The household of 10 shared three bedrooms. "Boys in one room, girls in another and Aunt Maggie in the third." recalls James. No one was reminded of the Brady Bunch. Time with the children was scarce, so on Saturday mornings. Maggie would wake them all for a weekly family council. She opened each session with the pronouncement: "Whatever you got to say, now's the time to say it." If they had any complaints, requests, news, this was the time to sound off.
"They ran my legs off, but I never had a minute's trouble with any of them," Maggie says now. "They didn't come home drunk, didn't get with the wrong crowd. I'd lock the doors at 10:30 every night. If they weren't in, they slept outside. I'd lock the windows, too."
One night nine years ago, before they fell asleep, Ron said something memorable to his younger brother. James remembers that Ron vowed to "make it" in the NFL, so that he could make his aunt's life easier. But the summer after his freshman year at Baylor, he told his siblings that he would not go back to school because the academic load was getting him down. And while he didn't dare inform Aunt Maggie of his decision, she got wind of it, anyway. "Let me tell you something," she said to him. "You are going back if I have to borrow the money to send you!"
Ron did return, and three years later he was the Cowboys' second-round pick. Last January Ron moved Maggie into a five-bedroom house in Texas City. He had made good on his promise.
Upon arriving at Baylor in 1986, James was not happy to be labeled " Ron Francis's little brother." For one thing, James had been taller than Ron—who is 5'9"—since the seventh grade. And growing up in a 10-person household had taught him to value his identity. "Of course I'm proud of Ron." he says. "But I just felt like. Hey, I'm my own person, recognize me for what I do."
From the outset it was hard not to, though Francis at first appeared to be less than a gleaming linebacking prospect. As a 205-pounder who had played fullback, wide receiver and defensive end in high school, he had little knowledge of the linebacking position and even less of the upper-body strength required to survive at it. Yet midway through his freshman season, he found himself splitting time with the starter, a senior.
After helping the Bears hold Colorado to 83 rushing yards in a 21-9 Blue-bonnet Bowl victory. Francis took five days of rest, then reported to basketball practice. By the end of the season, which the Bears completed with a first-round NIT loss to the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he was sixth man. With hoop season over at last, Teaff graciously granted Francis a week off before requesting his presence at spring practice.
"The next year I did it all over again," says Francis. This time the basketball team made the 1988 NCAA tournament, only to be eliminated in the first round by Memphis State.
Francis decided not to play basketball his junior year in order to spend more time pumping iron, and to "be a college student for the first time in three years. I could come home from class and get my legs out from under me." It also allowed him more time to eat, which he does quite well. Life with eight brothers and sisters, he says, taught him to "eat a large amount in a short time."
Barring something unforeseen, like an impetuous decision to run off and join the World Basketball League. James will soon join Ron in the NFL. Then it should only be a matter of time before Ron finds himself being introduced as "James Francis's big brother."