Thank God It’s Friday
And Saturday. And Sunday. The arrival of fall means weekends spent watching football, up close and on-screen, and yet another opportunity to love the greatest game on earth for all the usual reasons. Forty-nine of them, in fact.
Throwing A Great Pass
I can tell right away when I let the ball go if it’s going to be a good one. I can almost turn around and tell you if it’s going to be a good ball or not. Even if the guy’s 40 or 50 yards down the field, I’m pretty sure if it’s going to hit him in the chest or if it’s going to be batted down or too high or too low—if it’s going to have a chance to make a big play or not. Right when you let it go there’s a nice little feeling you get in, like, the last two or three fingers of your hand. If that comes off sweet and it’s spinning the right way, then there’s a good chance it’s going to be complete.
– DAVID CARR As Told To DAVID A. HERRON
David Carr is the quarterback for the Houston Texans.
Running Through Paper Signs Instead Of Smoke-Filled Inflatable Tunnels
Not That We Have A Problem With Tunnels, Per Se
What we like, in particular, about the one at the Cotton Bowl is that at the Red River Rivalry, both UT and OU players and coaches enter from and exit through the same tunnel, with fans crowding around each side. The jostling and trash talking are almost as exciting as the game itself.
– BRIAN D. SWEANY
Some announcers have more games on their résumés; others have been at it longer. But for our money, the best in Texas is Ace Little, of the Weatherford Kangaroos. The 42-year-old has called 750 sporting events on the radio over the past 24 years, and he’ll broadcast his three-hundredth high school game on September 8, when the District 4 5A ’Roos face off against the Keller Indians at Kangaroo Stadium. If you’re in the north-central part of the state, tune into 89.5 KYQX-FM; otherwise, listen online.
– DAVID COURTNEY
Five towns that turn into ghost towns when the high school football team has an away game:
– DAVID A. HERRON
At least one marching band has a sense of humor.
The most important thing to understand about Rice University’s Marching Owl Band (more familiarly known as the MOB) is that it doesn’t march. Ever. To achieve the desired formation, MOBsters run to their appointed destinations, or scatter, prance, mosey, stroll, crawl, dance, hop, skip, jump, leapfrog, hopscotch, moonwalk, break-dance—anything but march. This has been the modus operandi of the MOB since 1970, when someone decided that it made no sense for Rice’s tiny band to try to emulate the intricate movements and ear-splitting volume of its gargantuan rivals in the old Southwest Conference. Even when I had been a Rice student, a few years earlier, the band had taken to poking fun at UT icons like Big Bertha, the Longhorn Band’s mammoth bass drum; now satire became the band’s official policy. The most famous formation in the history of the MOB came during halftime of a home game against Texas A&M in 1973: The band “honored” Reveille, the Aggies’ collie mascot, by forming … a fire hydrant. The Aggies, who have been known to have issues with satire, were outraged. After the game, which Rice won, 24–20, angry Aggies cornered the MOB and blocked its exit from the stadium. It was rescued—as the MOB’s announcer explained when the band celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the incident in 1993 by reprising its performance—“by something with worse taste than their halftime show: Rice food-service trucks.” Alas, the MOB’s antics today are limited to non-conference games; Conference USA has a rule against denigrating the opponents.
– PAUL BURKA
When Southlake’s Carroll Senior High School beat Katy High School on December 17, 2005, it won not just the state 5A Division II football title but bragging rights as the best Texas high school team of the decade and one of the very best football programs in the nation. The team’s numbers are nothing short of astonishing: Over the past four years the Carroll Dragons have won 63 games and lost only 1 (to Katy, in the 2003 finals). They have played in 4 consecutive state championship games and won 3 of them. They finished the 2004 season as the number-one-ranked high school team in the nation by USA Today; last year they were ranked second.
Along the way, the Dragons have shown an uncanny ability to regenerate themselves. In 2005, after star running back Aaron Luna and star quarterback Chase Daniel graduated, many people were skeptical that the team could repeat. Coach Todd Dodge responded with a blistering passing attack, featuring an assortment of lightning-footed receivers who caught quarterback Greg McElroy’s 56 touchdown passes (a 5A record).
How do they do it? It may have something to do with the team’s five-year-old, $15.3 million stadium, or its 80-yard-long air-conditioned indoor practice facility, sometimes used by the Dallas Cowboys. Or maybe they’re just that good.
