SI Vault
John Underwood
August 23, 1965
Riled by Pennsylvania gibes after losing last year in the country's roughest, toughest high school football game, Texans retaliated with the swiftest baby beef west of the Sabine—and got rewarding revenge
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August 23, 1965

Texas Teeners Strike Back

Riled by Pennsylvania gibes after losing last year in the country's roughest, toughest high school football game, Texans retaliated with the swiftest baby beef west of the Sabine—and got rewarding revenge

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Clark is the sports editor of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, and this year he celebrated the annual arrival of the game he started by getting pleasantly, tunefully stoned the day before. He wore a cowboy hat three gallons too large and made a genial, ambiguous speech at the foot of the Boies Penrose statue in Harris-burg as the climax of a pregame parade. Clark loves the game and runs it well, and his chief lieutenant, John Travers, can tell you the name, rank and telephone number of every reasonably proficient high school player in the state.

Coaches James and Layne treat the game with deference. "After 35 years of coaching," says James, "my throat still gets dry and my hands get clammy." James, head coach at Cornell for 14 years, is now a pool scout for the NFL. The night before the game, in the lounge at the Cocoa Inn, Layne was asked if he could generate much excitement being a head coach only once a year. His pretty wife Carol said no, that Bobby didn't look forward to it much, "only for about 12 months." ( Layne ended 15 years of NFL quarterbacking in 1962. He now takes time off from business interests in Lubbock to help coach the Pittsburgh Steelers during the season.)

"This is a helluva game. It's fun," said Layne. "The kids, all of them are number-oners. Winners. I mean they give it all they've got. And smart? This Bradley kid. You have to say he's kind of spooky, the way he writes with his left hand and throws with the other and kicks with his left foot. But on the first day I'm at the blackboard telling them how most coaches tend to set up most of their plays to the right because it's natural for them to write that way. Bradley says, 'Coach, isn't their fellow named Lefty?' I almost dropped my damned chalk."

The game was sold out in July. If they had printed double the 24,500 tickets they could have sold them, too. Pennsylvania Governor Bill Scranton bet Texas Governor John Connally 1,061 apples (one for each boy who was lured out of the state by a college last fall) on the outcome. Connally, doubling the bet, put up 2,122 pecans. Texans interpreted this as "nuts to you" and laughed over John's cleverness. Connally also pointed out that more high schools—946—play football in Texas than in any other state.

Each player got a plaque, a blanket and a pecan pie for his part, and two nights before the game the chance to whip around the dance floor a few times with the local cupcakes. The cupcakes are known as the Sweet 66, and their ranks swelled to 99 this year because so many wanted to get to that dance. The rival players eat in the same dining room. They ride the same bus, one team following the other, and one day there was shaving cream all over the seats when the Pennsylvania team got on. "Kid stuff," sniffed Mike Reid, a 235-pound fullback from Altoona. "Remember the Alamo!" shouted a Texan in the distance. "Yeah, the Alamo," answered a Pennsylvanian. "That's where all them dumb Texans got massacred."

But the Texans were learning. Jimmy Harris sat down for a round of poker. The cards were dealt and the ante tossed in and Harris carefully went over his hand. "Now tell me, fellows," he said, "how do you play this game?"

The guys with the clipboards and the sunglasses were the college scouts. They came in from everywhere, but were kept hovering for the most part because the rules prohibit proselytizing until the game is over. All 66 boys had made commitments to college teams, but not all colleges subscribe to letters of intent, so the competition continues. Last year a Texas back, Wilmer Cooks, signed to go to UCLA, went to Hershey, where he encountered some powerful persuasion, and wound up a freshman at Colorado. This year the hottest quest was for Halfback Levias. SMU had signed him to be the first Negro in 51 years to play in the Southwest Conference. Nevertheless, UCLA Head Coach Tommy Prothro came to Hershey to have another try. Coaches have ways of getting around the no-contact rule. Prothro called Levias on the telephone. "He seemed cool," said Prothro, dejected.

Many of the Texas players had never been out of Texas before, and might not go again—only two of the 33 signed with schools outside the state, and one of them, Guard Ronnie Bell, had made a sudden switch from Texas to Notre Dame. "Thief," Texas Assistant Russell Coffee said to Notre Dame's John Ray as they sat discussing their recruiting successes in the lounge at the Cocoa Inn. "Thief yourself," said Ray. It is not easy to get a Texas boy to change his mind, said Ray. One of them was pointing out to another how pretty it was here in Pennsylvania, all this lovely scenery and stuff. "I reckon," said the other, "but you can't see it for those dang mountains."

On the other hand, it has always been open season on Pennsylvania athletes. Of the 33 on this year's team, only 13 agreed to stay in Pennsylvania—six signing on at Penn State, four at Pittsburgh. Others were grabbed off by teams as far away as Arizona State, Minnesota, Wyoming—and Notre Dame.

Like expectant fathers, the scouts sat for hours in the Inn and at the more lively Martini's (the Philadelphia Eagles, who train in Hershey, are instructed not to go to Martini's because it is so lively). At Martini's the conversation ran like this: "The kid chokes, he can't kick." "If he chokes he kicks it 60 yards. He kicks it good it goes a hunnerd." And at Martini's you could also get a line on the game, which happened to favor Texas by 7 points. A Burroughs B-273 computer, fed the facts by Pennsylvanians, picked the home state 20-19.

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