Tony Sands doesn't just dress for games; he dresses up for them. As a freshman, Sands, a senior tailback at Kansas, earned the nickname Tuxedo Tony after showing up for a game in homemade formal attire. In his sophomore year, Sands moved on to a dinner jacket with a red bow tie and matching cummerbund. Soon he had his own home-and-away wardrobe: He would wear black in Lawrence, white on the road. This year Sands had abandoned the formal wear until last Saturday, when he showed up for the Jayhawks' 41-0 defeat of Iowa State looking tony again. "It was homecoming," he said. "It was time."
Sands says he started wearing a tux because he wanted to "grab some attention." Now opponents want to grab him. Squirting through holes a silkworm couldn't wriggle into, he ran for 106 yards against the Cyclones, which left him 34 yards shy of Laverne Smith's school career rushing record of 3,074; he passed former Kansas greats Gale Sayers and John Riggins in the season's second week. With Sands averaging nearly 115 yards a game rushing, second in the Big Eight, the 4-2 Jayhawks may be on the way to their first winning season since 1981. "He's our answer to Rocket Ismail," says offensive coordinator Golden Pat Ruel. "Except that he's Tony-Is-Small."
Five foot six and 185 pounds small. "Being small never stopped me," says Sands. "It gave me a big yearning to get out and run."
All this began in the womb. "Mama caught many a pain with me," he says. "She told me I kicked so hard in her stomach, I broke one of my toes. The broken toe joined with the one next to it, so now I've got nine toes and 10 toe-tops."
October 28, 1991
But nine-toed Tony is no sloth. He used to train by pushing a pickup—in neutral, with his wife, Calandra, behind the wheel. Their son, Maxie, who is now three, would stand on the tailgate. Dad would heave until Maxie would finally get bored and sit down. "When he quit, I'd sit," says Sands. "That was my incentive."
Before Maxie, his incentive came from his uncle, Michael Irvin, a former star at Miami who's now a wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys. "If I did well on the field," says Sands, "Uncle Mike took care of me." Sands got $120 from Irvin in 1989 for a 37-yard TD nullified by a clipping call. His 217 yards against Kansas State that year were worth $300. But Uncle Mike's most generous gift was advice: If people say you're too short, prove them wrong.
Sands has. By the time he finished St. Thomas High in Fort Lauderdale, he was the top rusher in Broward County history. "On film, he was the best schoolboy back I saw that year," says Kansas coach Glen Mason. "Then I saw him in person and thought, Boy, is he tiny."
Too tiny for most colleges. Florida State wanted to redshirt him. Kansas offered him a chance to start right away. "Our concern was that he'd take a couple of hits and we'd be putting an IV in him and calling his mom and dad," says Ruel. "But Tony has knocked down as many guys as have knocked him down."
On his first carry in his first contact practice, Sands swept around left end and collided head-on with cornerback Peda Samuel. "Peda creamed him," recalls assistant coach Vic Adamle. "One of the hardest hits I've ever seen." Both players lay on the field, motionless. Samuel left in an ambulance. Sands popped up, bolted for the huddle and said, "Give me the ball."
These days Tiny Tony is making some of the long lists of Heisman candidates. "If he did win," says Ruel, "it would be the first time the trophy was bigger than the person receiving it."