Nobis' pride made him an easy recruit for Texas. All it took was one visit to Oklahoma. "I knew," he said, "that either Coach Royal or Bud Wilkinson would be the two best men to play for—if I wanted to become a coach. So I went up to visit OU, but you know what? I got real mad hearin' some of those guys talk bad about Texas. I guess the pride just came out in me."
The pride is a source of worry to Nobis as well as satisfaction. He rarely trusts himself with a date after a game. "I'm just no fun then," he said. "And I don't want to take it out on some poor girl. Mostly, I just visit with my folks [his younger brother, Joe, is a junior end at Thomas Jefferson High] and get something to eat and then try to listen to some good country music and go to sleep. Dad gum it, though, the radio keeps comin' on with football scores, and I get all fired up again."
He is especially fired up at being a co-captain with Kristynik. He feels the responsibility deeply, holds repetitious meetings in Suite 160 with teammates to make sure everyone is "thinking right," and, more than ever before, refuses to appear weary on the field.
"You got to look a man in the eye, whether he's on your side or the other." When Nobis, who is called Rancher by the team, says this he sounds a little like a gunslinger, which is what he resembles in the Stetson hat he occasionally wears and shirts that won't button around his mighty neck. "Look him in the eye and let him know you're ready," he says. "When I call a defense I stare at our guys the best I know how to show 'em I got confidence."
Then he stares at the enemy and girds himself up for a manner of tackling that has become the vogue of college play, and is performed better by Nobis than by anyone else. Players not so long ago were taught to hit a runner low, the lower the better. No more. Royal has taught his Longhorns, and others have followed, to keep their heads high and go after the man from the waist up, driving their helmets into the runner, smothering him and hoping to jar loose the ball. Pass defenders have a simple rule: punish the receiver for every ball he catches. Texas, in four games, has caused 24 fumbles. As Royal says, "Whoever he is, and wherever he's goin', we want 11 of us around him."
"You don't get fooled as much if you go high," said Nobis, whose personal talent for the bear hug and headgear-in-the-chest—"in the gizzle," he says—has become as familiar a sight in the Southwest as Sam Baugh's passes ever were. "You're not tryin' to hurt anybody. Nobody wants to do that. It's just the best way to tackle, the surest way."
Away from the fierceness of football, Tommy Nobis could pass for a biology student who collects butterflies. Quick-smiling, friendly, good-natured and sensitive ("He'd be the last guy in a street fight," says Royal), he even has a sense of humor, which is fairly unusual for someone who goes around sticking people in the gizzle on Saturdays. Last spring Nobis made a luncheon talk to a downtown Austin civic group, and he spoke interestingly for over an hour. A couple of his teammates were present, and they were astounded.
"Hey, Tommy," said one. "I didn't know you were a speaker, man."
Nobis grinned, his neck exploding to size 23, and said, "What'd you think I was—just another pretty face?"