a tremendous blue-blood tradition, you're going to sell out. That's fine," Baker said. "But for us, historically, we've struggled for attendance, and we're in a crowded marketplace.
"It's worth doing."