On Friday morning, October 11, a bright, warm Texas day, Elbert Joseph Coffman woke up with a squirrel in his stomach. In his good life as a football fan there had never been a weekend quite like this one. In the next 55 hours he was going to see three college games and one pro game, and the excitement of it, the bigness of the games, made him nervous. Nervous but delighted. Football to Joe Coffman, and thousands of other Texans, is as essential as air conditioning. It is what a Texan grows up with, feeds on, worships, follows, plays and, very often, dies with. Joe Coffman, 32, married, father of two boys, businessman, University of Texas graduate, football enthusiast, was either going to live a lot this weekend or die a little.
The first game—SMU against Navy—would be played that evening in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, just 35 miles away from Joe Coffman's home in Fort Worth. The next day he would go back to the same stadium to see the biggest one of them all, Oklahoma, ranked first in the country, against Texas, ranked second. He would drive to Waco (90 miles south) Saturday night to watch Baylor against Arkansas. And on Sunday he would return to the Cotton Bowl to see the NFL's Dallas Cowboys play the Detroit Lions.
If Joe Coffman's schedule seemed arduous, it was little more so than that of many others in the state. Thousands less fortunate than Coffman in getting tickets to the big games would settle for a game or two on television and radio and perhaps see a couple of high schools play. But Joe Coffman also knew that there would be more to his weekend than football. He knew that it was going to cost him at least $200, that he would be running into old friends, that there would be as many parties as kickoffs and that he would probably consume as much beer as might have been served in a London pub on V-J day. But Joe Coffman had been waiting months for this weekend and, as he prepared to leave home for his office at the business he owns, Terrell (medical and surgical) Supply Co., Inc., near downtown Fort Worth, the only thing that concerned him was whether everybody was as ready as he was. Everybody included Joe's wife, Mary Sue; another couple, Pat and Cecil A. Morgan Jr. (he is a stockbroker for Rauscher, Pierce and Co., Inc. and a former University of Texas basketball star); and the Coffmans' baby-sitter. "I'll tell you one thing, Mary Sue," said Joe. "We got to be suited up and ready to go by 5 o'clock. We're gonna be in Dallas by 6 or I'm gonna raise more hell than the alligators did when the pond went dry."
Joe Coffman is a modern Texan. This means that Mary Sue is a pretty, loving and understanding wife, that his sons Bobby, 6, and Larry, 4, are healthy and happy, that his business is successful (four other branches in Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock and Amarillo), that his ranch-type home is comfortable, with all of the built-ins manufacturers sell these days, that he has a 1963 Oldsmobile Starfire and a 1962 Impala (both convertibles), that his close friends are mostly the ones he grew up with or knew in high school and college. Being a modern Texan also means that Joe Coffman might not recognize a cow pony if it were tied on a leash in his backyard, that he despises Stetson hats, that he likes cashmere sport coats, pin-collar shirts, Las Vegas, playing golf at Colonial Country Club, Barbra Streisand ("Think she can't sing?"), good food, good booze, Barry Goldwater and, more than anything else, the Texas Longhorns. And does he like those Longhorns!
"They got too much character to lose that game," Joe said about Texas as he browsed through the mail on his desk at the office, drank some coffee and talked on the phone. Like any loyal Longhorn, his preoccupation with the OU game was all-consuming. The other games, they were good ones, Joe Coffman felt, but his good health, he said, his well-being and welfare would be riding with the Longhorns. It was not a very good day for work.
"I got to think a Bloody Mary's the answer," he said, heading out to Colonial Country Club. There would be friends there, talking football, "getting down" (making bets), and the time would pass more quickly through the endless football arguments that take place in Colonial's 19th hole the day before the games.
"Hey, Coffman," someone called as Joe entered Colonial and headed toward a table. "What are the Sooners gonna do to those T-sippers?" Joe Coffman removed his sunglasses, postured with his fist raised like Mussolini and said, "We're gonna send those Okies back across the Red River, boys." He greeted a table of friends, ordered drinks and replied to every argument about the strength of Oklahoma's team with his message of the week:
"Have to win, boys. Too much character. We got too much character to lose that game." Several Bloody Marys later, Joe Coffman had got through the day. Now the long, exhausting—and utterly perfect—weekend began.
It is roughly 35 miles, or 25 minutes, by way of the toll road from Fort Worth to Dallas. The first stop on Friday night for Mary Sue and Joe Coffman and Pat and Cecil Morgan was Gordo's. Gordo's is to Dallas what the Cafe Select is to The Sun Also Rises. It is a tiny beer-pizza-steak-sandwich parlor across from the SMU campus. Through its portals stroll many of Dallas' prettiest girls, its brawniest athletes, its newspaper columnists, flacks, poets, politicians and anyone, in fact, who is in enough to know about the place or who likes the world's best pizza or steak sandwich or who wants Gordon West, the owner, to cash a personal check.
The dilemma of the visitor to Gordo's is what to eat. "I got to have a steak sandwich and a cheeseburger between two pizzas," said Joe. "It's all so good, I can't stand it."