"Maybe in my coach's mind I was disadvantaged," says Campbell, who lettered two years but played sparingly on the offensive line. "They used to ask me, 'Do they play three-man basketball in Gordon?' There was a bias against me, I think."
After college Campbell went home and coached first at Strawn and then at Gordon, where he has been head man since 1981. Campbell might've been slighted in 11-man, but this year in six-man he's as big as they get. "Nelson and Gordon," says Bradley. "I hesitate to tell you how good they really are in fear I may intimidate myself."
It's early afternoon now, and the Zephyr boys pile into a yellow school bus and commence the 110-mile journey to Gordon, with Bufe behind the wheel. Accompanying the bus is a pickup truck, its bed packed with helmets, shoulder pads and other gear. Most of the boys have cottonmouth and fluttering stomachs that nothing but a little physical contact can cure. An uncertain fate awaits them at the end of this road, and here is the lesson: Life is hard, but not compared with six-man.
With a population of 516, Gordon is more than twice the size of Zephyr. Gordon doesn't have a red light either, but it does have street signs, shiny things that were the talk of the town when they went up a couple of years ago. It also has a dry-goods store, a grocery, a video store, a fire hall, a post office, a Ford dealership, a filling station, a bank branch, a barbershop, a hardware store, three churches and a dominoes hall. Empty buildings bracket Main Street, but all things considered, Gordon—with its vital little business district and its proximity to Fort Worth—is prospering compared with Zephyr.
While the Bulldogs are journeying over vast stretches of mesquite-choked terrain, a pep rally begins in the WPA-era gymnasium at Gordon High. Kostiha and Sizemore and Tijerina and Leven are all in attendance, looking eager to get the prelims over with, none of them wanting to crack a smile lest that show weakness.
For the football team, what's happening in the Gordon gym is proof that all those miserable hours of pumping iron and driving the two-man sled and running wind sprints were worth the doing. You hear the applause and see the crowd come to its feet, and it's almost as nice as being kissed for the first time. Both the Longhorns and the Shorthorns—the name for Gordon's junior high six-man team—run out and circle the shiny pine floor before taking seats in the bleachers. Two groups entertain the student body: the cheerleaders, led by Stacie Crain, and the drill team, with Terra Golden in front.
Both girls possess the kind of pure, unsullied beauty that makes your heart squeeze tight in your chest, and that explains why the state of Texas occasionally mops up at Miss America pageants. Mamas from town have come to see their girls perform this afternoon, but all the daddies have stayed away, proud of their precious little sweethearts but not that proud.
Gordon High is too small to have a band, so the girls dance to canned music from a jam box, and nobody trips and falls, and this delights Terra no end. She couldn't sleep the night before in fear of just such an accident.
"If I fell, I'd just lay there on the floor and cry," she says. "We're supposed to get right back up, but I don't think I could."
Toward the end of the pep rally the boys spill out onto the floor and stand around looking spooked as the girls dance the macarena. Eventually a few of the team clowns join in, but the real players know to keep still. Kostiha and Sizemore wear sullen faces, the mask of the assassin before he clocks in for a hit. "Nervous?" somebody asks Kostiha.