"Maybe I didn't really want to coach in 1973," Steinke said. "I couldn't concentrate. I was surrounded by philosophers who had different ideas from mine, and I put off making difficult decisions." During that time Steinke had pain in his lower back that prevented him from sitting. If he had to fly somewhere on a long trip, his wife Mary would drive to the airport in Corpus Christi, 35 miles away, while Steinke lay on the backseat. Once the plane was in the air, Steinke would stand, helping to serve the drinks and meals and clear the trays. He would sit down again just before landing. After going through several doctors, Steinke decided his pain was from some form of toxemia. He changed his diet along with his coaching staff in 1974, and much of the pain went away. He also put in a new style of offense, the veer, and a sophomore quarterback, Richard Ritchie, and Texas A&I has not lost a game since. "I guess you could say we owe most of our turnaround to Richard," Steinke said. "He's smart, he makes quick judgments, he can throw the ball. Lordy, he takes some licks. He's a tough little rascal, thank heaven. I don't know what we'd do without him."
Steinke also mentally dismissed several of the 1973 players he felt were easing along on the scholarship ride. "I don't have much patience with a kid who wants to argue with our rules and won't put out all he can," he said. "College was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Soon as I finished, I wished I could have started all over again. I loved every bit of it."
But when Steinke was through as a player at A&I he went into the Navy, became a gunnery officer, served 33 consecutive months at sea in World War II and was torpedoed on the U.S.S.
in the Pacific. The blast burned off his eyebrows. Steinke was released from the Navy in Boston and joined the Philadelphia Eagles without returning home. In 1946 he led the Eagles in interceptions, and had the best punt return average in the NFL. "They used to talk about how fast I was when I was a pro," Steinke said. "But, heck, I was 27 years old by then. They should have seen me when I was 21.1 tell my black kids now that they might not believe it, but there used to be a time when white kids were fast."
The following year he broke his leg. Still recuperating in 1948, he worked as assistant coach at Trinity in San Antonio until the Eagles asked him to return with four games remaining in the season. Steinke practiced on a Saturday and started at defensive halfback the following day and on through the championship game. He signed a contract for $1.00, figuring he would be paid whatever he was worth. The Eagles gave him a little gold football with his name on it. The next summer at training camp, he broke his neck. He never did get paid any more on that $1.00 contract.
"I used to say I'd play football just for the love of it, and that's what I wound up doing," he said. "I got robbed, but it ain't that big a deal. My life went on anyhow. I had my share of glory as a player and I coached at some big schools before I came back to A&I. So I haven't needed the ego kick of the big-school coaching life. I'm happy down here out of the way."
In the white mansion with the red tile roof and the cannon on the lawn at Santa Gertrudis, the headquarters ranch for the Delaware-size area that makes up the famous King Ranch, there was a party on Friday night before A&I's 50th anniversary homecoming game. The mansion is a couple of miles from the A&I campus. A few miles farther down the road, on King Ranch property, is the biggest gas-separating plant in the world. Texas A&I is the only university in the country that offers an accredited four-year degree in natural gas engineering. The result is a large number of students from Iran, Egypt, Venezuela, Thailand, Oman and other oil-producing nations. But foreign students seldom play college football. Instead of using natural gas engineering as a recruiting inducement, Steinke talks to high school athletes in what he considers his territory—from Houston and San Antonio south to the border—about the phenomenal number of pro football players Texas A&I produces. There are nine A&I exes playing in the NFL this year. Six of them were first-round draft choices—Randy Johnson, Gene Upshaw, Jim Hill, Eldridge Small, Ernest Price and Don Hardeman.
"We tell the kids if they go to one of those big schools they might get lost," Steinke said, standing beside the fountain in the courtyard inside the mansion. "But if they come with us, they can do a lot of playing and get noticed right away. I'm not afraid to go head to head with the big schools after a boy. But if the big school is Oklahoma, we don't usually bother. Oklahoma snatched a couple of boys right out of our hands this year. We don't have many scholarships or a big recruiting staff, so we cull out our prospects pretty quick. We can't waste time on a hot dog who's telling us one thing and other schools something else."
On the afternoon of the homecoming game, the stadium lawnmower broke down and a norther blew in with rain and wind. Steinke prowled Javelina Stadium, fretting over details from toilet paper to the welfare of the trainers (two of A&l's student athletic trainers are women), to the high wet grass that would take away A&I's advantage in speed. The rain also would cut the crowd to less than the 17,500 capacity, but at least Steinke and Assistant Coach Gene Walkoviak would have it easier finding a place to sit in the stands. In Honolulu this year when A&I beat the University of Hawaii 43-9 in front of 33,000 at the opening of Aloha Stadium, Steinke didn't have a ticket for the stands and had to persuade an usher to let him sit in an aisle. In the huge stadium in Monterrey, Mexico last season, Steinke sat in a nearly empty section across the field from his team's bench. When his mind was struck by a dazzling piece of advice for the Javelinas, he rushed down the steps and discovered a locked gate and a moat between him and his players.
Defensive Coordinator Jonas sits in the press box with piles of computer-printed information. He is hooked up to the sideline with the usual earphone and mouthpiece gear. Steinke takes nothing with him into the stands except for Walkoviak to do some of the consulting and much of the message carrying.
"I started sitting in the stands last season," Steinke said, watching a waterfall of rain flowing down a stadium exit. "The sideline is the worst possible place to watch a game. You can't tell what the devil is going on from the sideline. I try to sit about 12 rows up where it's high enough that I can see and low enough so it's not too far to run down to the field. At home I ask a student to save me a couple of seats on the aisle. I sit at about the 20 so I can stay away from the band, and I sit on the student side so I can stay away from the alumni.