The bright midday sun of early fall is splashing everything at the United States Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, bouncing most dramatically off the 17 spires of the chapel. Looming ahead, as the football player walks toward his room, are the magnificent Rockies. The greens of summer are giving way to the yellows of autumn, and flags are snapping in the breeze. It's all so spectacular that it's a little unreal—just like the player himself, Air Force quarterback Steven Michael Dowis, who's known as Dee.
He looks up at the vista before him and says, "Pretty, isn't it?" For Dowis (rhymes with prowess), that's a speech. Dowis, a junior, is a throwback to the days when athletes didn't tell us how good they were, they showed us. Indeed, with Dowis, it's all show and no tell. He leads the nation in total points scored, with 78; he leads in total rushing yards with 802; and he's first in the nation with short answers to long questions. Usually he says, "Yes, sir," except when he says, "No, sir."
Dowis's young life could be the inspiration for a Frank Capra script: He's a straight arrow ("Why would I drink? All I ever wanted was to play ball," he says) from rural Royston, Ga. (pop. 2,500), who didn't want to wander far from all that red clay because he loves his family and his home on Pine Valley Drive, but did so to play quarterback at the Air Force Academy. Never mind that Air Force is the only school, other than West Point, that made him an offer. Dowis would have much preferred Duke, Georgia Tech or Vanderbilt, but they had zero interest in a 5'10", 153-pound quarterback. "I would have played wide receiver, anything," he says, "just to be on one of those teams."
The summer before his senior year in high school, Dowis went to a quarterback camp at Furman. Because of his size, he was ignored. When he returned home, he slumped in a chair and said, "Mama, they didn't even look at me. Why can't they see my heart?" Fortunately for Dowis, Air Force, which because of its stringent entrance requirements has no choice but to believe in heart, had heard about him through a Georgia high school coach. Every year the Falcons field a team of players who are too small, too slow and not talented enough—but with hearts as big as Pikes Peak. Jim Bowman, Air Force's recruiting coordinator, says that only 12 of this season's Falcons attracted interest from even one other major school, which is not to say they were offered scholarships. Never in the 35-year history of Air Force football has one of its players gone to the pros. "Our job is to recruit future second lieutenants and, while they are here, develop them into football players," says Bowman. "The taxpayers like it this way."
When he first arrived at the academy, Dowis struggled with his books and with the demands of military life. He also struggled on the football field with the intricacies of the wishbone. To make matters worse, he was desperately homesick. In fact, when Dowis returned to school from spring break of his freshman year, he intended to pick up his personal belongings and quit. But today all is in order, especially his football playing, which could, by the time he is finished with his college career, firmly establish him as the best, the brightest, the quickest wishbone quarterback ever. Better than Jack Mildren, Jamelle Holieway or any of those other Oklahoma guys. Every week, Dowis produces a moment to remember, another highlight, another "didyaseethat!"
For all his ability, Dowis is meek and mild. He has a sweet smile that plays across an angelic face and a breathy voice that's difficult to hear, which is fine with him. When classmates chose him to give a speech at his junior high school graduation, he mumbled and spoke so softly that nobody heard it. "He had written such a good speech too," says his mother, Helen Brown (Dowis's father, Leonard, died in 1972, and his mother married Harold Brown in '75).
Ask Dowis about his exploits, and he acts as if what he's doing is as common as pig tracks. Press him a bit and he'll put his head down and commence shufflin' and then praising his offensive line, his fellow backs, the defense, the coaches, the pizza delivery man. "Just lucky," is how he ultimately explains his many starry performances.
At the least, he's the most consistently exciting player in college football. With Dowis making every snap an adventure, the 6-0 Falcons have soared to first in the nation in rushing offense, with 449.0 yards per game. And he's arguably the player with the most marquee value, which is stunning considering that he plies his trade not in South Bend, Miami or Ann Arbor, but in Colorado Springs.
After Dowis set an NCAA single-game record for quarterbacks, scoring six touchdowns, in a smashing 52-36 win over San Diego State on Sept. 2, Aztecs coach Al Luginbill said, "That's the best performance I've seen by an individual player, ever." Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry says, "He's a four-star general." Lou Holtz, whose Notre Dame Irish will face Dowis on Saturday, says, "I like him." What's not to like?
Certainly the folks at Air Force can't find anything to criticize. After the Falcons beat Wyoming 45-7 on Sept. 10, sports information director Dave Kellogg began putting out a flyer extolling Dowis's heroics. At first, he thought he would call it Dee Weekly Flyer. Then he got a grip on himself and named it The Dowis Weekly Flyer. Of course, once he gets past the numbers, Kellogg has his work cut out for him in the quotes department, as this reporter can attest from his own interviews with Dowis.