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All-America, All the Way
Frank Deford
February 21, 1972
Major Pete Dawkins, a man of his times—of good days past and now of the present
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February 21, 1972

All-america, All The Way

Major Pete Dawkins, a man of his times—of good days past and now of the present

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He was in New York to attend a board meeting of the YMCA, and he was standing there, of all perfect places, under the Biltmore clock. There have been so many rowdy, bumptious years of change since he was an All-America, boy and halfback, but he was instantly recognizable. He does not look older; and, of course, the way things are in his line of work, his hair is not that much longer these days.

There is real comfort to be had waking up one fine, polluted, polarized morning and discovering that there still is a Biltmore clock and a YMCA and a Pete Dawkins. These things actually have survived. Perhaps each morning one last hero should be assigned to stand under the Biltmore clock so we can hear the ticks from the good old times, when peace and prosperity were both lit up at this end of the tunnel and the only shaggy-haired perverts were the four who were making noise in a Liverpool cellar.

Used to triggering such reveries, Dawkins suddenly dropped his smile and spoke almost plaintively. "Do me one thing," he said. "Just one thing. Don't treat me like just another piece of nostalgia. You know, I don't live in the '50s anymore, either."

The trouble with Pete Dawkins, All-America, is that despite his protests he is locked into time. In a professional era when great athletes are ongoing household names from puberty to pension, Dawkins' career seems to have lasted only somewhat longer than a half-time show and hardly as long as a twinight doubleheader. So much of him was jammed into that glorious Eisenhower autumn of '58 that, like Conway Twitty, much of him must always remain there.

The other youthful stars of that year—Aaron, Unitas, Palmer, Shoemaker, Robertson and West—still ride shotgun across the sports pages. And those athletic eminences of '58 who have left the scene—Russell and Mantle, for instance—did not retire before spending the prescribed number of seasons as "aging veterans." Of course, they all took home a lot of money. Dawkins' trophy was his calendar year.

He was the very essence of that time, a period that prized humility, respect and clean-cutness from a silent generation. By now we have forgotten that those well-rounded, level-headed scholar-jocks who succeeded Dawkins—men such as Jerry Lucas, Terry Baker and Bill Bradley—were pale imitations of the original Joe Renaissance. There was nothing Dawkins was not, that dreamy senior year of his.

He was appointed First Captain of the Corps and elected class president. He was a Star Man, 10th in a class of 499, and accepted as a Rhodes scholar. He was captain of the football team, everyone's All-America, the nation's leading scorer and winner of the Heisman and Maxwell trophies.

It was written, first facetiously but gradually at face value, that it was unfortunate that Cadet Dawkins and General MacArthur could not have matriculated at the same time at the Academy since MacArthur would have made such a serviceable adjutant for Dawkins. There were so many New Testament metaphors applied to the young man that, it was reported, he grew sensitive at the sacrilege. After all, he was a former acolyte, a member of the cadet choir, and he collected the offering.

Dawkins could play six musical instruments, he was the highest-scoring collegiate hockey defenseman in the East, he had constructed his own hi-fi (as he had previously built his own Soapbox Derby vehicles) and he went about industriously lifting rocks when he had no quick access to his body-building weights. He was modest, had a sense of humor and made out all right with the honeys, too. Moreover, breathless journalists informed America that Dawkins was actually given to such State U. vernacular as "no sweat."

All accounts of Dawkins began by reporting how he had "conquered polio." He had, in fact, suffered a spot of the disease as a child, which had left him with a slight curvature of the spine, but the implication usually was that he had burst forth from a sideline iron lung midway through the Navy game.

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