Since Texas Tech College sits rather aloofly out in Lubbock on the south plains, surrounded by towns like Bronco, Shallowater, Idalou and Frenship—towns known mostly to tool dressers and rig watchers—it is possible that even now the football world is not too familiar with The Golden Palomino, or Donny Anderson, a horse in hip pads. It should be. Anderson, who is poured with almost perfect bulges into a suit at 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, is proving for the third straight season that he is one of the buckingest, swiftest, busiest halfbacks ever to come along.
Last week Anderson, who has a square chin, high cheekbones and blond hair that lies down flat, did all the things he does so well—run, catch, return, kick, block, tackle. In consequence, the Red Raiders' astonishing record rose to 8-1, and the professional scouts, wiping the drool from their chins, pondered even more deeply which position he ought to play when he graduates.
"He's got to be a running back," said one scout. "Speed, size and tough—why, he hasn't been hurt in three years." Well, Donny Anderson could play running back. He gained 609 yards as a sophomore, 966 last year, and his 1965 total went to 630 yards after he helped defeat Baylor 34-22 on Saturday.
"Nope," another scout said. "He's the ideal flanker or split end." Possibly. He caught five more passes against Baylor, which gave him 50 for the season and 654 yards. Once he took a short toss over the middle from Quarterback Tom Wilson and zoomed, after one subtle shoulder feint, 43 yards for the touchdown that assured Tech's win.
"I'll tell you the truth," said one more scout, "with his speed he could be a truly great defensive safety, even though he could play four places on offense."
He could do that easily enough. He made a score-saving tackle against Baylor after a punt, and in high school at Stinnett, in the Texas Panhandle, he was a linebacker. And he can punt. He boomed one 56 yards in the pleasant, clear air above Tech's Jones Stadium. The best thing he does, however, is move the football forward.
In fact, if Donny Anderson can advance the ball just 26 more yards this week in the Southwest Conference championship game against Arkansas in any of the nonpassing ways—rushing, receiving, on punt or kickoff returns—he will erase an obscure but nonetheless cherished NCAA record. Back in the 1949 to 1951 seasons Ollie Matson amassed 4,963 yards doing these things, and Donny Anderson is the first player to come along with a chance to top him. He ran his all-ways (except punting and passing) total to 4,938 yards last week, scoring his 90th point of the year in the process. "He's the greatest back in America," said Tech Coach J. T. King, "and he'll get a record bonus for a runner."
For all of his abilities—his running power coupled with speed and moves, his good hands and his durability—Anderson has the pros worried on one count. He is something of a maverick, so much so that one of his teammates last year remarked, "They call him The Golden Palomino, but they ought to call him The Golden Great Dane, because he's a big dog." He doesn't dog it in games but in practice, his critics say, and he has even admitted he does not enjoy practicing. He has not helped his image with some wisecracks that listeners took more seriously than Anderson intended they should. Last year, in a game Tech was winning handily, he joked, "Don't take me out, coach, I need the statistics." Another time, when he came slowly off the field after taking his usual battering, Tech's "brain coach," Clyde Prestwood, asked if he could get Anderson something. "Yeah," was the reply, "a C in sociology."
After the Baylor game Anderson admitted that his attitude for three years had not been the best. He flunked out as a freshman, and he did do some loafing. "He's not lazy when they snap the ball," snaps King, who says he believes Anderson has matured. He is slower with the wisecracks, more quietly confident than cocky and he has maintained a C-average in school.
Anderson was drafted last year by Green Bay (No. 1) and Houston, both of which could use him in many ways but particularly as an outside runner. But he is smart enough at this point not to reveal a league preference. Tech, a team that has won three games in the last two minutes, probably will go to a major bowl even if it loses to Arkansas, so Anderson cannot sign what will certainly be a big money contract until after that. "I'd play safety if that was the only place I could play," he said. "But I prefer running with the ball and breaking for a pass." Those are two things that have made Texas Tech one of the surprise teams of the year and Donny Anderson, maverick or palomino, one of the Southwest's alltime performers.