Cold rain blew through the football stadium where about 12,000 people crouched under umbrellas and makeshift shelters on a miserable Saturday night in Kingsville, Texas. It was one of those sudden storms that hit the Gulf coast. In the afternoon it may be white and still and sweaty hot, and by evening you can't see across the street through wind-driven rain that rips limbs off trees and makes ponds in the grain fields.
For 12,000 people to gather at Javelina Stadium in Kingsville on such a night is comparable to 500,000 heading for the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to watch a football game during a Texas typhoon. What drew them out, helped by the rather light calendar of public events in Kingsville on a Saturday night, was the fact that the local university, Texas A&I, has a team that has won 22 straight games, was the NAIA national champion last year and is currently No. 1 in the nation in the small-college rankings, ahead of North Dakota, Boise State, Grambling and the rest.
In the 12th row of the student section in Javelina Stadium, at the 20-yard line, a man sat wrapped in a hooded poncho, rain pouring from his brow onto a hand that covered his cigarette. Beside him was a younger man in a blue cap and blue plastic jacket. They squinted at ink blotches on a clipboard.
"Tell that son of a buck to move his tail fast when he sees that guy start out of the backfield," said the man in the hood. The other jumped up, trotted down the concrete steps through the crowd, leaped over the fence, sloshed through water on the track and began to speak to A&I coaches and players near the bench. Then the man in the hood had another thought: "The son of a buck ought to get right in his face." He rushed down the steps in the rain and ran to the sideline, waving his arms and shouting, his cigarette stuck to his chin in a mush of wet paper and tobacco.
In Kingsville everybody knew who the man in the hood was, and nobody paid his behavior much attention. At other stadiums around the Southwest and as far off as Honolulu and Mexico City, curious spectators have been heard to ask, "Who is that strange person who keeps sending his friend down to talk to the coach and then goes down and talks to the coach himself?" The strange person's wife has heard people ask that. She laughs when she tells about it, because the strange person, her husband, is Gil Steinke, the Texas A&I coach.
A visitor wandered into Javelina Stadium on a hot, clear afternoon in the middle of the week and inquired where he might find Coach Steinke. "You wouldn't believe it if I told you," said a Mexican in a straw hat. Steinke wasn't in his office. On his desk beside pictures of his wife, two sons and daughter stood several metal sculptures of javelinas—wild pigs that range from South America up to the country around the Texas A&I campus, where one pig is said to have snacked on the leg of a former A&I president—and there were drawings and paintings of javelinas on the walls, along with photographs of Steinke's championship teams. Texas A&I has won the NAIA national football championship four times in all, three times in the past six years, and the Lone Star Conference eight of the last 16.
In a few minutes Steinke walked into the office, flapping his hands as if shaking off irksome fluids. "Shoo, that stuff stinks," he said. Steinke is about 6 feet tall, in his middle 50s, parts his hair in the center and still weighs 171 pounds, which is what he weighed when he was a star running back at Texas A&I and a starting defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles' 1948 NFL championship team. "Lordy, it gets in your eyes and nose," he said.
Steinke sat down rather gently and thrust a couple of yellow patent leather loafers onto the top of the desk. "It's the damn old mold," he said. "This humid climate." What Steinke had been doing was scrubbing the ladies' rest rooms in the stadium with Clorox. "I don't like for ladies to come to our games and have to go to a room that's not clean," he said.
He sprang up and moved around the office, emptying ashtrays, looking for things that might have gotten out of place. Steinke is a natural mover and fixer who eats and sleeps lightly, and as the Javelinas' winning streak increases he is inclined to become even more fidgety. Two years ago the Javelinas went 2-8, the worst record in Steinke's 22 years as their head coach and only his second losing season. Last year they were picked seventh in their conference and instead finished unbeaten at 13-0, including the NAIA playoffs. Two hours before the national championship game against Henderson State of Arkansas, Steinke was up in the stands at Javelina Stadium sweeping the seats with a broom.
The King's Inn is a sea-food restaurant in an old white wooden building on the shore of Baffin Bay, some 20 miles from the town of Kingsville. Steinke sat at the head of the table waiting for his coaching staff to arrive for an enormous dinner of fish, shrimp, crab, scallops, oysters, fried onion rings and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. The only coach left from the disastrous year of 1973 is Fred Jonas, the defensive coordinator. After reflecting upon that 2-8 record, Steinke hired a whole new staff.