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THE REALM OF HONEST ABE
Roy Terrell
December 01, 1958
In the land of the Alamo and the upset, Coach Abe Martin and his Texas Christian Horned Frogs again won the title
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December 01, 1958

The Realm Of Honest Abe

In the land of the Alamo and the upset, Coach Abe Martin and his Texas Christian Horned Frogs again won the title

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Texas Technological College (Tech): located in Lubbock. Enrollment 9,000. Team name Red Raiders. Finally gained conference admission in 1956 after years of trying. Big and growing and dusty, most westerly of SWC schools. Good engineering courses, excellent in geology.

University of Arkansas: located in Fayetteville. Enrollment 6,000. Team name Razorbacks (or Porkers). One of Southwest Conference charter members, has consistently resisted invitation from Texas schools to leave. Frequently a conference have-not athletically, it now appears to be coming back fast. Situated on a ridge in the Ozarks, it ranks among most attractive of SWC schools, is the state university, only major college in Arkansas. Features liberal arts academic program.

Annually the teams representing these schools produce a brand of football competition that has been called the most exciting in the country—and also the screwiest. While developing hordes of great football players, as the professional rosters will attest, the conference only occasionally comes up with a truly great team. It is just too well balanced. For the past 25 years the conference football writers have been conducting a preseason poll to pick the SWC champion. In 20 of those years they have missed completely and, even worse, in two of the last four years the team which was picked to win has finished last. Whether this has more to do with the quality of football played in Texas or the quality of football forecasting is a relatively minor point. At least it indicates that things can get a bit confused where Southwest football is concerned.

Over a five-year period, from 1953 through 1957, only two games separated the team with the best conference record from the team with the worst. In that same period of time, Ohio State was winning 28 Big Ten games against only five losses while Indiana was winning five and losing 25. In the Southeastern Conference Mississippi was 23-5 compared to Tulane's 8-24, and on the Pacific Coast UCLA had a 28-5 record while California was only 10-21 in conference competition.

"There are at least two good reasons for this," says Jess Neely, the courtly Southerner who came to Rice in 1940 and has stayed around to become the conference's dean among coaches. "No one school has ever established recruiting domination down here because it is simply impossible. There are enough good football players to go around. In addition to that, these kids all know about each other. They have lived in this state for years, played against and with each other in high school, sometimes played together as far back as junior high. So when they read in the newspapers that this boy or that boy is so great, they don't believe it at all. They know exactly how good he is. So they go out there and stop him.

"Kids in Texas," says Neely, who does not agree with all he reads in the papers either, "are not impressed by each other's press clippings."

As for the old story that the Southwest Conference is college football's most razzle-dazzle league, that is hardly true any longer. As a matter of fact, it never really was. The reputation grew from the more or less revolutionary tactics of two men, Ray Morrison at SMU and Dutch Meyer at TCU, back in the '20s and '30s. Morrison liked wide-open football and played it that way. Meyer, the first great exponent of the spread formation, was actually taking maximum advantage of his material, which included a couple of passers named Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien. In the same general period there were also coaches named Francis Schmidt and Dana Bible and Homer Norton who would rather run over you any day than go around you. Today it is much the same. At SMU the Mustangs throw a lot of passes because they have a boy named Don Meredith, and at A&M they throw because of Charlie Milstead and at Baylor because of Buddy Humphrey. At Rice and Texas and Arkansas, where the line blocking is better than the passing, they prefer to run. These schools have not thrown nearly as many passes this year as Iowa or Army or Syracuse. At TCU they do a little of both.

"Basically," says Abe Martin, "college football all over the country is the same. We all exchange films and go to the same conventions and the same clinics. We also play by the same rules.

"Now, Dutch liked to pass," says Abe, nodding in the direction of the TCU athletic director's office, where Meyer sits with his feet propped up on another old battered desk, dressed in what appears to be the other half of Martin's two suits. "He used the spread and I played under Dutch here and coached under him. But when he retired in 1953 and I took the coaching job, I put in a pro-type T offense. Now we are using the straight T, more or less, with lots of the belly series.

"I'm primarily a running football coach, I guess. You've got to run to make your passing go. But I don't think you can have an outstanding team unless you can move the ball passing, too. So we pass. I guess the thing we strive for is balance. This year we've been pretty fortunate in having it."

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