No city takes itself more seriously than Dallas, Texas. It calls itself Big D. The D stands for Doubt. Still just a debutante as metropolises go, Dallas is unconvinced of its importance and its good looks, so it examines criticism as though it were a swelling on the cheek. If Dallas were a Buddha it would be one that frowns. At present, Dallas broods.
Dallas cannot accept the alien notion that it is in some way guilty of the shooting of John F. Kennedy, but neither can it understand why it feels guilty. A young woman flying back for the Cotton Bowl game after vacationing in Florida said that the whole time she was there she did not once reveal her home town. "I was ashamed," she said. "But I can't tell you why, really."
The significance of the Cotton Bowl game—national champion Texas vs. second-ranked Navy—was established the moment the match was made, but Dallas looked forward to it with the special eagerness of a town in dire need of a pick-me-up. "It would be in bad taste," said Navy Coach Wayne Hardin, a sensitive man who is learning to eat crow and therefore knows about taste, "to associate this game with Kennedy's death."
But if Hardin and many others around the country sensibly avoided the association, it undeniably was there in the minds of local people. Crowds still come to view the fatal spot of the assassination at Elm and Houston streets just below the School Book Depository building, and far from lost in the throngs were many midshipmen. Others who were curious tried Jack Ruby's Carousel Club, a walkup on Commerce Street, and found its decor overripe and its strippers the same. Eastern sportswriters paid cabbies to retrace the steps of Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's alleged assassin, who was later killed by Ruby, and theorized about him into the night when talk of Roger Staubach, Navy's Heisman Trophy winner, had been exhausted.
The prospect of Navy's presence in Dallas seemed to serve as a governmental approbation, though it should not have been necessary to consider it so. Rear Admiral Charles Kirkpatrick, the academy superintendent, said he never doubted the advisability of playing, that he had received a mere handful of protests and that the only thing he had not agreed with much was the postponement of the Army-Navy game.
For Dallas there was no better catalyst than the magnificent Texas team, and its sportswriters were beside their adjectives with indignation when an eastern writer called the Longhorns a "hoax and a fraud" and said they had the skinny legs and high fannies of schoolgirls. Texas Coach Darrell Royal laughed all the way to the barbecue pit at President Lyndon Johnson's ranch, where he was a guest at the reception for German Chancellor Erhard. "That Johnson," said a reassured Dallas man. "He sure knows the right people to get close to."
When the Navy team arrived Coach Hardin reassured the press 1) that Quarterback Staubach was the greatest football player he had ever seen, 2) that the Navy backfield was the best ever assembled and 3) that Center Bruce Kenton was the best snapper for punts and conversions in college football. Privately, Hardin said he did not think Texas had faced a balanced attack to compare with Navy's.
Surprisingly, and despite his sweeping praise of his own players, there was almost no rancor between Hardin—who has cause to believe that some people just do not like his looks—and the press. This was in marked contrast to the disdain mutually expressed when Navy lost to SMU in Dallas last October. Hardin said he had been trying to repair his image. "I suppose it is hard for me to trust people," he said. "I don't get to know them in a hurry, and friendships take time. But it is very hard for me to take it when somebody I don't even know picks up and writes something like this." He took a column from a Los Angeles paper out of his pocket. "Things like, ' Hardin doesn't win games, he steals them.' Sure, it's a funny line, I'll say that, but only if you're reading it about somebody else.
"A friend told me I ought to sue this guy, but I'm not interested. I know I have brought some of this on myself, and I have tried all this year to make a conscientious effort to correct it. I even made a list for my desk: 'be humble, be cooperative....' This problem has to be corrected before too long, because it is embarrassing the two things I care for most: my family and the academy. I am a fighter by nature, and it's hard. But I'm learning. I'm learning."
Hardin lifted all restrictions on Superstar Staubach prior to the game. The press simply could not stand the luxury. Three other Navy players were interviewed in the Holiday Inn lobby one afternoon, but Staubach spent the entire time off to one side, alone and ignored.