There was no mistaking the look of those tough new faces around the Southern Methodist University campus in 1947. These were men who had faced the guns of Tiger tanks, had fought Zeros and had survived K-rations, and they were not likely to be awed by earnest young fellows grunting at them from across the line of scrimmage. It was, however, that kind of year for campuses all over the country and, in fact, SMU had fewer World War II veterans than most of the big universities. A dismal season the year before had even left the impression that SMU might be just as ordinary this time around.
Coach Matty Bell knew better. "We're going to surprise somebody," was the way he put it, and while coaches are just full of such euphemisms, those few veterans he did have were special. Very special. Linemen Earl Cook, John Hamberger and Sid Halliday, for instance, were big and mean. There was also a fine passer in Gil Johnson and one of the quickest runners around in Paul Page. But, most of all, there was Doak Walker (above) who was small, slightly faster than slow and who could bring more people leaping off their seats than a swarm of agitated army ants.
There was a hint of things to come two years before when SMU won five games with Walker. The following year Walker spent the football season in the Army at the Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio, but he was back now, older, steadier—and ready. His old followers were hopeful, of course, and Bell was confident, but absolutely no one was quite prepared for—could be prepared for—a whole season of runs, passes, receptions, kicks, punts and tackles that were ordinarily spectacular and almost unbelievable on occasions.
Kezar Stadium in San Francisco has 59,700 seats, most of which were left uncovered for SMU's opener with Santa Clara. Pity. SMU quickly demonstrated what the 1947 season was going to be like. Late in the game, Walker took a kickoff on the two-yard line and very deliberately, almost lethargically, started upfield, peering intently at the forming defense. Then it came—first a burst of speed, then a complete stop, followed by a skip to the left, one to the right, and Walker was clear, picking up blocks when he had them, changing speed and direction when he did not. He crossed into the end zone untouched. There was another one of those ghostly runs earlier, a 44-yarder for a touchdown, and a jolt at the line that upended three linemen—and that meant a touchdown, too.
That first win was important. Cook, Hamberger and Halliday learned then that they had something unusual in back of them, and they immediately started blocking with precision and, when Walker was on the loose, at any time, any place.
After the Mustangs' second win—against Missouri, in which Walker returned a punt 75 yards for one touchdown, bucked for another, passed for a third and chipped in with an extra 57-yard run—it became evident that SMU, with its crazy-quilt offense that spread players from sideline to sideline and had Walker lining up almost anywhere, was fully prepared to turn a perfectly ordinary game of football into a wild afternoon of fun and games.
Suddenly rickety old Ownby Stadium was utterly inadequate. But when SMU moved into the Cotton Bowl to play Texas, there still were not enough seats, and 5,000 married veterans at SMU staged a brawl when they could not get tickets for their wives. Texas was No. 3 in the country. SMU was eighth. Texas was unbeaten. So was SMU. Texas had Bobby Layne, the best passer in football. SMU had Walker, and this was the game to find out just who was Mr. It in the state of Texas.
It was Walker. With the score tied, Walker—at tailback—passed to Halliday for a first down on the 38. He then moved over to wingback and took a pass from Johnson. Walker caught the ball in the air and landed with his legs already in motion. Texas finally tackled him on the one, but that was the game.
The thrills did not end there. Against Arkansas, with SMU behind, Walker ran a kickoff back 46 yards, returned a punt 30 yards, picked up 56 yards rushing, completed a pass, caught four of Johnson's passes and scored the winning touchdown with three minutes to go. That performance, however, was off-Broadway compared with what Walker did in the final game. It was against TCU, and the Southwest title was at stake, although SMU could win it with a tie.