Hixson immediately hit Gary Hammond, a brilliant sophomore who has inherited Jerry Levias' job, for 19 yards. Then he hit Hammond again for three. He's on the Falcons' 27-yard line now, but, oops, there are just 10 seconds left. A completion short of the goal won't do. It has to be for six, or at least incomplete, in which case he'll get one more try. Out go the receivers—Tight End Ken Fleming, who's caught eight. Flanker Sammy Holden, who's caught eight, and Hammond, who's caught nine. And some other guys. Hixson drops back to throw, the scoreboard mentions miraclemakers again, the stadium erupts.
But Chuck doesn't throw. He keeps looking. And he never does throw because an Air Force end named Harold Whaley has looped outside and come around in back of him and wrestles him down, and everybody goes home. Which brought up the fact that this is something else SMU and Hixson may do this year—run for minus yardage. Alone, Hixson was caught eight times for-48, and the Falcons intercepted him three times, and while this was happening Gary Baxter, the more complete operator, was getting the Air Force 178 yards on the ground along with his 206 passing.
The game was lost, but Hixson has got "Excitement '69" off to the kind of start that SMU is accustomed to. They win some and lose some but everybody remembers the swell heart attack they suffered, in any case.
Had Hixson got the ball away and had Hammond or Fleming grabbed it for a touchdown, SMU would have outscored the Air Force, but who would have had the better team? Interesting. One team—the Falcons—had played one game by all of the old-fashioned rules. But this other one, SMU, had been playing jai alai all night, or something like that, because Chuck Hixson has no other way to travel, and because SMU is not just playing college opponents every week in this new era, it is playing the Dallas Cowboys for the entertainment dollar.
When Hixson got to SMU two years ago the coaches weren't sure how tough he was. Could he take real punishment, the kind a guy receives when his protection pocket crumbles? Could he stand up to the rush repeatedly and always get up when he got stomped? They decided to play a little game that could have been called "get Hixson."
The game involved the assistant coaches forming a human wall behind him—behind the offensive backfield—during workouts. When Chuck would drift back to pass, the wall was there so he couldn't possibly escape the onward rush. He either got rid of the ball fast or he got buried. When he would appear to be retreating, the coaches would block him and even, at times, hurl him into the defenders. Hixson kept getting up.
"Spending a year as a red shirt will teach you a few things," Hixson said. "There's no question that it helped me learn to take it, but also to look for receivers—and quick."
Hayden Fry might be the only coach in America who won't use the triple option this year. Hixson, of course, is the reason. "If there is anything you need, it's a healthy quarterback," Fry said. "Hixson couldn't run the option anyhow. He's too slow, although he has run for some touchdowns. But I don't want him taking the punishment a quarterback takes with that offense."
Dedicated as he is to the passing game with Hixson this year (and next), Fry's workouts are not like anyone else's. He might spend a whole day rehearsing ways for Hixson to throw the team into the end zone from only eight yards out. Or he might spend another whole afternoon rehearsing ways for Chuck to hurl the Ponies out of their own territory. "Everything we do is based on one theory,'' said Fry. "We believe it's easier to throw for four yards than to run for four. At least with Chuck it is."
But there are many reasons why Hixson is already immortal and, given good health, will surely break every collegiate passing record there is. First, he can throw his passes in a variety of ways—soft, the nose of the ball up, or hard and flat. He also has the knack of being able to see many receivers all at once, like each and every one of the four or five hundred that the Mustangs send out on practically every play. SMU's alphabet offense spreads across the field like a marching band and then some, and Hixson has to stand back there and search across the entire horizon before he throws.