If cotton bowl executive vice-president Jim (Hoss) Brock had been in a Notre Dame student hangout at three o'clock one Friday morning last fall, buying drinks for anyone upright, leading choruses of the Notre Dame Victory March and passing out Cotton Bowl pins as if they were cocktail parasols, he would have called just about everyone in the place "Hoss." We know this because Hoss calls everyone "Hoss"—except the ladies, whom he calls "Doll" or "Sweet Pea" and the priests at Notre Dame, whom he is careful to call "Father."
But if you're a secular male it will usually be "Hoss," the better to buy Hoss the few seconds he may need to come up with your proper name. Don't begrudge him this idiosyncrasy, for a man who knows nearly everybody in sports can hardly be expected to remember every one of those names, at least not right quick. And just because he doesn't know your name doesn't mean he doesn't know you. "Hoss," says a longtime friend, "never meets a stranger."
Now, we're not saying that Hoss was in that particular dive at that hour doing the aforementioned things. "Don't want none of that 3 a.m. stuff in print," Hoss says, squinching his florid features into a best-in-show scowl. "I get in a lot of trouble. People read that back in Dallas and don't know what to make of it."
We're only saying that if he had been so ardently romancing the Dome after hours—if he had made himself and his green blazer so irrepressibly, round-the-clock ubiquitous throughout South Bend that the Irish had to take their magical name and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown to Dallas on New Year's Day—why, so much goodwill might have been generated that any pantywaist back in Big D with the slightest quibble about the way the most successful bowl scout in the business gets the job done ought to sidle on down to El Paso and try out life flogging the Sun Bowl. Just listen to Terry Anne Wallmeyer, a Notre Dame coed, speaking around 3 a.m.: "I want to go to the Cotton Bowl, because I love Jim Brock."
November 14, 1988
And what's 3 a.m., anyway? "Ain't but 2 a.m., Dallas time," Hoss points out. Or might have pointed out.
Bowl scouts are the men who descend on college campuses across the U.S. for a couple of months during the fall, infesting press boxes and schmoozing and boozing, either to entice teams to play in their annual holiday games or, occasionally, to be enticed. The wheedling and cajoling ceases only when bowl bids are sealed and delivered—on November 19, this year. Inevitably, the scout takes on the character of the bowl he represents. The stodgy Rose Bowl, with both of its participants, the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions, preordained, is in the hands of austere elders who make the scene just to show the flag—the term "scouts" is, in their case, something of a misnomer—and who, in ESPN commentator Beano Cook's phrase, "look like waiters at the Last Supper." The genteel Sugar rests its case on hospitality, and the game's gracious, soft-spoken scouts—who usually travel in pairs—are enduring relics of the Old South. The arriviste Fiesta, with no conference tie-ins, is run by Sun Belt dealmakers flush with entrepreneurial hubris. The hoary Orange belongs to Miami's gin-and-tonic elite, while scouts from the Florida Citrus, mostly Orlando yuppies, would sooner order margaritas.
And the Cotton? "When you think of the Cotton Bowl," says Len DeLuca, director of program acquisitions for CBS, which has broadcast the game since 1957, "you think of people." Now that longtime Gator Bowl executive director George Olsen has retired, no one person is more closely identified with any single bowl game than is Hoss.
Like most other members of the bowl-scout species, Brock has several batteries-not-included blazers and a handshake that redirects blood flow. He's also outrageously outgoing, a quality he admits non-Texans grant him license to flaunt simply because he is a Texan. With apologies to the good gentlemen of the Rose Bowl, Brock is the granddaddy of them all. "Everyone knows the Hoss," says Freedom Bowl executive director Tom Starr. "If you were to pick a perfect bowl scout, you'd need a person who can talk to the student-athlete on his level, turn around and talk to college presidents, meet and talk with the coach. Then be able to converse with the media. That's Hoss."
There is no good reason why the Cotton Bowl should be staging a compelling game year after year. Dallas in January could just as well be Nome with a giant airport. The Southwest Conference, whose champion automatically claims a spot in the game, is mired in some of the most shamelessly crooked and abjectly mediocre big-time football of modern times. (Texas A & M, the preseason Southwest favorite, which has a 4-0 conference record going into this Saturday's game with unbeaten Arkansas, was banned in September from participating in postseason play for one year for rules violations.) The New Year's Day television viewership, carved up now among seven bowls, is so soft that Brock and his colleagues decided this year to sell the Cotton's very name to Mobil Oil for an estimated $12 million.
Yet Brock continues to broker a good game. "Pullin' their horns," he calls the process of jawboning athletic directors, coaches and players to choose his bowl. Hoss has corralled three of the past four Heisman Trophy winners—Notre Dame's Brown, Bo Jackson of Auburn and Doug Flutie of Boston College—something no other bowl has ever done. And he seems to have a green phone on his desk: Telegenic Notre Dame has made three Cotton Bowl appearances since Brock took over in 1976. And last January, the SWC actually had a chance to feel good about itself when Texas A & M beat the Irish 35-10. In spite of the lopsided score, Brock, who has a vested interest in the host conference improving its gridiron fortunes, had every right to take out one of his Macanudo cigars and—he never lights up any more—chew on it.