– S.C. GWYNNE
Rivalries. We’ve Got Rivalries
Eight classics at the high school level:
1. Lufkin vs. Nacogdoches
2. Sherman vs. Denison
3. Dallas Carter vs. Dallas Kimball
4. Longview vs. Marshall
5. Odessa Permian vs. Midland Lee
6. Garland vs. South Garland
7. Austin Reagan vs. Austin LBJ
8. Celina vs. Pilot Point
– DAVID A. HERRON
But No Rivalry Is As Big As This One
Texas A&M versus Texas is about a lot more than football. It’s about class and values and different ways of looking at the world. For more than a century, Longhorn loyalists have regarded the Aggies as a bunch of rubes straight off the farm. There is more than a little truth in this; even today, a quarter of A&M’s entering freshmen are the first in their family to attend college. In turn, Aggies see UT as a refuge for pampered, pseudosophisticated city folk, whom they disdainfully label “teasips.” UT students revel in Aggie jokes; Aggies respond with “What do you call an Aggie five years after graduation? ‘Boss.’” Aggies speak emotionally of being a family, of loyalty and tradition; UT sees them as a bunch of rowdies playing soldier. Aggies take off their hats when they enter their student center to pay respect to former students who died in service to their country; most UT students don’t even know where their student center is. This clash of civilizations rages for 365 days a year, and the football game, which is always played on Thanksgiving weekend, validates not just which team is better but which culture. And then the battle begins anew.
– PAUL BURKA
And Yet There Is Such A Thing As Graciousness
Our Football Blogs Are Better Than Everyone Else’s
Ten we like:
1. Recruiting Buzz
2. Burnt Orange Nation: A Texas Longhorns Blog
3. Bevo Beat
4. Fan Blogs: Texas A&M
5. Double T Ranch
6. The Bear Blog
7. Big 12
8. Texans Rock
9. Cowboys Blog
10. Dallas Cowboys and the NFL
– DREW WEBB
Except for Florida, no other state has that many.
1. Vitalis Sun Bowl, El Paso
2. AT&T Cotton Bowl, Dallas
3. Master Card Alamo Bowl, San Antonio
4. EV1.net Houston Bowl, Houston
5. Alltel Wireless Bowl, Fort Worth
– DREW WEBB
Pee Wees’ Playhouse
Thirty years ago, a boy growing up in Dallas needed only two things to transform a dirt field into Texas Stadium: a plastic Cowboys helmet and a silver-and-blue jersey with his favorite number on it (mine was “12”). Today, kids who worship America’s Team have slightly better options, particularly the nine- and ten-year-old Pee Wee players who are lucky enough to know coach Mike Stallings. Each year, Stallings hosts the Texas Stadium Spectacular, in which teams play beneath the world’s most famous hole in the roof. The star treatment includes an announcer who calls out each boy’s name as he sprints through a giant inflatable helmet and onto the field. Fireworks explode, smoke fills the air, and music ranging from the theme from Rocky (“Gonna Fly Now”) to Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” blasts over the loudspeakers. And when it’s finally time for the first snap, you can bet that every single player is thinking the same thing: This is the greatest night of my life.
– BRIAN D. SWEANY
Hitting Someone Hard
The first thing I do after the huddle is study the formation of the offense and the defense and think about what play is going to be called. After the snap, everything else is downhill. I want to get to the ball quickly and give the runner as much punishment as possible. A couple of things go through my mind: Where can I hit him? What’s his weak spot? Can I get a kill shot, or do I just bring him down? You can’t try to destroy someone on each play, so you have to pick and choose. Anybody can make a tackle, but a big hit is something beyond that; it helps and motivates your team to push a little harder and fight a little longer. I remember Coach [Bill] Parcells telling me once before a game, “Roy, we are going to need a big hit to get everyone jacked up today.” That’s a lot of pressure, but once you deliver that blow, the crowd gets behind you and your teammates are flying around making plays—it’s a great feeling.
by ROY WILLIAMS As Told To DREW WEBB
Roy Williams is a safety for the Dallas Cowboys and a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
Even Our Noise- Makers Are Bigger
When the Celina Bobcats score a touchdown, make an extra point, or execute a big play, Rick Willis mans the ear-piercing, earth-shaking, heavens-trembling custom-made horn that blows. The secrets to his success: No air. Willis uses four bottles of compressed nitrogen—more durable and easier on the horns. No handcarts. The horn, which weighs nine hundred pounds, has been welded to a custom frame and mounted onto a Bobcat Workmate 2100 utility vehicle. More is more. The current incarnation has eight horns, including three 3-footers. Don’t get too close. Willis wears a triple layer of ear protection when he drives the Bobcat. Don’t hog the spotlight. If the band starts up at the same time Willis lays on the horn, no one in the stadium is going to hear the fight song. And the crowd loves the fight song.
