It was a thoroughly undisciplined decade, one that gave the Southwest Conference its lasting reputation as the most free-wheeling, upset-crazed sector of the land. Men like Slingin' Sam Baugh, Dwight (Paddlefoot) Sloan and Slingshot Davey O'Brien often threw the ball as many as 30 or 40 times in a single game. And from the same curious formations—spread, short punt, double wing—runners like Jarrin' John Kimbrough, Bohn Hilliard, Wee Bobby Wilson and Jimmy Lawrence bounded goalward in their leather headgear and canvas pants with the help of shovel passes, wide laterals and flicker handoffs. The big heroes in the 1930s were those who threw and caught and ran, but there was one complete football player among them who was so proficient at the basic skills—blocking and tackling—that he, too, became a legend with the rest. At the University of Texas, the biggest and winningest school in the Southwest, and sure to be powerful again in 1965, the name of Harrison Stafford, a rough-hewn halfback of 1930-31-32, is spoken with a reverence exclusively reserved for true Saturday immortals like—well, like Tommy Nobis, Texas' modern legend. Put it this way: Stafford was so aggressive, he could have played today for Darrell Royal.
Even now, 33 years later, when passionate followers of the game talk about "the block," every Texan knows which one. It was the flying, side-body downfield block that Stafford threw on TCU's All-America Guard Johnny Vaught in 1932 in the big game of that season. TCU, with six of seven All-Conference linemen—led by Vaught—was meeting Texas—with three of four All-Conference backfield men—for the title. The game was advertised appropriately as the battle of the line against the backfield. Texas had, aside from Harrison Stafford, a bruising tailback named Ernie Koy, the father of last year's Longhorn star, and one of the Southwest's all-time scatbacks, Bohn Hilliard. Although Texas was favored (the Longhorns had lost only once to the Frogs in 12 years), TCU won 14-0. Stafford, however, proved a classic competitor in defeat. Catching Koy's passes, blocking and defending, he was everywhere. And then there was the block that oldtimers insist they can still hear.
It happened on a punt. TCU Quarterback Buster Brannon boomed a high one that Hilliard fielded. Vaught, as always, was the first man downfield, hopeful of crushing the Texas runner. Stafford's job was to take care of Vaught. He did. He came racing left to right across field, bearing down from the blind side on Vaught, who was running just as fast. All 32,000 spectators could see that a mighty collision would occur. Just as Vaught got within a few steps of Hilliard, Stafford hurled himself headlong into him, waist high, and the momentum of the crash carried both men three yards through the air—a flight ending in an awesome clump. Stafford got up like a punch-drunk fighter, but Vaught lay in a dazed heap.
September 19, 1965
"The legend grew that Vaught was knocked completely out," says Stafford, today a successful rancher, rice-grower and vice-president of a bank in Edna, Texas, "but the fact was that both of us were pretty shaken up." It was the closest Stafford ever came to injury. For three years of All-Conference performing, which in itself was unusual because he was almost strictly a blocker and defender, Stafford was never hurt, even though he was long and rangy and played at 175.
"I've never seen a defensive back or blocker who could compare with him," says Texas Track Coach Clyde Littlefield, who was then the football coach. "In the open field, against the fanciest runner, he never missed. And he blocked because he wanted to win. We used to try to let him run the ball, but the plays didn't gain much, because he wasn't there to clear the way for himself. We never even used anyone to double-team with him. It wasn't necessary. He loved to hit."
This combative spirit has been rightfully inherited by Tommy Nobis, the brilliant linebacker, the most nearly ideal player Texas has produced since Stafford. Nobis is 6 feet 2, 230 pounds, freckled, has a size-19 neck, and is suicidally dedicated to winning. Already he has been voted the best linebacker in the Southwest in 20 years by 25 of the leading sportswriters in Texas.
Nobis, as a sophomore, was more responsible than anyone else for burying Navy's Roger Staubach in the Cotton Bowl game, a performance that prompted Army Coach Paul Dietzel to call him "the best linebacker I've ever seen in college football." Nobis made more than 20 individual tackles each against Army, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Rice and SMU last year as an All-America junior and wound up the season by making four consecutive stops on his own goal line against Alabama, protecting the 21-17 Orange Bowl upset.
