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If this was what college football had come to in 100 years, all of this insanity created by Chuck Hixson down there on the floor of the Cotton Bowl, then one had to wonder whether the game really needs to be played by 11 men on a side. Maybe you just need a guy to pitch and four or five fellows to go jump up in the air and see if they can catch it before the other side does. This was the sort of football game that crazy SMU staged against the Air Force in Dallas last week to welcome in the sport to a new century. All night SMU's Hixson threw the ball at everybody—you, us, them, Mustangs, Falcons, Kilgore Rangerettes, almost up to the lights—and if he had thrown just one more, he might have even won the game. But somehow that didn't seem important. Could a game like this have a winner? That became the question.
It did, of course, for the record. The Air Force survived the whacky evening by a count of 26-22, largely because it utilized several of the sport's more basic concepts—running, for example, and defense and kicking. Together with this it had enough passing of its own to build a 23-0 halftime lead and then hang on while Chuck Hixson did his number.
The Falcons had a quarterback of their own named Gary Baxter, who was a little more of what America remembers in the way of a quarterback. He runs with a style that has earned him the nickname of "Spider," and he has other runners with him—Curtis Martin and Ernie Jennings—who can fly or hammer away. And Baxter's all-round ability at sprinting out, dodging and also hitting 15 passes—-a sane number—got the Air Force rolling quickly and got them two touchdowns and four field goals by a dandy kicker named Dennis Leuthauser, enough to survive SMU's rally.
Against most other collegiate teams, the game would have been over at halftime because the Air Force is a solid team, one with everybody back from a 7-3 season, and they had this big cushion. But the Air Force was dealing with SMU, you know and Chuck Hixson, who hold this belief that the football belongs in the air all the time. So Hixson put it up there a total of 53 times during the evening as a continuance of what began a year ago at SMU and was labeled "Excitement '68" by a public-relations firm hired by the school.
Although a Dallas columnist quickly renamed it "Excitement '68, SMU O," Hixson completed more passes for more yards than any sophomore in the history of the game, and his coach, Hayden Fry, decided that Chuck was the greatest passer football had ever had. For a while last Saturday he looked the part.
With Hixson out there, SMU was bound to start scoring, one felt. After all, last year the Mustangs had trailed eight times at the half but had managed to win eight games, and they had averaged 28 points a game. The Air Force had "only" a 23-point lead. "Hixson has five points to play with," said Bill Morgan, the Southwest Conference publicity director.
Well, the tall, extremely mature-looking quarterback finally got started. Standing back there in his pocket, unblinking, and spraying passes everywhere, he wheeled the Mustangs 94 yards to get eight points on the scoreboard. Then he did it again for eight more. And now the new scoreboard in the Cotton Bowl began to perk up. "Go, go, go, go," it flashed. And then it said, "Remember the miraclemakers of'68?" The 43,000 Mustang rooters stood up and the 1,000 cadets who had been airlifted in from Colorado Springs sat down. It was 23-16 now, and Hixson was hot.
Chuck, who replies good-humoredly to his fans who think of him as a born pro quarterback by saying, "I can run like Unitas and I've got hair like Tittle," was not all that hot, however. He didn't get the Mustangs their other touchdown right away, and Spider Baxter drove the Falcons to that other field goal to increase their lead to 10 points. When Hixson did get a touchdown, there were only 40 seconds left in the game, and SMU still needed four more points.
Everyone in the stadium—and anyone watching national television who had not gone to sleep after halftime—knew that SMU would try an onside kick. It did, and, like the miraclemakers of a year ago, the Ponies recovered it at midfield. This only took one second. So Hixson had to go 50 yards in 39 seconds with no time-outs left.
Since he was in the process of completing 34 passes for 356 yards in all, there was no question as to how SMU might try to get that touchdown. So Chuck bent down behind the center, and the Air Force went into its old 3-2-4-2 defense, or whatever it was that Ben Martin was using against the most unorthodox team in the land.