– BRIAN D. SWEANY
The Coach Of The State’s Winningest Team Is Someone You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
When Jimmie Keeling became the head football coach at Abilene’s Hardin-Simmons University in 1990—after the football program ended a self-imposed 27-year hiatus—he glanced around a locker room and felt his confidence sink through the floor. The guys were green. But by the end of the season, the HSU Cowboys had won three of their nine games. “It was a miracle that we won any games at all,” he says. Sixteen years later, the 2,400-student private school can boast a 135-39 record—a .776 winning percentage that is the highest of any college football team in the state during that period—plus ten conference titles and two visits to their national divisional semifinals. Upcoming opponents, take note: The mellow, 71-year-old grandfather of twelve isn’t retiring anytime soon. “I love where I am. I absolutely love it,” Keeling says. “I have no desire or mood or whatever to be anyplace else.”
– KATY VINE
In early to mid-August, the lazy days and dog days of summer collide violently in the age-old ritual of two-a-day practices. Brutal sessions where the absence of profuse sweating, muscle cramps, mental confusion, and vomit—collectively known as “heat exhaustion”—meant you were doing it wrong may have gone the way of the salt-tablet-filled bucket, but the blitzkrieg of strengthening, conditioning, and drilling remains. It’s where, through the sheer misery of it all, individual players bond and teams are born. While dynasties will rise and fall, two-a-days are as inevitable as the hot Texas summer.
– DAVID COURTNEY
Preparing For A Big Game
The most important thing is to keep your routine the same, because the biggest enemy that I’ve found is distraction. So if you can develop a routine at home and on the road and try to keep it as close to status quo as possible from one week to the next, I think you kind of eliminate distraction. The more routine you keep things, the more things will happen correctly; they may not otherwise if you’re disrupting how, when, and where you’re doing stuff all the time. The other thing is to make each play important but understand that you just do your best. You need to get that instilled in yourself and do the best you can to instill it in your players.
– MIKE LEACH As Told To DAVID A. HERRON
Mike Leach is the head coach at Texas Tech University, which finished the 2005–2006 season with a record of 9-3.
Six Guys Who Played Every Single Down Of Their Lives For Texas Teams
1. Don Meredith
2. Mike Renfro
3. Harvey Martin
4. Kevin Smith
5. Cody Carlson
6. Dat Nguyen
– JOHN SPONG
Five Wacky Aggie Football Traditions
1. Midnight yell practice.
It takes place at Kyle Field the night before home games, involves upward of 20,000 students, and is moderated by five yell leaders: three seniors and two juniors who tell jokes about the other team and lead the crowd in such famous A&M yells as “Beat the Hell,” “Farmers Fight,” “Military,” and, of course, “Gig ’em.” When the lights are turned off, couples practice “mugging down,” the traditional post-score kiss. Men and women not in couples light their lighters, or “flick their Bics,” and find the nearest member of the opposite sex to practice with.
2. The Twelfth Man.
On January 2, 1922, while A&M was playing Centre College, the undermanned team did not have sufficient reserves, so a student named E. King Gill suited up. At game’s end he was the only Aggie left standing on the sideline. Ever since, the students have stood during the game to show they’re ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.
3. Humping It!
This refers to the proper position an Aggie assumes when doing a yell: slightly bent over at the waist, with his hands on his knees and his chin jutting out to open up his diaphragm, increasing his vocal projection.
4. Dunking yell leaders.
If the Aggies are victorious at home, freshmen members of the university’s Corps of Cadets tackle the yell leaders and throw them into Fish Pond, a campus fountain.
5. Never, ever calling the University of Texas at Austin “the University of Texas.”
Ags prefer “texas university” or—if you must— “t.u.”
– PATRICK FITZSIMONS
Our Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys—And Still Are, Even Though They’ve Hung Up Their Cleats
Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin played on the last Dallas Cowboys team to win the Super Bowl (1996). The three were inducted last year into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. Today, Aikman is an NFL commentator for Fox, a partner in Hall of Fame Racing, and the owner of Troy Aikman Ford, in Dallas. Smith is president of Smith/Cypress Partners, a commercial real estate firm in Dallas. Irvin is an NFL commentator for ESPN.
How different is life for you guys now that you’ve moved into the business world?
Smith: The challenge for me is trying to break the stigma of being a football player. Today you see us in our sports gear out on a football field—things that connect to my past. In terms of transitioning to the world of business, I want to look forward. I need to break the mold that people see me in in the back of their minds: “Okay, he’s in the business of real estate, but what does he really know about real estate?”
Aikman: There’s obviously a learning period, just like there was at the beginning of my career. Every athlete understands that certain things are required in order to be successful: putting the time in in the off-season, running around, catching the ball, eating right. When you get into your post-football career, it’s not running sprints and lifting weights, but there are certain things that are necessary to be successful, and you go at them in the same fashion you did in football. I know Michael works as hard in his preparations on the broadcast side as he did on the football side.