For two seasons Nobis has played both ways and has been one of the reasons Texas' running game has continued to flourish. Even now that platoons are a necessity, Royal will use the San Antonio senior 30% on offense. "All I know is, I don't want him sitting by me on the bench too much," Royal says. "He's the best I've ever had. He's always there, or on his way. In ability and attitude, I consider him the best all-round football player in the country."
Nobis' attitude can be summed up in one of his own statements. Talking about Texas' only loss last season, 14-13 to Arkansas—and the only loss of his career—Tommy says, "I think a little bit about Arkansas every day."
So does Darrell Royal. Though unaccustomed to losing games (TEXAS is 40-3-1 over the past four seasons), Royal knows that, were it not for two one-point losses to the Razorbacks, he would have had seven conference championships in the last eight years, and two national titles, for Texas would have successfully defended its No. 1 rating a year ago. Defeat came in the last minute and a half when Royal gambled everything—the conference title, the national crown, a 15-game winning streak—on a two-point conversion play, and failed.
Instead of ramming the ball at or around Arkansas, something Texas does best, Royal ordered a flat pass from Quarterback Marvin Kristynik to a tiny tailback named Hix Green. Green had entered the game for Ernie Koy, and Frank Broyles, the Arkansas coach, knew he could be there for only one reason: to catch. Arkansas poured through on Kristynik, a debatable thrower at best, and swarmed Green in the flat. The pass fell two feet shy of the receiver's hands.
Royal had no criticism of Kristynik, however, for it was the 5-foot-10, 170-pound signal-caller who drove Texas to the touchdown that made the two-point attempt possible. And Kristynik is back again, now a senior. Like all previous Texas quarterbacks under Royal, Marvelous Marv can do nothing exceptionally well, except win. He runs the keeper, fakes, and stays out of trouble. "He's confident, and he moves our offense," says Royal. "Our coaches joke that we haven't had a good quarterback—by other people's standards—in so long they wouldn't recognize one if they saw him. But give me the guy with his jaw stuck out and his sleeves rolled up who swaggers back to the huddle. He's the guy who can do the job."
If Kristynik cannot move Texas swiftly enough by October, when the Longhorns must meet Oklahoma and Arkansas back to back, then perhaps Greg Lott can. Lott is a sophomore, but he is the most impressive quarterback Texas has recruited in many years. He is 6 feet, weighs 174 pounds, is a fine passer and, for whatever it is worth, is the godson of Bobby Layne, Texas' last quarterback of stature.
Everything else, Texas has. There are more good runners than ever, with Phil Harris moved from two years at wingback to running back. "I like Phil," says Royal. "He's a guy who can make you four yards on third and four." Tom Stockton should be the Southwest's best fullback, and for speed there are junior Jimmy Helms and sophomores Linus Baer and Robert Leach.
The line has more than Nobis—more pro prospects than Royal has been used to, in fact. Defensive End Pete Lammons, 6 feet 1 and 215 pounds, is a legitimate All-America candidate, and so is Tackle Diron Talbert. Royal insists that Frank Bedrick, teamed with Nobis, gives him the best pair of guards in the country.
A lot of sophomores will play for Texas, but they always do, and they are always good. Texas will platoon, like everyone else, but not exclusively, and it will throw more, or try to, with Kristynik's pumpkin ball or Lott's spirals.
Arkansas' season, like Texas', depends on what happens in Fayetteville the afternoon of October 16 when the giants meet before national television cameras. They have played some unbearable thrillers in the last few years, with Broyles winning by 24-23 and 14-13, and Royal, his off-season golfing pal, winning by such equally theatrical scores as 13-12, 7-3 and 17-13.
"If we can't find a passer, we don't have a chance," says Broyles. "Nobody, nobody, runs on Texas. We won last year with a punt return and a long pass. We don't expect to get the return again. We must throw, so our job is to find an arm early in the season."
Arkansas' opponents are quick to point out that Frank must be kidding: he has Jon Brittenum, who was held out a year ago after playing as a sophomore. Brittenum is agile and a fine thrower. If he lacks anything, it is inspiration. But with the job his, that may come.
Inspiration can also come from the abundance of speed in Arkansas' backfield. Tailback Jim Lindsey, hero of the Cotton Bowl victory over Nebraska, ran a 10.1 dash last spring, Wingback Bobby Burnett is an authentic 9.8 man, and Harry Jones has clocked a 9.7. Jones is the junior who will push Brittenum at quarterback, and his sprint-outs will be exactly that.