While it's unlikely that the Irish, 9-0 and contending for the national title, will return to Dallas on Jan. 2, Brock has frequented his old haunts in South Bend this fall. But he has also run up motel bills and bar tabs in various Pac-10 cities, wooing, in particular, USC and UCLA, one of which won't be going to the Rose Bowl, and he is likely to visit Tallahassee for a look at once-beaten Florida State. In any case, the Cotton Bowl challenger is quite likely to be a Top 5 team with but a single loss.
How does Brock play the match-making game so well? It helps that he has outstanding stablemates backing up the whole Hoss shtick. Other members of the Cotton Bowl selection committee, who fan out to places that Brock, try as he may, just can't get to, include former Baylor All-America and College Hall of Famer Jim Ray Smith and 81-year-old Field Scovell, the Cotton Bowl's patriarch. Scovell is a man who, in the words of Orange Bowl committee member Bill Ward, a former scout, "could walk into any press box in America without an invitation." If you could grill Brits over mesquite, Scovell would be Sir John Gielgud to Brock's Dudley Moore.
Certainly, too, Brock's legendary bar-side manner counts. "Colorado Springs, 1983, the National Sports Festival," says Boston Herald columnist Charles Pierce, shaking his head. "The bar in the lobby of the Antlers Hotel. He had the order in before I finished walking through the hotel door. No one else has ever bought me a drink at 200 yards."
Hoss considers his domain to be much more than college football. Under "Highlights" on the two-page career bio he'll hand you, he gives top billing to his turn as a U.S. Olympic Committee press aide at various Olympics since 1976, including his work in 1984 in L.A., where he was U.S. basketball coach Bob Knight's right-hand man. That's what he calls it: "right-hand man." None of that "administrative assistant" bull for Hoss. Oh, yes, Hoss also mentions on his bio that he was once sports information director at TCU and an assistant athletic director at SMU.
Hoss-pitality isn't seasonal or sport-specific. You'll see Brock hobnobbing with all the swells at the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the World Series, the Masters. "I'll get to Wimbledon by the time I'm 60," says Brock, who's 54. "I'll sell strawberries on the side."
Fact is, back in Fort Worth many years and many prime-rib dinners ago, Hoss had his heart in things besides football. Baseball was his first love, and he jokes that he made all-city as an outfielder at Poly High because he was the student who sent all the dispatches to the Star-Telegram. "Coach'd get madder than hell," he says. "In an eight-or nine-run inning, he'd catch me pulling out paper and pencil right there in center, trying to keep track of it all."
His career as an amateur welterweight boxer wasn't worth chronicling. A first-round knockout by Dexter Peacock, he of the Peacock clan, "the toughest in town," was witnessed by Shirley Ann Ingle, his high school sweetheart, who was so embarrassed by his decking that when Jim got up off the canvas to hunt her down at the root-beer stand, she refused to speak to him.
It was while attending Texas Christian that he picked up the Hoss monicker. There, too, he went out for baseball, but he quit on the Friday before the first game, telling the coach he had "a better offer." Turns out that Shirley, finally over her embarrassment, had agreed to be his Sweet Pea, a role she has played for some 35 years. They have had their heartbreaks, losing three infant children after premature births. But assessing Shirley, their 25-year-old son Robert ("the Hoss Fly") and Hoss's job, which Brock says is "kind of like that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, heigh-ho-heigh-ho-it's-off-to-work-we-go thing," he judges himself surpassingly lucky.
In Texas it's neither necessary nor common for a man to forsake sports for a woman. But it sure is romantic, and romancing is what Hoss does better than anyone. Before the football season even begins, he sends letters to scores of coaches wishing them luck in the coming season. During late October and early November, the heaviest weeks of bowl-hunting, he must get a sense of where he stands. So he feels out his quarry euphemistically, asking, "If I'm at the corner of Akard and Commerce in Dallas, Texas, the last week in December, think there's a chance we might run into each other?"
Consider his lobbying activities at Notre Dame last fall. If indeed he had been in that student bar at 3 a.m. that Friday morning, he would have hit town on Thursday, a time when most other scouts—dilettantes!—are still selling insurance or taking meetings. Arriving on Thursday gives Brock first crack at the coach, and if getting an audience with the Irish's Lou Holtz means sweet-talking Jan Blazi, Holtz's administrative assistant, taking her hand in his and kissing it until she beams—well, the Horned Frog Prince can be most charming.
Then it's off to see former athletic director Edward (Moose) Krause, the Dome's legend-in-residence, to say "Hey!" and to be sure that Krause is wearing the cowboy hat—size 7‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö‚à´, a number committed to the Rolodex of Brock's mind—that Hoss sent him a few months back. "When I think it's getting old, I send him a new one," says Brock. "He always offers to pay for it, but we don't let him. I can't tell you how many yards a halfback made, but I can tell you Moose Krause's hat size."