Irvin: With football, it’s all about the team and working together. Business is a little bit different. We go into business with people, but we understand that they’re trying to make money and you’re trying to make money. My business partners tell me all the time that I get caught up in competing when I’m doing a deal. I want to get the best deal. But sometimes I overdo it; it’s that same competitive attitude from football. You’ve got to pull back. A good deal is when everybody can walk away with something, but no one is getting exactly what they want. And I’m trying to get it all, because that’s how I did it when I was on the field.
Do you enjoy broadcasting, Michael, as much as when you were on the field yourself?
Irvin: I enjoy it immensely. You can never say you enjoy it as much as being on the field, especially with the type of things we shared on the field. The three of us won Super Bowls together. But I really do enjoy it.
How exactly do you let go, Emmitt?
Smith: You have to position yourself to be different than what you’ve been known for. Obviously I love my history—you can never erase what you’ve been able to do with your time—but you don’t want to keep bringing up your past. You want people to see that you have clearly defined where you want to go. And for me it’s been real estate; it’s been a small company that I’m going to run. I’d like that to be the image going forward versus wearing number 22.
Irvin: I see a lot of guys who come into broadcasting trying to build off what they did without putting in their work. You can only tell so many stories about what you did before I hear the stories that you told me the last time. Are you willing to say, “No matter how great it is, I got even greater in me”? That’s what [Emmitt] is saying: “I’m ready to move forward.” That’s why he’s so successful.
Troy, talk about your induction this year into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Aikman: It means a lot—there’s no question about it. When I got into the league, my goal was not to be a Hall of Fame player. It was to win a world championship. Fortunately we did it very early in my career and then did it a few more times. I was fortunate to play with a lot of great guys and make great relationships. But after a career of putting team accomplishments ahead of personal achievement, here I am, being given the highest individual honor a player could ever be given. Somewhere in there there’s a lesson.
Can you talk for a minute about where you think the Cowboys are today? It’s been lean times for us.
Smith: They made great acquisitions in this off-season. What concerns me the most is the offensive line. If the offensive line comes together, you can find out how good Julius Jones is going to be. I know that T.O. [Terrell Owens] is going to do his thing. I think the Cowboys have a significant opportunity to go deep into the playoffs. Whether or not they go as far as we did, I wish them all the luck in the world.
Irvin: Don’t ask me where I think they’re going. I’ve already got this thing visualized in my head: The Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl. I think T.O. will roll right along and make the difference. I make no bones about being a big Cowboys fan, and I will be one until the day I die.
Interview by BRIAN D. SWEANY
The Wisdom Of Dave Campbell
The state’s reigning football guru first published his must-read annual, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, 46 years ago.
When you think of how the game has changed over the years, what positive or not-so-positive things stand out to you?
One of the things that really comes to mind is the changes they’ve made in pass blocking. Now they can almost hold. In ’63, when Texas won the national title, the players had to keep their arms and hands to their chests.
People talk a lot about how commercial football has become.
The activity of the agents is a negative factor. I know the coaches think that things can be said anonymously on the Internet. They can keep a program in turmoil. You didn’t have that in the sixties and seventies. Probably had a lot of talk—you know, telephone calls—but I don’t think it was as widespread. And it didn’t have the impact it has now.
Certainly we’ve had cutbacks for the NCAA and in scholarship numbers. That’s had an effect in recruiting, because back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, big schools could take an unlimited number of players, and they could sign fifty or sixty. You would find them signing a good player—might not need him—to keep him away from another team.
And I really regret the breakup of the old Southwest Conference. It was really an all-in-the-family thing. I know those coaches could be bitter rivals, but at the Southwest Conference spring meeting, they would get together and have their golf tournaments and their card games. I miss that.
Where is high school football right now?
I don’t know that I’m a great fan of the divisions. I’d love to have a single champion. But I’ll be very quick to admit that in the playoff season, there’s a real interest that can’t be denied. It’s my impression that Texas high school football is just as big and strong as ever. Personally, I thought we had a little decline in interest when integration first started, but that’s well behind us now. Football is a great common denominator in this state.
Interview by BRIAN D. SWEANY
Jerome Bartlett, a.k.a. Boko the Bobcat, Texas State University’s mascot, was recently named 2006 USA National Mascot Champion.
Congratulations on your recent honor.
I didn’t do it alone. During all of my routines I do this gesture—it is basically my testimony. I get on one knee, I pound the ground, I pound my heart, and then I point up. This is basically glorifying God, saying, “Thank you for letting me do this. Thank you for giving me the skills.” Being a national champion is God opening another door for me to pursue the next level of mascoting.
What’s your mascoting strategy?
