AS SURE AS A SUMMER HEAT WAVE, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine is a seasonal ritual. The only publication exclusively devoted to covering every high school, college, and professional football team in the state, it provides more than 100,000 Texans with their first whiff of the coming season—and it has a fanatical following. How fanatical? Every year, on the third Saturday in June, several hundred readers drive to Waco to be among the first to get their issue when it goes on sale early at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
A spry 72-year-old who spent forty years as the sports editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, Campbell created Texas Football in 1960 after perusing several editions of football preview magazines. “That year they all did a really poor job of covering the Southwest Conference,” he says. “One of them, Stan Woodward’s Football, left out my alma mater, Baylor. My premise was, if you covered the Southwest Conference in depth and put in the high schools, it’d go.” And go it did, big time—even though the sport has since grown and fragmented. “When we started,” Campbell recalls, “it was like Jones Ramsey, the University of Texas publicist, used to say: ‘There are only two sports in Texas: football and spring football.’ It’s not that way anymore, but football in Texas is still football in Texas, like nowhere else in the world.”
Such passion, however, translates into a surprising amount of nit-picking from all sorts of fans. In 1985, after Campbell sold the magazine to a publisher based in Kentucky and its offices moved there, loyal readers fretted that Texas Football’s distinctive regional flavor would be lost—even though Campbell stayed on as editor in chief. (Last year the magazine wisely relocated to Dallas.) And Campbell himself has been slammed for supposed bias. “I’ve been accused of being a graduate of every college in the Southwest Conference,” he says with a smile. “It happens every year.”
But just as some things stay the same, others change. These days Campbell has a collaborator in 32-year-old David Stephenson, who serves as president and publisher. Subscribers can now receive weekly news updates by fax or e-mail, and there is a Texas Football Internet site (www.usasports.com). The tried-and-true formula of accentuating the positive has been tempered by a slightly tougher editorial slant, including recent well-placed criticism of the University Interscholastic League’s decision to split high school divisions for 4A and 5A schools. And while no black player was depicted anywhere in the first issue, this year’s cover boys are UT quarterback James Brown and running back Ricky Williams, both of whom are black (Williams is sporting his trademark dreadlocks, though his nose ring has been airbrushed out).
Does the selection of Brown and Williams mean Campbell thinks the Longhorns will prevail in the southern division of the Big 12 Conference? “They have a pretty pat hand,” he says. Just don’t hold him to his word. “One thing experience has taught me,” he adds, “is there’s no sure thing in football.” Well, there’s one sure thing: Dave Campbell’s Texas Football knows Texas football like nobody else.