Now it's time for some random glad-handing, some "Hiya, Hoss!" backslap-ping and some high visibility for the green blazer, which Shirley, who once managed a boutique in Fort Worth, calls "awful." As Brock works a thicket of Domers, Jim Ray Smith, who has accompanied him on this trip, looks on admiringly. "See what he's doing right now?" he says. "Some of 'em he knows, some of 'em he doesn't. But he just grabs 'em and hugs 'em and hollers at 'em."
Brock's courting of Boston College and Flutie for the 1985 Cotton Bowl remains one of the great impresario jobs in modern sports. A week before bowl-invitation day, BC had beaten Syracuse to add to its bowl luster. The hallway outside the Eagles' locker room after the game looked like the Fruit Salad Bowl, with perhaps a dozen scouts milling about. "Bill Flynn [BC's athletic director] went into the men's room with I the Sugar Bowl's] Mickey Holmes, and you could see Brock's heart sink," says the Boston Globe's Ian Thomsen, who witnessed the scene. "But it turns out Flynn just had to relieve himself. Then suddenly Flutie comes out of the locker room dressed and laughing. He puts his arm around Brock and they walk away. It was like watching some chess match where one master moves his rook, and-pow! That was his moment: With the whole bowl world there, the greatest player in the country put his arm around him. Raquel Welch looked at all the guys, and chose him."
Hoss says he laid the groundwork weeks earlier, visiting with Flutie and hearing that he liked Texas and didn't like domed stadiums—the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, for instance, where the Sugar Bowl is played. Flutie hardly made the decision himself, of course. "It was as much developing a relationship with Bill Flynn and [BC coach] Jack Bicknell and [BC president] Father Monan," says Brock. "But it sure is nice when the star of the team has an interest in going to Texas. I just told 'em if you come to Texas and don't have a good time, it's your own damn fault."
An even finer moment would take place a week later, when BC, which by then belonged to Brock, took on Miami, which had agreed to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Now, Brock likes nothing more than smashing the Fiesta's pi‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±ata, especially if they've been chasing the same teams. For two days Hoss had been trading barbs at various functions with the Fiesta reps, who were openly exulting in the press box as Miami pulled ahead of BC late in the game.
Brock shot them a glare when, with 28 seconds left, the Hurricanes scored a touchdown to take the lead 45-41, and one Fiesta Bowl rep literally bumped his head on the press-box ceiling. What happened next—the Flutie heave with six seconds remaining, which somehow found its way into the arms of Gerard Phelan, giving the Eagles the most improbable 47-45 victory—has been replayed many times. But no one has Hoss on tape, losing all strength, turning a mottled white and slumping forward in his seat. 'They say if I'd a had a cigar in my mouth I'd a swallowed it," says Brock. "I tell you what: The Hoss got in the last taunt. But I tell you what else: I did it with class."
Brock is bright enough to know when he's got a poor matchup—Georgia-Arkansas in '76, for example—and honest enough to admit it. At least in private; among bowl scouts, seldom is heard a discouraging word, unless the topic is a national championship playoff.
It's that infernal possibility that Brock, along with the Orange Bowl's Steve Lynch and the Sugar Bowl's Holmes, tried to head off in August 1987, with a position paper entitled: POSTSEASON BOWL GAMES: AN AMERICAN TRADITION. It's a 10-page, self-interested piece of propaganda that credited the current bowl system with having generated $49 million for college football in the 1986-87 bowl season, and it more or less suggested that anyone advocating a playoff has been watching too much March basketball.
"[Lynch and Holmes] got better minds than I do," says Brock. "But I know how to steam it in there. At one time Walter [Byers, the former NCAA executive director! wanted a playoff. But we talked, and Walter reversed his field 360 degrees." He means 180 degrees, although a conversation with the Hoss can get one's head to spinning.
In fact, on the subject of a playoff, Brock is less dogmatic than many bowl folk, who seem irrationally protective of the current system. "You show me a playoffs the best thing for college football, Hoss, and I'll go along with it," he says. Of more concern to him are what he considers some bowls' fratricidal tendencies. For instance, it drives Brock crazy that the NCAA refuses to regulate how many bowl games are played on New Year's Day.
And no one exasperates him more than the folks at the Fiesta, who have changed their date when convenient and in the '86 season succeeded in brokering the de facto national championship game between Miami and Penn State. He calls it "that drugstore down in Phoenix."
"All these deals being made," says Hoss, scowling. "We finally have the support to kill the college football playoff, and everyone's making deals." That's not a petty man talking, but a pugnacious one with a keen sense of the welfare of the game and an acute sense of honor. "I could have done damn well selling insurance, real estate, whatever. But I don't think I could have even closed a deal if I thought the deal was bad for the customer and good for me. That attitude probably costs me money, but at least I can sleep at night.
"So when y'all get ready to make your decision, we may be disappointed. You do what you think's right for your program, you never get a bitch out of Dallas, Texas. And I tell you the next paragraph: We'll have a damn good football game without you."
But if you should pass up a chance to go down to the corner of Akard and Commerce on New Year's Day and put your happiness in the hands of Hoss, it's your own damn fault.