Going into Boko, I heard that the mascot doesn’t get much respect, that no one really knows Texas State has a mascot. I took everything to the next level with Boko. I was trying to think, “If I was a college student, what would I want to see my mascot do?” You know, college students are a tough crowd. A lot of college mascots do immature stuff to get appreciated. As a preacher’s son, I couldn’t really do that, because I don’t want my dad to frown upon it. Also, I’m very religious. I didn’t want to be one of those mascots that have to do potty humor all of the time. I wanted to do the showy performance stuff. That’s where the five-foot unicycle came in, the backflips off of the announcer tables, the walking on my paws, and the crowd surfing. Toward the end of the season, I crowd-surfed at least ten times during a game, because each section wanted a piece of Boko. All of the students saw Boko more often. Instead of saying, “Hey, Bobcat,” or “Hey, Garfield,” they said, “Hey, Boko.”
You get along with the players?
Every once in a while, a player will see the Boko bag and say, “Hey, man, you’re Boko? When I’m not playing, I’m watching you, dude.”
Interview by AMY HALLFORD
Animal Magnetism, Cont’d.
The five most popular mascots at the high school level:
1. Eagles (159 teams)
2. Bulldogs (97)
3. Tigers (78)
4. Lions (70)
5. Panthers (68)
– PATRICK FITZSIMONS
One Man, 45 Years, 750 Teams, 2000+ Games
So you think you’re a football fan. You’d skip a family funeral before you’d miss even one Friday night under the lights. On weekends you’re in the garage, spray painting your industrial-sized, coin-filled noisemaker. You stay up until the wee hours arguing your team’s merits with complete strangers on the Internet. Your school’s mascot is tattooed on your calf. But slavish enthusiasm merely makes you a fanatic, not a true believer; only the most devout can be called superfans. Consider the case of Bennie Cotton, a 74-year-old Orangefield resident who has traveled to more than 2,000 games to watch some 750 teams over the past 45 years. (That should quiet your cowbell.) Before every season, Cotton picks up a copy of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and the UIL schedule book and charts a season’s worth of weekend road trips. When September rolls around, he’s off, driving to games in Odessa and Junction, Beaumont and Anahuac, even as far as Lubbock. Hundreds of thousands of miles later, he has had his own exhibit at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, in Waco—a fitting tribute to the number one spectator in all of spectator sports.
– JORDAN BREAL
The Greatest Football Photograph Ever
It’s of a Texan: Marshall native Y. A. Tittle, with broken ribs and a bad concussion, kneeling in his own end zone after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown. His team, the New York Giants, lost the 1964 game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his long NFL career ended later that season. The photo says “agony of defeat” better than any skier falling down a mountain ever could.
– JOHN SPONG
Bar Stool Arguments
A guy walks into a bar. Maybe he intends to gripe about his ex-wife or his job, or maybe he just plans to pour quarters into the jukebox. But with the slightest provocation, his bar stool becomes a soapbox in the Great Football Debate—no context necessary. Not convinced? Visit a friendly tavern this evening and throw out the following:
1. Tom Landry vs. Jimmy Johnson
2. Roger Staubach vs. Troy Aikman
3. Tony Dorsett vs. Earl Campbell
4. 1969 Longhorns vs. 2005 Longhorns
5. Vince Young vs. NFL defenses
6. R. C. Slocum vs. Dennis Franchione
7. Ken Hall vs. Cedric Benson
8. Mack Brown in February vs. Mack Brown in December
9. Dwight Clark’s “the Catch” vs. Jackie Smith’s “the Drop”
10. Bud Adams vs. Jerry Jones
– JOHN SPONG
The Essentially Ridiculous but Somehow Still Heart-Stirring Rewarding of Well-Behaved ’boys
The seventeen inductees into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor have two things in common: All of them were good football players, and none of them sassed the general manager. So it was that Lee Roy Jordan’s name wasn’t added until 1989, a year after Tex Schramm stepped down as boss of the Cowboys. Jordan was never a Schramm admirer, and Schramm retaliated by keeping the five-time Pro Bowler out of the elite club. When Jerry Jones bought the team, he bowed to pressure and allowed Jordan to join the likes of Bob Lilly, Don Meredith, and Roger Staubach. History has not yet revealed which former Cowboy will be snubbed by Jones, but don’t look for Jimmy Johnson’s name in the near future.
– GARY CARTWRIGHT
The All-Time Texas Team
One state has been birthplace to more Pro Football Hall of Famers than Texas, and that’s Pennsylvania. But of their 26 enshrinees, 6 were quarterbacks and 3 were front-office guys. Texas’s 24 Hall of Famers played all over the field. If some Sunday afternoon the two states’ mythical all-time teams were to meet up on that great sandlot in the sky, we’d confidently put our money on the Texas gridders and spot the Yankees two touchdowns. Which is not to say that a player has to be a Hall of Famer to be on our all-time team. Shane Lechler and Dante Hall, for instance, are still active and not yet eligible for the hall. Others, like four-time Pro Bowler Riley Odoms, ought to be in the hall but aren’t. That’s Canton’s fault, not ours.