The Porkers will again platoon and mix the I formation with the wing T. Frank Broyles was one of the first coaches to discover—just a year ago—that platoons would work. "I'll bet we were first," says he. "We switched the third day of spring training."
The real worry is on defense where eight starters are gone, but both tackles—Loyd Phillips and Jim Williams—return, and most pro scouts consider them the finest pair anywhere. Which team is better, Texas or Arkansas, probably will be decided by a point and by who catches the passes.
There is no question which team will throw the passes among the other SWC schools. It is BAYLOR, led by Terry Southall, the latest in the long list of superb throwers manufactured by Coach John Bridgers. Last year Southall had the best sophomore passing season in Southwest history, completing 118 for 1,693 yards. It was the third best ever recorded by anybody in the league. Said Terry, "I never had so much fun."
Now he's a junior and should be even more poised, but Larry Elkins is gone, and Bridgers must worry if the receiving will be as good. Eventually, yes. Split End Harlan Lane, a senior, is back. And the spring produced sophomore Flanker George Cheshire as a Tommy McDonald type and possibly the new Elkins. Sophomores must also provide the running, but Halfback Billy Hayes (6 feet 2, 200 pounds) and Fullback Charles Wilson (6 feet 4, 203 pounds) are no ordinary sophomores. Baylor will be fun to watch, as always, and if the Bears can have fun on defense, they will be the team most likely to succeed should flood or famine overtake Texas and Arkansas.
The team next most likely is TEXAS TECH because Donny Anderson is still around, can still run, catch and kick, and is struggling hard to adopt a good attitude. Tech slyly made him captain, which should help his confessed laziness. Recently, Donny made a speech about it. "I'm going to try my darndest to put out in practice," he said. "I understand that if some other guys see me loafing, they'll loaf too. I don't know if I can do it. I've always dedicated myself to going all out in a game, because there's something about putting on a red jersey and those striped pants that charges me up. I just can't get the same feeling from that crummy white practice gear."
Anderson, who is 6 feet 3, 210 pounds, and fast, was charged up enough last year to gain 966 yards, make All-America and put Tech in the Sun Bowl with a 6-3-1 record. Most of his accomplices are back, including Quarterback Tom Wilson, and overall Tech is bigger, deeper, wiser.
TCU has now gone five straight years without either a Nobis, an Anderson, a championship or a bowl team, and that is a record. The Frogs figure to make it six this time with half a squad of sophomores and half a squad of fairly unglamorous juniors and seniors. It is the lowest ebb in the school's athletic history, but Coach Abe Martin clings to his optimism. "I don't know why I think we'll do all right," he says. "Just ignorant, I guess." What he truly believes is that these sophomores, the first good crop in a long time—Quarterback P. D. Shabay, Linebacker Rocky Goodman, Center E. A. Gresham, Running Back Steve Landon—will, as he says, "win the sucker next year." Meanwhile, Shabay, a tough, dedicated 6-foot-2 206-pounder, will get experience, along with the rest, at running and trying to find Split End Sonny Campbell ("Best I've ever had," says Abe) with some passes.
The deterioration at SMU has been something of a mystery. Since 1962 dozens of highly prized athletes have arrived on campus in Dallas, but few of them have fulfilled their promise. There have been dropouts, fiunkouts, injuries and steady miseries, but Coach Hayden Fry thinks things are looking up. Quarterback Mac White is back, so is 9.3 Halfback John Roderick, who beat Navy in 1963. And sophomore Jim Hagle, who is 6 feet 2, 195 pounds, fast and punts 40 yards every time, is being called the nearest thing to Kyle Rote the Mustangs have had. Fry has also hired Chuck Curtis, Texas' most successful high school coach (three straight state championships) as an assistant. As Texas Tech Coach J. T. King says, "I know they were 1-9 last year, but you can't look at that personnel and believe they can do anything but be better." All they have to do is stay healthy and in school.
Texas A&M is still looking for another Bear Bryant, and Gene Stallings is the third man to try to fit that difficult mold. He may be close. At least he played for Bryant at A&M (in 1956, on the only championship team that the Aggies have had in 25 years) and coached for Bryant at Alabama, and has five photographs of Bryant on his office wall and a fat log book of everything Bryant has said during the last 12 years.
