Whereupon Wondrous Warren got his hands on the football and lit out in his typical fashion on a 30-yard run for a touchdown. His style is basically smooth. His legs churn like spokes, and his arms stay close to his sides. His cut is more like a sharp lean. He fakes his head and shoulders with great subtlety.
Despite his tremendous potential as an all-the-way runner, it took McVea a while to make a believer out of his varsity opponents. His first varsity game was a shambles. It was against Tulsa, on national television. Houston lost 14-0 in the Astrodome, and Warren fumbled four times. He was thereupon shifted from running back to flanker (where he wants to play as a pro) for the remainder of the season and for his first five games last year as a junior. Yeoman did not feel he had the blockers to give McVea enough daylight, and Warren, who is only 5'10" and 180 pounds, agrees that he is not so hot without running room. Last year, though, Houston's fine guards, Rich Stotter and Bill Pickens, and Tackle Bill Cloud developed as path-clearers, and at midseason McVea became a runner again. He ended up averaging 8.8 yards per carry, and Houston finished with an 8-2 record.
This year, with his blockers even more proficient and Houston a confident team loaded with threats other than himself, Mac the Knife is off to his best start, despite the injuries to his pride, groin, shoulder and what have you. He has 324 yards on a mere 38 deliveries, or an average of 8.5 yards every time he flows inside or outside tackle. He believes that if his pains heal he still has opportunity enough in six remaining games to reach his goal of 1,000 yards. His long gainers have included runs of 20 and 19 against Florida State, of 50, 48 and 33 in the Houston upset of Michigan State, of 70 against Wake Forest and of 34 against North Carolina State. One of the remarkable things about his record is that in four games he has barely played enough to earn a letter. For a variety of reasons—anger, injury or the game being a rout—he has played little in the second half except against Michigan State.
It was McVea's free-lance running that ruined the Spartans and catapulted Houston into the Top 10 for the first time in the team's history. The game also won a handful of Back of the Week awards for Warren, but he did not think he had played especially well.
"Man, if I'd known I was going to be Back of the Week I 'd have tried," he says.
From here on, McVea will have to try like never before if Houston is going to regain the company of the nation's elite. Next week the Cougars travel to Starkville, Miss, to meet Mississippi State, and the week after to Oxford to play Ole Miss. And then they come home to receive powerful Georgia. That makes three teams from Dixie in three weeks, and two of them on the road. McVea has played Deep South teams before—Ole Miss in Memphis last year, for one—but never deep into the South.
" Starkville and Oxford," he sighed last week. "That's something I'm thinking about, all right. They threw a lot of stuff at me and hollered things in Memphis, but this could be worse. I just want to get in there and get out. I know we're a better team than they are, but it might be hard to prove in that atmosphere. We beat Ole Miss in the Dome when I was a sophomore [McVea scored on pass runs of 80 and 84 yards], and I understand they said they wouldn't play us here again as long as we had Negro boys.
"But I'll tell you something," McVea added, and a seriousness came to his usually animated face. "The finest thing that has ever happened to me was getting letters of apology from some Ole Miss coeds after our game in Memphis last year.
"Listen, I was like most Negro boys when I got out of high school. I didn't worry about any racial stuff. But people kept asking me about it, and so I started to think about it. Now I got to go down there and play those Mississippi teams."
That's the way it is these days. Warren and O. J. and Leroy are taking the big O everywhere.