Finding players good enough for inclusion on the team was a snap. Figuring out who was sufficiently Texan was not. The committee—ten Texas football fans, ranging in age from 20 to 64—decided early on that a pro career played in Dallas or Houston was not, by itself, enough. The players whom the committee agreed upon were all born here and all played high school and college here, with two exceptions: Mel Renfro, who, though he did play high school and college ball in Oregon, was born in Houston and spent all fourteen years of his career—including five All-Pro seasons and ten straight Pro Bowls—with the Dallas Cowboys; and Ray Childress, who was born in Tennessee but played every down of high school, college, and pro football in Texas.
There were other concerns. Tim Brown was initially on our list as the second wide receiver behind Raymond Berry. But upon further review, the committee noted that although Brown was born in Dallas and played high school football at Dallas Wilson, he also consciously chose to play college ball at Notre Dame. That was a decision we could not abide. Thus his replacement with Don Maynard. And when safety Ken Houston’s name first came up, one irate committee member questioned the Lufkin native’s bona fides on similar grounds, saying, “I don’t care if he died at Goliad and used to be in ZZ Top; he was a Redskin, and a true All-Time Texas Team has to have a One Redskin Rule. Sammy Baugh is our one Redskin.” Note to said committee member and other like-minded fans: While there is no prejudice so justified as one born of the ’Pokes- ’Skins rivalry, the caliber of talent possessed by the likes of Houston, Darrell Green, and Mark Moseley trumps all other considerations.
– JOHN SPONG
QB: Sammy Baugh
RB: Earl Campbell
RB: Eric Dickerson
WR: Raymond Berry
WR: Don Maynard
TE: Riley Odoms
OL: Forrest Gregg
OL: Gene Upshaw
OL: Richmond Webb
OL: Jerry Sisemore
C: Clyde “Bulldog” Turner
DT: “Mean” Joe Greene
DT: Bob Lilly
DE: Ray Childress
DE: Harvey Martin
LB: Mike Singletary
LB: Tommy Nobis
LB: Eugene Lockhart
DB: Yale Lary
DB: Darrell Green
DB: Ken Houston
DB: Mel Renfro
P: Shane Lechler
K: Mark Moseley
KR: Dante Hall
The Six-Man Version of The Game
Ten Reasons We Love It:
1. Because from your “stadium” seat you’re more likely to look out upon cattle or cotton than a JumboTron.
2. Because “coach” also means “teacher,” “bus driver,” and “uniform launderer.”
3. Because even though there are only 31 students enrolled in a high school, somehow at least one fifth of them show up to play each week.
4. Because it’s an equal-opportunity game: Everybody’s allowed to carry the ball into the end zone, even those who weigh only 130 pounds.
5. Because the final score more often than not resembles that of a basketball game’s.
6. Because insiders prefer the term “coming in” to “dropping down” when speaking of a one-time eleven-man team that’s joined the six-man ranks.
7. Because sixmanfootball.com (“the Bible of six-man football in Texas”) reports some one million page views a month during the height of the season.
8. Because in 1938, the year the game was introduced in Texas, 55 schools suited up. A year later, 112 did.
9. Because Paint Creek and Cherokee are just as must-see as Southlake Carroll and Odessa Permian.
10. Because the six-man game guarantees that football in Texas will never die. We’ll always find a way to play.
– STACY HOLLISTER
Texas Tech Knows What To Do When It’s Third And Long
Head coach Mike Leach runs the “Y-Sail” play. The quarterback takes the snap in the shotgun formation, drops back three steps, and throws a long pass to the outside receiver; or, failing that, throws a 10-yard pass to the inside receiver, who has cut to the outside; or tosses the ball to the halfback, who makes a sharp cut to the middle of the field; or throws a long pass across the middle to the other outside receiver; or tosses a short pass to the other inside receiver.
– DAVID A. HERRON
We All Have A Part To Play
Ready for the Friday pep rally? Okay!
At this early hour, the brass section may not quite yet have their chops, but the percussion is on—and they will rock you.
Enthusiastic cheers, jumps, chants, and stunts.
Ushered in by solemn, game-faced coaches, players in jerseys and jeans do a strutting shuffle to their assigned seats. Awkward “last-year-they-got-the-best-of-us-but-tonight-we’re-really-gonna-show- ’em” speeches abound.
Cue faculty and spirit groups.
Skits: the cornier and more embarrassing the better.
Cue school song.
