The last time the Detroit Lions had an offense worth talking about, Cadillacs had fins, Thunderbirds had two seats and open tops and the real hot car in town was the four-door Edsel, which, coincidentally, was named after Edsel Ford, the father of the present owner of the Lions, William Clay Ford. This season, though, Detroit finally has produced another winner. No, not the moped. A running game. It's the Dexter and Horace Show. After the first three weeks of the season Dexter Bussey and Horace King were the second and third leading rushers, respectively, in the entire NFC and the reason why Alex Karras wasn't telling Lion jokes anymore.
Last Sunday Bussey and King and the rest of the Lions ran into an old nemesis, the Minnesota Vikings, whom they have beaten only twice in their last 19 meetings. The Viking defense held the two young Lions to a combined 36 yards rushing in a typical black-and-blue 14-7 win that gave Minnesota sole possession of first place in the NFC Central. The Lions, now 2-2, weren't the pussycats of old, however. Trailing 14-0 at the half they put together a 68-yard scoring drive early in the third quarter. King played a key role in that march when, on fourth-and-two, he blasted three yards for the first down to the Viking 33. Only a last-second interception kept the Lions from forcing the Vikings into overtime.
King has now rumbled for 275 yards this season; Bussey has rambled for 263. As both showed Sunday they are also capable receivers. King hauled down six passes for 32 yards while Bussey caught four for 21. King now has 18 receptions for 129 yards, Bussey nine for 112.
By their own admission, Bussey and King hardly qualify as superstars—not yet, at least—and neither of them will soon be seen galloping down an airport corridor in pursuit of a rental car, but for those who groove on nice folks, Bussey and King seem made to order, each a refreshing contrast to the athlete whose ego is larger than his paycheck. Teammates, running mates and Southern soul mates, they perform with much the same style and consider ball carrying the highest form of football art.
"It's exciting to have the ball in your hand," says the 25-year-old Bussey, a halfback from Dallas who came to the Lions in 1974 as a third-round draft choice out of the University of Texas at Arlington. "That's the way I get myself prepared for a game. I hold a ball and then go over in my mind the situations I might be in and think about how I would escape from them. When you've got the ball in your hand, you can see things you normally wouldn't see and you can feel and just sense the pressure."
"I just love carrying the football," says the 24-year-old King, a fullback from the University of Georgia who was drafted by New England in 1975 and traded to Detroit the same year for Running Back Leon Crosswhite. "Everything is into that one player who's carrying the football. Trying to maneuver and do things to get away, that's the exciting part of the game. Everybody wants that football, and you're the guy who's got it. You're the determining factor, the focus for all the people watching, the 11 guys chasing you and the guys blocking. That's excitement. Offense is me, I guess."
Bussey and King both were born in March and, unlike most running-back combinations, they seem to have come off the same assembly line as far as size is concerned. Detroit Coach Tommy Hudspeth calls them "pony backs," but the differences in their running styles make Bussey (6'1", 195) appear to be much bigger than King (5'10", 205). Bussey relies on quick, darting elusiveness and runs upright, "so I can see where I'm going." King, on the other hand, plunges through the traffic with his chin at his beltline, a knack he acquired in high school, where his coach made him run under a low-ceiling barrier constructed from planks and wire.
However they run, Bussey and King both have 4.6 speed and follow the same philosophy—make the defender move first, then break.
Bussey, whose 858 yards rushing led the Lions and made him the seventh-ranked ball carrier in the NFC last year, says, "I'd rather run toward a defender than away from him. I'd rather watch him make the mistake than have me make it. When you run toward the defender, he's the one who's in a sweat. When you run away from him, you give him the angle and leverage so he can catch you. I don't have the greatest speed in the-world, but I think I have quickness and instinct. I'm constantly cutting across the grain to where the pursuit catches up, and then stepping aside."
Bussey and King don't object to blocking for one another. "Neither one of them is on a trip for himself," says Hudspeth. "Each appreciates the other's ability and is willing to go along with whatever the game plan calls for. Neither one of them worries that 'he carried the ball 10 more times than I did.' "