When Blinn College gave me my football letter sweater 28 years after I won it, I never thought it was going to cause me so much trouble. If I had, I guarantee you I would have turned it down.
Like all old athletes, I get stronger and faster in memory every year. And I will admit that I might have stretched a point or two in the past when telling about some incidents in my athletic career. Every once in a while I've been a little slippery about just how good I was. Nothing overt, but occasionally I've let fall remarks like, "Yeah, I doubled in the ninth inning and a couple of runners got home, which was all we needed." Or, "I was running the third leg of the mile relay and when I got the baton we weren't but 10 yards down so that wasn't that much distance to make up."
Well, they say all chickens come home to roost and mine finally came home when Blinn College gave me my letter sweater two years ago. I'd been semilying about my athletic prowess all through my middle age, but I did have one truth I was proud of.
And I'll be danged if that wasn't the one I got accused of lying about.
Blinn is a small junior college in Brenham, Texas. It's known for its good-looking girls and the high caliber of education it tries to impart. I'd played there in 1953, as an offensive end and a defensive halfback. We weren't any big deal; we had a following of about nine people, six of whom were related to the players. But anytime you're playing college football and you stick your head in a Riddell and pull up your socks, you better not walk out on that field unless you're ready to have the lunch knocked out of you.
I started all eight games for Blinn that season but left before the year was out to answer my country's call and help out the Air Force. Consequently, I wasn't there for the awards banquet and didn't get my letter sweater.
Well, I guess Blinn could have handled the guilt of having one of its ex-athletes running around without his letter sweater, but it happened that I had occasion to take a couple of high school football players up there for a tryout and I got to talking to the present coach, Ben Boehnke, and I sort of mentioned that I'd done a pretty good job for them and I'd never even seen a thread off a letter sweater.
The reason I wanted that letter sweater so bad was that I'd scored the winning touchdown—the only touchdown of my college career—against Victoria Junior College, and I was proud of it.
And that's the story I got accused of distorting at the letter sweater ceremony, in the office of Blinn President James Atkinson. I got to admit they done it up grand. Lord, they had everybody there—press, photographers, everybody.
I guess I got carried away, and before I knew it I'd told about beating Victoria in the first game of the '53 season. Now, Victoria Junior College was no joke. It was located in Victoria, Texas, a city at least twice the size of Brenham. The Victoria Pirates played in a separate conference, one made up of schools with more access to talent than tiny Blinn. Although our '52 record looked a little better than theirs, it didn't take into account the caliber of the teams we had each played during our regular schedule. Not to take anything away from my fellow Buccaneers, but I don't think we could have beaten New Mexico Body and Fender University if they'd spotted us two touchdowns.
But for some reason we got it together for that game. Maybe it was because we didn't want Victoria to think of us as "chump of the week," and have them yawning on the other side of the scrimmage line. Though their team was considered far above ours, we still planned to show up for the game and introduce them to the ferocity of the underdog. I think it was the John Wayne movie that pumped us all up. We'd gotten into town about two hours early. Well, what do you do with 30 football players? Leave them sitting on the bus? So Frank Butler, who was the coach then, somehow managed to find the owner of a movie theater in town and he opened up and showed us a film. It was Red River, and when it was over we all walked out in the fall sunshine feeling big and tough and slapping each other on the shoulder.
Earlier that year, I'd broken my right shinbone rodeoing, and when we were in the dressing room the trainer was taping a protective covering on it, and Tommy Cuba, our good tackle, looked over and said, "You better take that off. All you're doing is giving them a target to shoot at."
I ripped that tape loose and threw it in the corner. We were that fired up.
We played them off their feet. I took a lick on that right leg in the third quarter and had to be carried off the field. My mother was there and she nearly went into cardiac arrest because she didn't know what was the matter with me. I was back on the field two plays later. We were that fired up.
Going into the fourth quarter they were leading 7-6. We'd missed the PAT. Getting arrogant, the Pirates tried to drive on us instead of simply hanging on to the ball and running the clock down. With two minutes to go they fumbled on their own 40 and we recovered. From there we drove the ball down to their nine, where we stalled. Bobby Lynch, our fullback, punched it into the line for no gain and then Shorty McGinty, a really good halfback, had two tries at them, but it did us no good.