Cue “Sis Boom Bah!”
Victory assured. Back to class!
– DAVID COURTNEY
Oftentimes it’s a blessing; just as often it’s a curse. But it’s why we watch, and it’s why we’ll all be watching the UTEP Miners this season. After several sorry decades of football, the Miners hired a good coach (Mike Price), landed a QB with good genes (Jordan Palmer, brother to Carson, who has a Heisman in his trophy case and a fat NFL contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in his back pocket), and put up to two solid 8-4 seasons. For the most part—if you can ignore last year’s minor (no pun intended) late-season meltdown culminating in the GMAC Bowl blowout—the growing expectations have all been met. And they’ve grown even bigger for 2006: Nothing less than a Conference USA championship will do.
– STACY HOLLISTER
Every Underdog Has His Day
TCU fans, repeat after me: It’s not about the BCS. Sure, it would be fun to jam a stick in the system’s wheels and play in one of the big-boy bowls come January. But the season’s real coup won’t be played out on the national scene. No, the Horned Frogs are after a prize much more elusive than the crystal trophy: the distinction of being mentioned in the same breath as the state’s gridiron goliaths. With four 10-win seasons since 2000—including last year’s amazing 11-1 debut in the Mountain West—they have momentum for the first time since 1938, when “Slingshot Davey” O’Brien led his team to an undefeated season and a national championship. Lucky for them, a seventy-year drought is just the kind of underdog slump we love to get behind. Who cares if the Longhorns go all the way this year? Yawn. They did it last year. But if the less plausible Frogs can hop their way through non-conference rivals Baylor (not as easy as it may sound) and Texas Tech, success will be all the sweeter. Which players will blossom into outta-nowhere superstars? Which ones will wilt under pressure? Who, wah, wah, who. Give ’em hell, TCU.
– JORDAN BREAL
The Unknown Pioneer
Only forty years ago, if you were a black teenager, you couldn’t play football in the Southwest Conference. And then John Westbrook came along. Like Jackie Robinson, Westbrook didn’t set out to break a color barrier. The Groesbeck native, who was the salutatorian of his high school class, was accepted by lily-white Baylor in 1965 and, against all odds and common sense, went out for the freshman football team and got selected as a running back. It’s almost impossible to imagine the ugliness thrown Westbrook’s way by teammates and coaches, but he was good enough to get a scholarship and—again, like Robinson—forebearing enough to ignore the taunts. On September 10, 1966, in Waco, he got in the game against Syracuse, the first black to play in the SWC (Jerry LeVias, of SMU, who gets all the attention for being the first, actually hit the field a week later). Knee problems cut short his football career, but he earned his B.A. and M.A. in English. He preached, and he taught English, and in 1978 he ran in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Westbrook died five years later, his status as a pioneer rarely acknowledged. But the yardage gained by Vince Young in 2005 would have been impossible without the first steps of John Westbrook 39 years before.
– MICHAEL HALL
Never Having To Say We’re Sorry For…
1. Jackie Sherrill. So long as A&M beat Texas and made the Cotton Bowl each year, the Aggie faithful didn’t care if Coach Sherrill’s players made more money than the regents.
2. Barry Switzer. If you Google “Switzer,” “Cowboys,” and “carpetbagger,” your query will produce no relevant results. An NFL championship ring takes care of a lot.
3. Earl Campbell’s knees. If the Houston Oilers hadn’t run him into the ground, maybe the Tyler Rose’s glory years would have lasted past his first six seasons. But that was the only way the Oilers were going to get close to the Super Bowl, and Campbell’s first two years, 1978 and 1979, are still the closest they ever got.
4. Eric Dickerson’s SMU payola (and similar outlays to a great many others). During the early-eighties Pony Express period, SMU climbed higher in the national polls—number two in 1982—than at any time since the days of Doak Walker. That kind of success doesn’t come free. And besides two SWC championships, the era also produced one of the all-time-great sports/political quotes. When Governor Bill Clem-ents was asked why, as chairman of the SMU board, he had lied to investigators about payments to players, he snapped, “This wasn’t like an inaugural day. There wasn’t a Bible present.”
– JOHN SPONG
It’s Not Unusual For The TV To Cost More Than The Beer, The Cooler, The Grill, The Lawn Furniture, And The Tickets
Ah, the joys of tailgating.
– JOHN SPONG
Friday Night Lights Is a Franchise
Buzz Bissinger’s classic, first published in 1990, remains a one-of-a-kind sports book: a biting, fearless study not just of Odessa Permian High School’s football team but of a small town that pins its outsized hopes and dreams on the shoulders of its teenage athletes. Miraculously, it was turned into a just-as-terrific movie in 2004 by Bissinger’s cousin, director Peter Berg, who preserved the book’s tough-mindedness and tossed in a number of white-knuckled football sequences to boot. Now comes the TV version, beginning this month on NBC, which devotes a weekly episode to each of the team’s games. With its zigzagging camera and gifted ensemble cast, it’s a surprisingly accomplished show—and a reminder that what once seemed like a strange, borderline-pathological subculture reaches far into the American mainstream.
