The Best of the Texas Century—Sports

Athletic Supporters of the Century

The mere thought of the Dallas Cowboys makes Texas bosoms swell with pride, but none swell quite so fetchingly as those of the team’s official pom-pom girls, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders . Since 1972, when the brunette and blonde bombshells exploded onto the field, the scantily clad squad has championed the champions with precisely choreographed half-time performances and sideline sex appeal. In the process the America’s Team girls became America’s dream girls, embodying two much-admired attributes of Texas womanhood: beauty and strength. Runner-up: the Kilgore Rangerettes, whose militarily crisp routines launched the whole state on a drill-team kick. Anne Dingus

Golfer of the Century

You could stand with your back to the practice range and tell just by the sound when Ben Hogan hit the ball. A short, compact man who weighed only 135 pounds, he had such great speed and strength in his legs and wrists that he was able to swing the club head through the ball impressively, almost like a whiplash. And he willed himself to perfection. “I don’t think anybody worked as hard at it as Hogan did,” Jack Nicklaus once said. He spent hour after hour practicing and would slam his club against the ground if he made the caddie shagging his balls move more than a step. He won 63 professional tournaments. He won the British Open, the Masters twice, the PGA twice, and the U.S. Open four times. In 1949 he was in a terrible automobile accident, and it seemed that he would never walk again. Instead he returned to dominate golf, even though he walked with a noticeable limp. In 1953 he won the British Open, the Masters, and the U.S. Open; he remains the only golfer to have won all three in the same year.

He was not an easy man to know, and few knew him. He was quiet and remote, and what little he did say was often sarcastic. Asked how to win the U.S. Open, he snapped, “Shoot the lowest score.” His childhood was tragic. At nine he was either in the same room or in the next room when his father, a blacksmith, committed suicide. He began caddying to earn money. Nothing came easy for him, not even golf. He played on the tour for seven years before he won his first tournament. Nevertheless, in Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf , without doubt the finest instructional book ever written, he said, “Up to a considerable point, as I see it, there’s nothing difficult about golf.” Only a legend, perhaps only a genius, could make a statement so filled with mystery, contradiction, and truth. Runner-up: Byron Nelson, Hogan’s friend and contemporary. Why is Hogan the best and not Nelson? “Ben’s a great friend of mine,” Nelson himself said, “and he, in my book, is the greatest golfer that ever lived.” Gregory Curtis

Quarterback of the Century

When a skinny young quarterback named Sammy Baugh arrived at the Washington Redskins training camp in 1937, fresh from a spectacular career as a two-time All-American at Texas Christian University, no one realized that he was about to revolutionize offensive football. “His special magic was the forward pass, as it had never been thrown before,” wrote Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich. Previously regarded as a third-down desperation play, the pass as practiced by Slingin’ Sammy took the Redskins to four NFL finals and two titles over the next seven years. A great athlete—his best sport may have been baseball—Baugh led the league in passing, punting, and interceptions in 1943 and ultimately collected more passing and punting records than any man who ever played the game. Runner-up: Don Meredith, all-state in basketball and football at Mount Vernon before becoming a two-time All-American at Southern Methodist University and a revered leader of the early Dallas Cowboys. Gary Cartwright

Coach of the Century

Eleven Southwest Conference championships for the Texas Longhorns in twenty years from 1957 through 1976. Three national championships. A thirty-game winning streak. The numbers only begin to describe the kind of football coach Darrell Royal was. He exuded self-assuredness, success, and class, thereby personifying the image so dearly sought by the University of Texas. He could have passed for a governor, a banker, or a professor of philosophy. He had a folksy way of saying things—“When you pass, three things can happen, and two of them are bad” and “Dance with the one who brung you”—that made talking about football seem like talking about life. His teams played an uncompromising style of grind-it-out football that reduced the game to its essential elements of discipline, confidence, will, and raw physical power, and yet the 1963 Longhorns won a national championship by outpassing Roger Staubach. Halfway through his career, he suffered through three mediocre seasons, and there was talk that the game had passed him by. He responded by unveiling the wishbone offense, the most explosive running attack ever devised, and won six conference titles in a row. When he retired, in 1977, the players he left behind went undefeated in the regular season. Runner-up: Gordon Wood, Texas’ most successful high school coach ever, with 405 victories and seven state championships at Brownwood High School. Paul Burka

Pitcher of the Century

He hoped to be a veterinarian but instead gave professional baseball a shot. The former Alvin High School pitcher never won a Cy Young award, saw fewer than three innings of World Series play, and lost nearly as many games as he won. Yet 27 seasons, seven no-hitters, and 5,714 strikeouts later, he would retire as the greatest power pitcher the game has ever known and the only Hall of Famer to be claimed by both Texas franchises. Nolan Ryan stayed true to his roots; he once opted for a pickup truck from his team in lieu of a Cadillac. On the mound, though, he was a fierce competitor, pitching for all or nothing; among his fifty-plus major league records are those for walks and wild

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