Just because Alabama coach Bill Curry has squeezed every drop of potential from his hard-luck team, received a vote of confidence from the university president and finally beaten one of the Bear's boys on the road, we shouldn't assume that life is finger-lickin' good for the man who is destined to be known forever as Chicken Curry in College Station, Texas. To the contrary, should the Crimson Tide lose to Army in the Sun Bowl on Christmas Eve, the squawking you hear will be 'Bama diehards again preparing feathers (and tar) because they think Curry is too dang disorganized and too dang pure. To put it another way, they think he's too dang Georgia Techish, Tech being the school where Curry went 31-43-4 over seven seasons before arriving in Tuscaloosa in 1987. For the moment, however, the clucking has subsided, thanks to the Tide's resounding 30-10 victory over Texas A & M last Thursday night.
The game may have been Jackie Sherrill's last with the Aggies. As both coach and athletic director at Texas A & M, Sherrill presides over a program that has been on NCAA probation the past three months. Then on Nov. 18, George Smith, an Aggie fullback in 1982 and '83, alleged that Sherrill had paid him to keep quiet about rules violations during that period.
All of last week Texas newspapers and radio and TV stations were reporting that Sherrill, an All-America Alabama linebacker under Bear Bryant in the 1960s, would resign immediately after the game against the Crimson Tide. At week's end, however, his name was still on his office door.
Perhaps Sherrill couldn't bring himself to depart on such a sour note. Without starting quarterback Bucky Richardson, who was out with torn ligaments in his knee, Texas A & M sustained its worst home defeat in six years and only its second at Kyle Field in 26 games. Though beaten by a superior team, Sherrill couldn't resist the urge to point out that "it's unfortunate we had to play when we did."
The game had been scheduled for Sept. 17, around the time Hurricane Gilbert was marching toward the Texas coastline. Fearing that his players' safety would be jeopardized by flying in the vicinity of the storm, Curry decided to keep the Tide at home. When the weather that Saturday in College Station came up sunny, breezy and in the 70s, Chicken Curry became more than just an item on restaurant menus.
The makeup date of Thursday, Dec. 1 wasn't especially pleasing to either side, coming as it did after traditional season-ending donnybrooks for them both. Alabama had lost to Auburn the previous Saturday, while Texas A & M had beaten Texas on Nov. 24. But Dec. 1 was the only date that the schools and ESPN, which had the TV rights to the game, could agree on. The chamber of commerce in College Station, hoping to make up for some of the lost revenue from the canceled date, dubbed the game the Hurricane Bowl, and local businesses did their best to capitalize on the event.
Back in September both teams had lofty expectations. However, after a 3-0 start, the Crimson Tide staggered in to play the Aggies with a 7-3 record—which included a 22-12 loss to Ole Miss—injuries having claimed tailback Bobby Humphrey, 'Bama's Heisman Trophy candidate, and defensive back Gene Jelks, its best athlete. Texas A & M was lucky to be 7-4, after beginning the season 0-3, and getting sacked by an NCAA probation that banned them from appearing in a bowl game this season. Then last month The Dallas Morning News reported that Smith said he had received a series of payments from Sherrill to buy his silence. One $500 payment, said Smith, arrived in an air-freight envelope only four days after A & M went on probation.
The day after the story appeared, Smith flew from Atlanta to College Station and held a press conference to recant the statements he had made to the Morning News. Smith said that Sherrill had been "like a father" to him, and explained that the money was nothing more than a loan to help him get on his feet. Smith also said that Sherrill had referred him to someone who might help him land a job.
Fearing that the Aggies would be distracted from the matter at hand—beating TCU on Nov. 19—athletic director Sherrill kept coach Sherrill off the sidelines during A & M's 18-0 win over the Horned Frogs. He returned for the game against Texas, even though the university had begun an in-house investigation of the Smith affair.
The NCAA decided to see what the school uncovered before launching an investigation of its own. "Call me cynical," wrote Barry Horn in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Call me incredulous. But don't call me and tell me an Aggie judge and an Aggie jury is going to find an Aggie coach guilty of paying 'hush money' to an otherwise forgotten two-bit runner named George Smith. Talk about Aggie jokes."