A big ol' country boy with a big ol' country pass

TCU's Sonny Gibbs laughs and talks as tall as he walks. He is also a prime candidate for All-America selection—even if his press agent does say so
October 14, 1962

Guy (Sonny) Gibbs (see cover), who plays quarterback for Texas Christian University, is—at 6 feet 7 inches tall and 230 pounds—a man of considerable dimensions. He can fall down and make yardage, provided his direction is good. He can throw a football 70 yards, but needn't because he can convey it across the line simply by reaching, as one relay? the potatoes at suppertime. He has a 37-inch sleeve, up which he has nothing, being a guileless, unreserved Texan. He wears a size 74 hat on an unturned head. No matter how much publicity he gets, he still says "Yes, sir" and "Thank you kindly." He has a 100-pound dog called Pepper, a 10-year-old car called Old Yaller and a 5-foot-5-inch blonde he calls, at opportune times, "Y'ole Houn' " but whose real name is Sandra Rea. He keeps a picture of Pepper in his wallet and is quick to show it off. But it is Sandra who will have the ultimate edge. She will marry Sonny in June.

Sonny Gibbs is a country boy with a country boy's appreciation of his size ("Ah'd rather be tall than a squatty body") who is at once the most unlikely and yet one of the more legitimate All-America candidates this year. For many who have carefully—and ofttimes painfully—followed his career at TCU, Gibbs is mostly a by-product of the inventive mind of Jim Brock, the school's football propagandist. After listening to the passionate Brock, and before seeing Gibbs play, a sportswriter was moved to report that Gibbs was faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive and capable of leaping tall buildings at a single bound. Even Brock blanched.

Still, Brock's brainwashing of the press has taken effect. A Gibbs sneeze is tantamount to an epidemic at TCU. His mercurial highs (e.g., the 50-yard touchdown pass that upset top-ranked Texas, 6-0, in 1961) and abysmal lows (e.g., last week's 42-14 loss to powerful Arkansas, when his receivers repeatedly dropped passes and Gibbs ended with 9 for 22) have been the source of constant analysis. "He's great. Any pro club would like to have him," says Don Klosterman of the Dallas Texans, who want him. "I'm not impressed with Gibbs; he has size but not savvy, he's not a great runner, a great passer or a great play-caller," says John Breen of the Houston Oilers, who don't.

Gibbs has been on the spot almost from the moment of his high school graduation in Graham, Texas, a quiet little oil town (pop. 8,500) 90 miles from Fort Worth where Guy Gibbs Sr. runs a welding business and is known around town as a tough-minded, personable man. Scouts from 32 colleges visited the Gibbses' two-bedroom frame house at the foot of First Street. At one point in negotiations Mrs. Gibbs, a handsome woman who naturally dotes over her only child, was reported to have said: "Sonny's ready for the pros right now." This now is contravened by Gibbs. "Mom never said that. Ah'd swear on a stack of Woody Woodpecker books."

Gibbs chose TCU and was a starter from the first game of his sophomore season. Predictably, he could not equal his publicity. "How could he?" says Othol (Honest Abe) Martin, the TCU head coach. "I've never seen a boy with more pressure on him than Sonny. Renown was just thrust on him. It's better to earn it." Martin says he now feels Gibbs is ready to earn fame, but he and his assistants still talk of Gibbs cautiously, as though he were going to happen tomorrow, if the temperature is right and the sky doesn't fall. They are reluctant to compare him with the two other widely publicized TCU quarterbacks of the past, Davey O'Brien and Sammy Baugh. At a recent meeting of the Frog Club in downtown Fort Worth, Assistant Fred Taylor got up to say that Miami's George Mira (whom Gibbs and TCU were to face that week) was the finest quarterback he'd seen in 10 years. "Oh, my," said Brock, holding his head. "Fred's sinking my ship."

TCU has not been a winner in Gibbs' two years at quarterback (combined record: 7 wins, 9 losses, 4 ties). There is strong suspicion, however, that this is mostly the fault of a poor supporting cast and that when Gibbs had his best days they were truly superperformances. In the 7-7 upset tie with Ohio State last fall, Gibbs completed seven of 12 passes for 136 yards and the touchdown. Two weeks later his passes were like grape-shot; he completed only three of 10 for 23 yards, had two intercepted and TCU was beaten by lowly Texas Tech, 10-0. Martin, as a result, has learned to steel himself to disappointments.

The reaction of Gibbs to the adulation of Gibbs has been curious to see. He is able to affect a splendid disinterest, as though the things that matter most to him really don't matter at all. On the day that Martin went to Graham to sign him, taking along a newspaper photographer to record the big event, Gibbs chose to play tennis. "I was walkin' home when this kid challenged me to a match," Gibbs said. "Reckon I couldn't turn him down. He was on the school team. So I took off my shoes and we went at it and I plum forgot the signing." Martin said it was all right because he was more concerned with a big police dog that wouldn't let him on the porch. "Heh, heh, heh," chortled Gibbs as he recalled the incident the other day. "OF Pepper really scared 'em. Aw, she wouldn't hurt anyone. Of course, at night if she didn't know ya she might chew on ya a little bit. Heh, heh. You betchy."

