Now he was all duded up in a black cowboy outfit that has earned him the nickname " Fontana." It has no special meaning, but Willard, who conferred it, figured Hardman deserved a name and a horse as much as any other Western hero. He called Hardman's imaginary horse "Sugar." Two days before the 49ers played the Saints, Hardman was 20 minutes late to a meeting, and when he came in Willard had written "Poor old Sugar" on the blackboard and Nolan pointed a finger at Hardman and said, "That'll cost you a hundred."
After practice, walking out to his red Lincoln Continental with Texas plates reading NASTY, Hardman laughed. "If I'd known it wasn't going to cost no more than that, I'd have missed the whole meeting," he said.
He patted the flank of the big car fondly, then grew serious. "I meant it about being the best. I only played as a starting defensive end for one year at North Texas State—my senior year. I went there as a 180-pound running back and then got too big. My first two years, all I played was sideline. So I still have a lot to learn, but I'm learning every day."
"He learns very fast," Nolan says. "He still makes the mistakes you expect from rookies, but he's so quick he outruns most of them. I remember in an exhibition with Cleveland, Bo Scott got outside of him and into the clear and Hardman ran him down from behind. There aren't many men as big as he is who can run down backs in the open field."
And there aren't many coaches like Nolan. "He's a listener," Brodie says. "If you come to him with a suggestion, he thinks it over and he's not afraid to use ideas from the players."
The players might have had any number of suggestions after the tie, but they were almost inarticulate with rage. "We used to lose big on our bad days," one veteran muttered. "We should have won on this one. We won't have any more. Bet on that."