– CHRISTOPHER KELLY
Mecca For Recruiters
Held every year in San Antonio, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is the one sporting event that comes close to justifying the existence of the Alamodome. More than five hundred of the best high school players in the country participate: They’re timed in the 40-yard dash and the 20-yard shuttle and measured in the vertical leap and bench press. Coaches, scouts, and the like come here in search of the next phenom, the kid who’ll turn their program into a powerhouse. Here is where, a few years back, they first got a look at Vince Young and Reggie Bush. This year, the big catches were Jevan Snead, of Stephenville High, tapped by Texas as a quarterback of the future, and running back Stafon Johnson, of Dorsey High, in Los Angeles, slated to be a star at USC.
– PATRICK FITZSIMONS
James Street Still Can’t Eat In Public Without Someone Telling Him, “Great Game”
Small-town high school quarterbacks have always known that Saturday’s Hungr-Buster at the Dairy Queen will be paid for—or at least interrupted by a slap on the back and an attaboy—if they had a big night on Friday. Former Longhorn quarterback James Street has been living that dream in Austin for nearly forty years, ever since his fabled fourth-quarter pass on fourth-and-three set up number one Texas’s winning touchdown against number two Arkansas in the 1969 game that is still known simply as the Big Shootout. To this day, strangers regularly approach Street to talk about that play. “It happens all the time,” he says. “They used to want to know who made the call, Coach [Darrell] Royal or me. But now they want to tell me about that day, where they were when it happened. They’ll say, ‘I’ll never forget it. We were down on the hunting lease watching it on TV.’ The thing is, that memory endured over the years as the program missed chances at national championships, times where we’d get close but never quite get all the way there.” Vince Young changed that in January, but Street should not expect to be left alone.
– JOHN SPONG
Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas is the only public high school in the United States to produce two Heisman trophy winners. Davey O’Brien, class of ’35—a short, white quarterback—won the trophy in 1938, the year he led TCU to the national championship, and then spent two forgettable years in the pros. Tim Brown, class of ’84— a tall, black receiver— won it in 1987, at Notre Dame, and then played seventeen stunning years in the pros, making the Pro Bowl nine times. Two other U.S. high schools have been blessed with multiple future Heisman winners, but both were private schools: Fork Union Military Academy, in Fork Union, Virginia (Vinny Testaverde and Eddie George), and Mater Dei High School, in Santa Ana, California (John Huarte and Matt Leinart).
– MICHAEL HALL
There’s Always A New Crop Of Studs
Five high school seniors to keep an eye on:
1. Tray Allen, OL, South Grand Prairie
2. John Chiles, QB, Mansfield Summit
3. Richetti Jones, DE, Dallas Lincoln
4. Ryan Mallett, QB, Texarkana Texas High
5. Terrance Toliver, WR, Hempstead
– STACY HOLLISTER
The Real Action Is Off The Field
Play-by-play announcers and color commentators like to talk about “the game inside the game.” High school concession stands are home to the game outside the game. When we were fourth-graders, it was where we played two-below games with the miniature plastic footballs that cheerleaders threw into the stands at the start of the third quarter. If, later on, we didn’t make the high school team, it was where we bought bubblegum to mask the beer on our breath that we’d drunk in the parking lot at halftime. When we came home on weekends from college, it was where we chatted up girls who wouldn’t talk to us in high school, and once we started taking our own families to the games, it was where we found out whose business was succeeding and whose marriage was failing, all the while dodging those same miniature footballs thrown by a new generation of fourth-graders. And through it all, the only things that distinguish today’s concession stand from one of 75 years ago are microwave ovens and cheese in a jar.
– JOHN SPONG
Some Records Aren’t Made To Be Broken
Today, it seems, every season produces a player who’s hailed as the “greatest” this or the “best” that, but no one has come close to touching the numbers that Ken Hall put up more than fifty years ago as the single-wing quarterback at Sugar Land High School. He still holds multiple national records, including most rushing yards in a career (11,232), average rushing yards per game (337.1), yards per attempt (47.3), and average points per game (32.9). No, you didn’t misread those statistics; Hall, who is a retired owner of a barbecue joint and now lives in Fredericksburg, was that good. So when you hear kids say they want to be the next Vince Young, just nod and smile. If they really want to be great, tell them to be the next Ken Hall.
– BRIAN D. SWEANY