A popcorn game, some coaches call it: the creams against the alabasters, or the porcelains against the pinks, or whatever you have when Caucasians play the game of football among themselves. Call it what you like, but be assured that it is becoming as out of date as the segregated drinking fountain. The Warren McVeas of the world—when they are healthy—have seen to that. The soul brothers have arrived in college football, not just here, there, but almost everywhere, and this year in particular it seems that a team which does not have the brilliant Negro runner is about as exciting to watch as a clumsy baton twirler.
As of this week, three of the most surprising teams in the U.S.—Houston, Purdue and Southern California—are all featuring attacks built around the blazing talents of superb Negro backs. Purdue has Leroy Keyes, the man who beat Notre Dame, and USC has O. J. Simpson, who has slashed the Trojans right up to No. 1. But neither has quite rivaled the excitement generated by the wildest runner of them all and the one who may be the most valuable to his team, Wondrous Warren McVea of Houston.
While Keyes and Simpson were keeping their teams up there among the undefeated last Saturday, McVea was starting out to do so for the Cougars. Then, just eight minutes along in the game against' North Carolina State, he was injured. With 41 yards in only five carries, McVea had had Houston looking as potent as ever, but when he suddenly went out with a shoulder bruise the blaze in Houston's offense went out just as swiftly. The result was a 16-6 upset by the Wolfpack, a defeat that came as the same sort of jolt to college enthusiasts as Houston's devastating victory over Michigan State did earlier—the thing that thrust McVea and the Cougars into national prominence in the first place.
McVea's injury was diagnosed as not being serious after Monday's X rays and, fortunately for the Cougars, they now have a week off in which to recover their dignity and get their blaze lit again. Without McVea, against North Carolina State, the Cougars did what Purdue or USC might do without Keyes or Simpson. They panicked, fumbling an atrocious seven times and throwing two interceptions, blowing a 6-0 half-time lead and crashing into the ranks of the embarrassed before a record Astrodome football crowd of 52,483.
Houston's efforts to mount an attack without McVea served to point out how important the splendid Negro runner is in this season of frantic emphasis on offense. " McVea is really something," said the Wolfpack's All-America tackle, Dennis Byrd. "I was sorry to see him hurt, but it really helped us." His injury also gave an even truer ring to McVea's own words long before the game.
"You got to play the big O nowdays," Warren had said, meaning offense. "That D will win for you sometimes, but you got to have the O."
The good Negro runner is hardly new to the college game, of course. You can go back to Ozzie Simmons at Iowa, or Kenny Washington at UCLA. You can come up to Buddy Young at Illinois, or Jim Brown at Syracuse, or Clinton Jones at Michigan State, and a lot of others. But you will not find so many good ones in so many far-flung places as there are this season, or so many teams eager to recruit others.
As Texas' Darrell Royal says, "It's been proved in a lot of sports that the Negro athlete simply has more speed. Now he is getting good coaching in our part of the world because of integrated schools. The result is a lot of spectacular backs."
Royal is a good example of a southern coach caught in the middle. There is pressure on Texas to recruit a McVea or a Simpson: Texas could use some O. And there is pressure not to. Meanwhile, the Negro players have gone elsewhere—the likes of Mel Farr, Charley Taylor, Junior Coffey, Wilmer Cooks, Johnny Roland, Clemon Daniels and Homer Jones, to name a few. They all came out of Texas high school football.
None, however, has come along with the speed and broken-field ability of McVea. Mac the Knife, as he has been labeled, is a ballcarrier who can outrun you or outdodge you. He starts quick, and then gets quicker. He stops and makes you collapse. He seems to slide sideways as fast as he darts forward.