Gibbs flunked out of school his freshman year when studies began to interfere with his hunting trips and his weekend visits home. "Didn'tcha ever get homesick?" he explains blandly. "When I told Mom I'd flunked, though, she folded up like a suitcase. Boy, I felt low-down." When Martin consented to take him back, the Gibbses were elated. "Hails bells," drawled the coach, who understands country boys. "Sonny and I are neighbors. I'm from Jacksboro, 22 miles from Graham. His Daddy and I played football against one another."

For the next two years Gibbs led the conference in smashing his helmet to the ground and berating himself and his team. "I hate to lose. I hate it worse'n anything," he said. Often he was contrite—"my temper's not worth that 15 yards," he told Martin when a penalty followed one tantrum—and this was an encouraging sign. So Brock and Martin braced him last spring with a proposition: they were going to push him all-out for All-America, because they thought him worthy, but it was up to him to be worthy. "It's the first time we ever told a player in advance," said Brock.

The publicity bewildered Gibbs. "It sure seems strange seeing yourself all over the newsstands," he said. One particularly crowded day in Brock's office, Gibbs scribbled him a note: "All this publicity is bunk." Brock dressed him down. "Sometimes," said Brock wearily, "that boy wears me out."

Sonny Gibbs is a onetime Boy Scout who saves Indian arrowheads, shoots golf in the 70s, hunts and fishes and can water ski 80 yards on his bare size 13s. "Sandra Rea is the best I ever saw on a slalom," he says proudly. "She goes out of her mind on those skis, you betchy! Boy, what a woman. My parents love her to death."

Gibbs, sometimes called "Grubbs," is easily liked. He is droll without being cocky. He is pleasantly countrified. He can't understand anybody who never heard of Possum Kingdom Lake, where he fishes. He can't understand waitresses who can't understand him. "You thick?" he asks pleasantly. He orders "a buncha" butter. He filches the spare-ribs off Sandra's plate. He makes her blush with kindly references to her slightly bowed legs. "Oh, Sonny," says Sandra indulgently, "hush and tell the man how you saved those two kids from drowning last summer." "Aw, ah was just sittin' up there being a lifeguard," says Sonny, "when I saw these two kids in trouble. A boy and his sister. Man, the horrible expression on those faces. I dove right in and went for the girl and she shouted, "Not me, ya dummy—him!' That's the kinda hero I am."

Gibbs' roommate is the smallest man on the TCU team, 5-foot-9, 155-pound Jerry Jack Terrell, the safety man.

He is genuinely proud of Gibbs' emergence as a responsible, respected TCU team captain. "We were a pretty happy bunch last year, carousing around and all. Before the Tech game we were up half the night—playing poker. Sonny too. But this fall, after we elected him captain, he called us all together and read the riot act: 'No drinking, no smoking, no staying out late. And the first guy I catch is off the team.' He surprised a lot of us, but he meant it."

"I don't rightly know what I'd do if I caught anybody," says Gibbs, grinning. "Jerry Jack's the fighter. Ah'm more a lover type."

Gibbs is a natural athlete, smooth and effortless. He is not fast, nor elusive, but his long stride covers much ground and he hits with great impact. On a team which will pass only in extreme crises, he has had remarkable success: 71 completions for 999 yards in 1961, No. 1 in the Southwest Conference in total offense with 1,198 yards. He throws hard, too hard for lesser receivers, and is stunningly accurate on long passes. Gibbs is not quick getting the ball away, however, and is too slow to be consistently effective on rollouts. But his major flaw would seem to be his reluctance to use himself. He never called a play in high school—the coach did it for him—and he found it "a scary thing" as a TCU sophomore. Now he says he "likes it," but in the season's opener with Kansas he still passed only eight times, completing four as TCU, an improved team over 1961, made an early lead stand, 6-3.

The pairing of Gibbs and Miami's Mira was a natural: Gibbs—deliberate, resourceful; Mira, at 5 feet 11, flashy, quick and exciting. Mira throws right-handed or left-handed. Against Florida last fall, he grappled with a charging lineman with his right arm (his throwing arm), switched the ball to his left and spiraled a seven-yard touchdown pass. He passed for 1,000 yards in 1961.

Mira comes from Key West, a dark-skinned Spanish boy who, unlike Gibbs, is outwardly nervous—he makes a meal of his fingernails—and a practicing hypochondriac, always rooting around the training room for pills and advice. But for all his protestations Mira is durable and tough and most dangerous when under heavy pressure. He runs like a halfback and, if anything, throws harder than Gibbs. His accuracy is uncanny. He was offered $20,000 by the Baltimore Orioles off his high school pitching record (31 wins, 2 losses) but chucked it for an education. "The only way to stop Mira," said a Kentucky scout, "is to tackle him before he gets the ball."