The big difference between Bryant and Stallings, however, is that this year Stallings does not have many football players. There is a fine linebacker, Joe Wellborn, and a red-shirt sophomore quarterback, Harry Led-better, but the general standard is low. Thus Stallings is starting out, as Bryant had to 11 years ago at A&M, by building a defense and a kicking game. He does have an end named Dude (McLean) and a fullback named Bubber (Collins), and no team with names like that can be all bad, or, as Bear would say, "Scared to butt you."
The only reason A&M rates ahead of RICE is because Jess Neely has no pictures of Bryant on his wall. The Owls have the best center in the league in Craig Christopher and two solid tackles in seniors Jim Vining and Harlon Dearing. Fullback Gene Walker and Halfback Chuck Latourette are reckless runners. But that's about it.
Independent HOUSTON should be better than half the teams in the Southwest Conference—maybe more. Coach Bill Yeoman has nine offensive starters back and 22 lettermen and, most important of all, sophomore Warren McVea (see box). The biggest problem is the schedule: Ole Miss, Miami, Florida State, Kentucky, Tennessee, among others. McVea will have to run awfully fast. TEXAS WESTERN hopes that some of the Dobbs family talent will rub off. The Miners have hired Bobby Dobbs, older brother of Glenn, who brought Tulsa back to prominence last season, as the new head coach. Dobbs instantly installed a pro-type offense, similar to Tulsa's, but, so far, he is without the kind of passer who makes that sort of machine work. If one develops, he will have more than adequate running help from Mark Yarbrough, 205 pounds and a 9.7 average last season, Walter Johnson, 200 pounds, and Dick Weeks, 217 pounds.
Out in the no man's land of the Lone Star, there is WEST TEXAS STATE. Coach Joe Kerbel's Buffaloes have experience and some transfers, but the accent will be on defense, where most of the team's strength is centered. Ted Wheeler and Dave Szymakowski are good receivers for anyone who can get the ball to them. NORTH TEXAS STATE, although it is located in the heart of the SWC, plays in the Missouri Valley Conference. Coach Odus Mitchell's hopes to better last year's 2-7-1 depend upon sophomore Quarterback Corkey Boland and two ex-junior-college backs—John Love and Tony Reese.
LOOK OUT, MAN, HE WENT THATAWAY
Late last season during a scrimmage between the University of Houston's freshmen and the varsity reserves, the ball was placed on the 30-yard line and Freshman Coach Carroll Schultz told his squad they could quit if they scored. "You mean that?" asked a 5-foot-9, 173-pound halfback named Warren McVea. Schultz nodded. And McVea, the most exciting runner in the history of Texas high school football, yelled across at the defense, "Look out, man, here I come." McVea promptly ran 30 yards for a touchdown in his humming-bird, spilled-ink, where-is-he-now fashion. The San Antonio Negro—first to play for a major Texas college—is expected to do the same thing for the Cougar varsity this season in Houston's domed stadium, and become the Sophomore of Any Year.
Because of the dome and Houston's proximity to San Antonio, the Cougars won the recruiting battle for McVea over 75 colleges. In high school he had scored 591 points in three years with his 9.5 speed and stop-and-start moves. So magic was his schoolboy fame, his very presence packed TCU Stadium with 46,000 for the 1964 Texas High School All-Star Game. Last spring in San Antonio, for a mere intrasquad game, McVea put 7,971 paid in the seats, then scored twice on runs of 11 and 33 yards. Though injured most of his freshman season, he did average 9.2 yards on 17 carries.
McVea, who has a bullet-shaped head, practically no neck, and big, sloping shoulders, has received more publicity than any schoolboy star since Bill DeCorrevont went to Northwestern. Typical are these words from Darrell Tully of Spring Branch High School. "He's the greatest broken-field runner in Texas history. He's the only guy I've ever seen sidestep a tackle without being touched on a dive play!"
There are other brilliant sophomores around Texas football this year—Greg Lott, the Texas quarterback, Jim Hagle, the SMU runner, P. D. Shabay, the TCU quarterback, and others. But Warren McVea is the one who will sell the most tickets.