But then they get down and into the action, and it is here, when the abstraction becomes a practicality, that the forest trembles and an awed adversary like Darrell Royal of Texas says, "You're three-fourths of the way there when you start with three Selmons." Kansas State Coach Vince Gibson found them "close to being the three best defensive players I ever saw on one team, let alone the three best brothers."
Gibson laughs ruefully at the recollection of his team's recent expedition against the Selmons. "My, my, the size and the quickness of those three. Great players. And what makes it tougher is they are surrounded by other great players. Three Selmons lined up together, and right behind them an All-America linebacker [Shoate]. I never saw so many fine athletes on a defensive team." Gibson's Wildcats wound up on the rocks, 56-14. Oklahoma, he said, was capable of beating anybody just as badly.
The team whose banner was stained with a two-year probation by the NCAA in August as penalty for altering the transcript of Quarterback Kerry Jackson—who was himself suspended for a year—is still loaded with talent and, obviously, high purpose. If they could not go to bowl games, Switzer told the Sooners then, nobody said anything against going for the Big Eight Conference title, or the national championship.
To that end Switzer, in his first year as a head coach, thumbed his nose at all the clouds (in September he even had his car stolen) and whistled up the sun. His offense is typically Oklahoma Awesome: Steve Davis runs the Wishbone in a style not even Jackson could fault, and has exceptional receivers, most notably Tinker Owens, who broke open the Texas and Miami games with long touchdown receptions. Rubber-legged sophomore Halfback Joe Washington, who plays in silver shoes, and Fullback Waymon Clark, a burly junior-college transfer, continue to deliver. Washington ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa State. Switzer says Washington "thinks he can fly."
But it is the freshly Selmonized Oklahoma defense that has made the grandest difference. Just two years ago the Oklahoma defense was the perfect catalyst for the Oklahoma offense. Its weekly impersonation of an open gate forced the offense to win games by such scores as 48-27. Or lose 35-31.
"Now," says Larry Lacewell, "there are days when people know we do play defense." And nobody has enjoyed it more than Lacewell. Oklahoma fans pay $30 for a black and white picture of him and the defense, and he is asked around to lecture. "Three years ago I was a mediocre defensive coach," Lacewell smiles. "Now I'm a defensive genius." How do you get to be a defensive genius? Lacewell asks himself. You drive 90 miles to Eufaula and sign Lucious Selmon to a scholarship, he answers.
It was not exactly an epiphany, Lacewell admits. "The fact is, I wasn't impressed. Lucious was a 5'10", 220-pound fullback when I first saw him, and his brothers were already bigger than he was. The day I arrived he was sweeping out the halls of the high school. I asked him when we could talk. He said that afternoon, at the junior high. 'What do you do there?' 'Sweep that out, too,' he said. Lucious and his brothers were janitoring before school, at noon and after school, earning money for the family.
"No one up till then had offered him a scholarship. And we didn't need a janitor. But when I got to know more about him, I began to warm to the idea that he had to be a prospect for something."
What Lacewell got to know more about—and, ultimately, to appreciate—was the slightly incredible, totally wonderful Selmon family. Nine children raised in a tiny frame farmhouse west of Eufaula, in rooms no bigger than hotel closets. Without indoor plumbing, or even hot water until recently.
But Lacewell says he found the Selmon house spotlessly clean and neat—neatness is now the mark of the brothers' athletic dormitory rooms at Oklahoma—with little gardens of zinnias and petunias painstakingly groomed. Recently, when an ABC-TV camera crew wanted to photograph the Selmons at home, Mrs. Selmon made them wait. "I have to cut the grass first," Lucious explained.