As one of the smallest men in the National Football League—now that Eddie LeBaron has retired, I guess I am the smallest regular of all—I have spent half my time plotting ways to catch passes and the other half figuring out how to stay alive. At 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds I am a mackerel among sharks. The sight of McDonald stretching out for a high one affects defensive backs the way a chunk of horse-meat affects my poodle, Calhoun. They bite me, with relish. I have been knocked unconscious five times in my seven years of pro football, and at one time or another I have played with a broken jaw, a shoulder separation and assorted cracked ribs.
But I have always made a point of bouncing right up after being hit. As a regular I have missed only four games. I don't like to let some big guy on the other side think he can hurt me just because I am small. If he gives me his best lick and doesn't cave me in he gets a little discouraged. I guess I simply get a kick out of proving there's a place for a runt in pro ball. I don't enjoy the punishment. I just like catching passes, and maybe helping a team win a championship, the way it worked out with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960.
Down inside I'm a peaceable man, a sentimental man. I like people, and I want them to like me. I think I could even like Bill Pellington, the gentleman from the Baltimore Colts who put me to sleep for a while in my very first exhibition game in the pros, if he'd only stop trying to squash me like a beetle when he gets a piece of me. And since I have been traded to the Dallas Cowboys I hope the football fans of Dallas will take a liking to me. Having grown up in New Mexico, I consider myself a neighbor, a real friendly neighbor.
Let bygones be bygones, I say. It has been a long time since I played for Oklahoma and we beat Texas three straight years. It was a thrill for me to score five touchdowns against Texas but, now that I think back, I was pretty lucky. It was a special thrill in my senior year when I made a 53-yard reception, away out on my fingertips on the 18, and ran it over for a touchdown, but I'll forget all about it if Dallas will.
I just hope I can do the same for the Cowboys there in the Cotton Bowl—and it is only human nature to want to do well against the Eagles. It was a shock to be traded away from the Eagles after seven years—and 287 receptions for 66 touchdowns and 5,499 yards—but that's football. Anyway, I think I have learned something about playing this game—about survival, too—since I first got into it on my sixth-grade team back in Roy, N. Mex.
Home in Roy was a small farm. I liked being a farm boy. I used to get up at 5 o'clock, and the first thing I had to do was bring in the cows—that was a mile walk each way—and milk them. Then after the cows were milked, I fed the chickens and slopped the pigs and gathered the eggs. Then it was time for breakfast. After breakfast we'd run to school. It was fun. Farms are fun for kids. There's not much to do besides work, but there are lots of things to entertain you. There aren't many kids to play with, but there are horses to ride, and then we used to have a barn there in Roy that had high stacks of hay in it, and when the hay got low, my brother, C. R., and I would climb up on it and swan-dive off the top, down into the hay on the floor.
The thing I didn't like was cattle-branding time. We used to have to dehorn them, too, and when they cut the horn off the blood spurts and the calf bawls, and I used to feel sorry for them. I was supposed to help hold them down, and my size was no help then.
I would try to hold a leg or something and they would kick and throw me about 20 feet, and I would get back and try again, and they would kick me another 20 feet. My granddad used to laugh himself almost to death. That was his entertainment for the day. I liked riding our horse Billy a lot better than wrestling calves, and I still ride whenever I get a chance.
I was lucky as a kid, I guess, with all the fun I had. For example, to show you I was lucky, I caught typhoid fever just as they developed a new drug to cure it. I was one of the first they tried it on. I was lucky my dad decided to live in Roy, and that was purely an accident. He was born in Joplin, Mo., and he had to quit school in the sixth grade. He caught a train for California and happened to get off in Roy to get something to eat, and somebody offered him a job as a mechanic in a garage, so he stayed.
If I needed a whipping, Dad would let Mother whip me. But when he really wanted to get a point over to me, he would take me out himself. He used to just grab me by one hand, and we would go in a little circle, and I would get the old strap. Dad was a part-time farmer, part-time electrician and full-time sports lover. He had been a good pitcher, and he had come close to having a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals. His dream was for me or C. R. to be a big-league ball-player, but he was willing to settle for a good showing in any sport.