Mira and Miami beat Gibbs and TCU 21-20. Mira threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third, and when one of his passes was blocked he caught it himself and made yardage. Even so, Gibbs was splendid in defeat—he threw a touchdown pass in the final minute that almost pulled another upset. When it was over the two quarterbacks could be seen pushing through the crowd at mid-field to talk. "Ah always wanted to meet you, George," said Gibbs worshipfully. Later he said, "Mira's the greatest college quarterback I've ever seen." Brock would have brained him.

PHOTORELAXED AND EASY at chalk talk, 6-foot-7 Sonny Gibbs (center) laughs with assistant coach and teammate during replay of past game. PHOTOMIAMI ACE George Mira won duel with Gibbs, passed for 1,000 yards last season. PHOTOTERRY BAKER PHOTOBILLY LOTHRIDGE PHOTOMATT SZYKOWNY PHOTODICK SHINER

FOUR OTHER TOP QUARTERBACKS

There are, of course, other outstanding college quarterbacks. Some of them are fortunate enough to play with strong teams, while others, like Sonny Gibbs, must labor with losers. Here are four of the best. Saturday two of them won, two lost, but all showed why they deserve All-America consideration.

TERRY BAKER, OREGON STATE: There is very little that Terry Baker (SI, Oct. 16, 1961) does not do well. At Oregon State he plays football, basketball and baseball, and takes a tough mechanical engineering course.

"I think you get the best education by taking courses that are hard," he says. "If you get used to working hard, you find you do your best work. That's one reason I take part in as many sports as possible."

The coaches of Oregon State's various teams have been competing vigorously for Baker's time for three years, but Baker has given his best to football. In his sophomore year he was third in the nation in total offense. Last year he was 11th. He is off to a fine start this year, helped by last week's one-man show in which he gained 217 yards and scored two touchdowns in leading State to a 27-0 upset of Stanford. As he says, he likes to keep busy.

BILLY LOTHRIDGE, GEORGIA TECH: Bobby Dodd, Tech's coach, was talking about his junior quarterback, Billy Lothridge, recently: "He looks awful in practice," Dodd said. "Sometimes he scares you. But when Saturday comes he's a ballplayer, and that's the only day we play, Saturday."

Lothridge is a Georgia boy, 6 feet 1 and 184 pounds. His favorite receiver is his high school chum, Billy Martin, a 6-foot-4 end, and around Tech the two of them are called "Mr. Cool and the Jolly Giant." Lothridge throws a soft, delicate pass, like a man shooting darts. Such passes, with Martin on the catching end, scored touchdowns that led to Tech victories in its first two games this season, but last week LSU managed to bottle up the Lothridge-to-Martin combination for all but a few minutes of the afternoon and thus defeat Tech 10-7.

Lothridge is one of the best punters in the country, and seems likely to make the pros on that talent alone. He also runs, kicks field goals and extra points. Says Coach Dodd: "If Billy ever got hurt it would take a platoon of folks to replace him."

MATT SZYKOWNY, IOWA: When Iowa's Wilburn Hollis was injured against Southern California last year, Matt Szykowny (pronounced So-conee) took his place and led the Hawkeyes to two straight victories, one of them a 47—15 rout of Wisconsin in which Szykowny completed 14 of 17 passes for three touchdowns. This year Szykowny outpassed Oregon State's Terry Baker to win Iowa's opener 28—8. Then last week against Southern California, Szykowny, like Hollis the year before, was injured early in the game. Without him Iowa could not move the ball and lost 7—0.

Szykowny is a methodical, calculating man. A local sports announcer invited him to appear on his program and asked: "Matt, as one of the outstanding quarterbacks in the nation, what do you think your chances are this year?"

Szykowny eyed the announcer coolly and then replied: "Of what?"

DICK SHINER, MARYLAND: On his first play as a sophomore last year, Dick Shiner threw a 46-yard pass to help Maryland beat SMU 14-6. Shiner finished the season with 921 yards gained, one of the best records in the nation. This year, after three games, all of which Maryland has won, Shiner is leading all quarterbacks in yards gained passing. Says Coach Tom Nugent: "He's the best passer I've seen in 21 years of coaching."

Shiner is 20 years old, 6 feet tall and weighs 195 pounds. He comes from Lebanon, Pa. and is majoring in marketing. He resembles Mickey Mantle, and is regarded with similar awe on the Maryland campus. Coaches respect his willingness to accept orders from the bench. "If I told him to take three steps back and fall down, he'd do it," says Nugent. Shiner throws both short and long passes effectively. If he has a fault, it is that he throws the ball so hard—he is nicknamed "the rifleman"—that receivers sometimes drop sure completions. One Shiner pass split the palm of an end's hand and put him out for weeks. But with Maryland winning as it is, and Shiner completing a majority of his passes, his coaches wouldn't dream of changing his style, even if he used up a dozen ends.

There also are a couple of sophomore quarterbacks who have already kicked up their heels in this young season. Alabama, one of this year's top teams, is run by Joe Namath, age 19. And Tom Myers of Northwestern completed 20 of 24 passes in his first game to tie a record held by Otto Graham. You can't do much better than that.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)