The exact origin of the term Play Like a Champion Today is unknown. Its first reported use was in the late 1940's under coach Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma). Jay Wilkinson the son of Bud Wilkinson states that the first sign was put up early in his fathers OU coaching tenure but he's sure that his father didn't come up with the term and that he has no idea exactly where his father got the term.
The University of Oklahoma has used a sign with the phrase since the late 1940s, under coach Bud Wilkinson. Traditional during home games at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium Oklahoma players and coaches touch the "Play Like a Champion Today" sign posted above the locker room doors as they head into the tunnel that leads to the field before every home game. For away games a travel version is posted by equipment staff for the players to touch as they depart the locker room for the field.
As the team enters the field, the Sooners run under a crimson banner that displays 'Play Like a Champion' that is flanked by flags representing each of Oklahoma's seven national championships.
The term has been used by Notre Dame since at least 1986 when Lou Holtz came across a photo in a Notre Dame book with the sign “Play Like A Champion Today.” After asking around and coming up with no one remembering the sign and what had happened to it, he had a new sign painted and placed in a stairwell between the home team locker room and the tunnel to the field of Notre Dame Stadium. This original sign was painted by Laurie Wenger in the fall of 1986.
It is a tradition by players to touch it on their way out of the locker room.