L.M. Killough, our quarterback, called time and went over to the sidelines to talk to Coach Butler. I'd gone over to the sidelines myself. I was standing just a few yards from where Coach Butler and L.M. were conferring. I had my helmet pushed back and I was getting a drink of water when I heard the coach say to L.M., "Throw the ball to Giles."
Well, what that remark did was send a shiver through my soul. To begin with Giles didn't want the responsibility of catching the pass that meant victory or defeat. Secondly, I'd noticed that the Victoria players were getting a little irritated about this bunch of upstarts trying to steal a game from them.
When that time-out wound down, we came back into the huddle and L.M. looked over at me and said, "It's on you."
If there'd been a bus out of town, I'd of taken it.
We hadn't completed four passes that day. But when it's fourth-and-goal from the nine with not much time and you've failed on three running plays, what are you going to do? We didn't have much of a field-goal kicker, either.
We did have a little jump pass. L.M. would take the snap, leap up in the air and try to hit me, cutting across the middle, or Henry Pearson, our right end.
When we came to the set position all I was praying for was that L.M. would throw to Henry.
I guess Victoria knew what we had to do. At the snap I took two steps off the line and cut toward the middle. The linebackers were already falling back so I was able to get underneath them. My next memory was seeing L.M. up in the air with the ball cocked behind his head in his right hand.
He was looking straight at me.
Then I saw the ball aimed at me. I kept waiting for a hand to come out and deflect it, but none did. The next thing I knew, it was cradled in my arms. I instinctively turned upfield.
After that everything kind of turned into slow motion. I caught the ball on about the five. I saw people coming at me, but I somehow evaded them. I remember crossing that broad stripe and punching it into the end zone.
That's the story I told at the letter-sweater presentation, and it went over very well.
The next morning at the motel this young reporter from Brenham's Banner-Press called me and said that he'd gone back in the files and that the game report didn't read anything like that.
I ain't real good in the mornings to begin with, and I believe a call like that would shake up a conservative banker.
I said, "Whaaat?"
He said. "The game account says that Bobby Lynch broke through the middle for 26 yards to score the winning touchdown."
Well, there wasn't a whole bunch I could say at that point.
But I brooded about it. I wouldn't even wear the letter sweater because I felt like it had been tarnished. Besides, have you ever seen anything sillier than a middle-aged man walking around in a brand-new letter sweater?
However, for you ex-athletes out there' who've got as fat a belly as I do, this story has a happy ending.
I wouldn't let up. I finally called my mother who'd been at the game and she confirmed what I've said. However, what she remembered best, as a mother will, is about me being carried off the field when I got hurt. When I mentioned about the winning touchdown she acted like it was an accomplished fact. She said, "Well of course. Coach Butler came over and told me you won the game for them."
That's a mother for you.
But I wouldn't let it stop there. I wasn't about to let them take away the main truth about my athletic career. The Banner-Press notwithstanding, I knew I'd scored that touchdown.
Besides—I've already explained about the extent of our following—the newspaper might not have even had a reporter there that day. After all, Victoria is more than 100 miles from Brenham. And if it had, he might have been unable to see the players' numbers clearly on account of the field lights and the shadows they caused. Or he might have been out getting a hot dog at just that crucial instant. Anything might have happened.
So I finally called the Banner-Press, and they were pretty nice about it. Even though it was before his time, Managing Editor Arthur Hahn knew me and knew the story and, though he wouldn't exactly admit that the Banner-Press might have made a mistake about the game, he did say he'd heard about several mistakes being made on other papers. He also said as far as they were concerned, my version was correct. I suggested a present-day front-page correction, nothing beyond reason, just a short five-paragraph box, but he thought, given the time that had passed, that might be excessive.
Which I can understand. But I knew I was the guy who'd scored the touchdown because I was the guy who'd seen the lights sparkling off that football, who'd seen the slow-motion form of the Victoria tacklers and who'd seen, just before getting hit, the broad stripe go under my cleats.
But I still wouldn't let it rest at that. I ran down my old quarterback, L.M. Killough. And, in a kind of bored voice, he confirmed it.
"Of course," he said, "what's the question here?"
Did you ever notice about quarterbacks? It's always the receivers who go nuts in the end zone. And then the offensive linemen and the backs and the other receivers come running down and jump on the guy.
The quarterback goes over to the sideline and talks with the coach about what looks good on the stock market.
All L.M. said to me about the only touchdown pass I'd ever caught in college football was that he was surprised I hadn't dropped it.