Guy (Sonny) Gibbs (see cover), who plays quarterback for Texas Christian University, is—at 6 feet 7 inches tall and 230 pounds—a man of considerable dimensions. He can fall down and make yardage, provided his direction is good. He can throw a football 70 yards, but needn't because he can convey it across the line simply by reaching, as one relay? the potatoes at suppertime. He has a 37-inch sleeve, up which he has nothing, being a guileless, unreserved Texan. He wears a size 74 hat on an unturned head. No matter how much publicity he gets, he still says "Yes, sir" and "Thank you kindly." He has a 100-pound dog called Pepper, a 10-year-old car called Old Yaller and a 5-foot-5-inch blonde he calls, at opportune times, "Y'ole Houn' " but whose real name is Sandra Rea. He keeps a picture of Pepper in his wallet and is quick to show it off. But it is Sandra who will have the ultimate edge. She will marry Sonny in June.
Sonny Gibbs is a country boy with a country boy's appreciation of his size ("Ah'd rather be tall than a squatty body") who is at once the most unlikely and yet one of the more legitimate All-America candidates this year. For many who have carefully—and ofttimes painfully—followed his career at TCU, Gibbs is mostly a by-product of the inventive mind of Jim Brock, the school's football propagandist. After listening to the passionate Brock, and before seeing Gibbs play, a sportswriter was moved to report that Gibbs was faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive and capable of leaping tall buildings at a single bound. Even Brock blanched.
Still, Brock's brainwashing of the press has taken effect. A Gibbs sneeze is tantamount to an epidemic at TCU. His mercurial highs (e.g., the 50-yard touchdown pass that upset top-ranked Texas, 6-0, in 1961) and abysmal lows (e.g., last week's 42-14 loss to powerful Arkansas, when his receivers repeatedly dropped passes and Gibbs ended with 9 for 22) have been the source of constant analysis. "He's great. Any pro club would like to have him," says Don Klosterman of the Dallas Texans, who want him. "I'm not impressed with Gibbs; he has size but not savvy, he's not a great runner, a great passer or a great play-caller," says John Breen of the Houston Oilers, who don't.
Gibbs has been on the spot almost from the moment of his high school graduation in Graham, Texas, a quiet little oil town (pop. 8,500) 90 miles from Fort Worth where Guy Gibbs Sr. runs a welding business and is known around town as a tough-minded, personable man. Scouts from 32 colleges visited the Gibbses' two-bedroom frame house at the foot of First Street. At one point in negotiations Mrs. Gibbs, a handsome woman who naturally dotes over her only child, was reported to have said: "Sonny's ready for the pros right now." This now is contravened by Gibbs. "Mom never said that. Ah'd swear on a stack of Woody Woodpecker books."
Gibbs chose TCU and was a starter from the first game of his sophomore season. Predictably, he could not equal his publicity. "How could he?" says Othol (Honest Abe) Martin, the TCU head coach. "I've never seen a boy with more pressure on him than Sonny. Renown was just thrust on him. It's better to earn it." Martin says he now feels Gibbs is ready to earn fame, but he and his assistants still talk of Gibbs cautiously, as though he were going to happen tomorrow, if the temperature is right and the sky doesn't fall. They are reluctant to compare him with the two other widely publicized TCU quarterbacks of the past, Davey O'Brien and Sammy Baugh. At a recent meeting of the Frog Club in downtown Fort Worth, Assistant Fred Taylor got up to say that Miami's George Mira (whom Gibbs and TCU were to face that week) was the finest quarterback he'd seen in 10 years. "Oh, my," said Brock, holding his head. "Fred's sinking my ship."
TCU has not been a winner in Gibbs' two years at quarterback (combined record: 7 wins, 9 losses, 4 ties). There is strong suspicion, however, that this is mostly the fault of a poor supporting cast and that when Gibbs had his best days they were truly superperformances. In the 7-7 upset tie with Ohio State last fall, Gibbs completed seven of 12 passes for 136 yards and the touchdown. Two weeks later his passes were like grape-shot; he completed only three of 10 for 23 yards, had two intercepted and TCU was beaten by lowly Texas Tech, 10-0. Martin, as a result, has learned to steel himself to disappointments.
The reaction of Gibbs to the adulation of Gibbs has been curious to see. He is able to affect a splendid disinterest, as though the things that matter most to him really don't matter at all. On the day that Martin went to Graham to sign him, taking along a newspaper photographer to record the big event, Gibbs chose to play tennis. "I was walkin' home when this kid challenged me to a match," Gibbs said. "Reckon I couldn't turn him down. He was on the school team. So I took off my shoes and we went at it and I plum forgot the signing." Martin said it was all right because he was more concerned with a big police dog that wouldn't let him on the porch. "Heh, heh, heh," chortled Gibbs as he recalled the incident the other day. "OF Pepper really scared 'em. Aw, she wouldn't hurt anyone. Of course, at night if she didn't know ya she might chew on ya a little bit. Heh, heh. You betchy."
Gibbs flunked out of school his freshman year when studies began to interfere with his hunting trips and his weekend visits home. "Didn'tcha ever get homesick?" he explains blandly. "When I told Mom I'd flunked, though, she folded up like a suitcase. Boy, I felt low-down." When Martin consented to take him back, the Gibbses were elated. "Hails bells," drawled the coach, who understands country boys. "Sonny and I are neighbors. I'm from Jacksboro, 22 miles from Graham. His Daddy and I played football against one another."
For the next two years Gibbs led the conference in smashing his helmet to the ground and berating himself and his team. "I hate to lose. I hate it worse'n anything," he said. Often he was contrite—"my temper's not worth that 15 yards," he told Martin when a penalty followed one tantrum—and this was an encouraging sign. So Brock and Martin braced him last spring with a proposition: they were going to push him all-out for All-America, because they thought him worthy, but it was up to him to be worthy. "It's the first time we ever told a player in advance," said Brock.
The publicity bewildered Gibbs. "It sure seems strange seeing yourself all over the newsstands," he said. One particularly crowded day in Brock's office, Gibbs scribbled him a note: "All this publicity is bunk." Brock dressed him down. "Sometimes," said Brock wearily, "that boy wears me out."