Texas' Earl Campbell has gained more than 1,000 yards rushing, has led the Longhorns to seven straight victories and to No. 1 in the polls, and is a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The first-string Texas defense has not allowed a touchdown run all season. But some people believe that the most potent weapon in burnt orange is the tall dude with the three shoes and the Martian surname Erxleben.
Actually the name is German, and Russell Erxleben does not have three feet. On his left foot he wears a regular white football shoe, and on his right, depending on the situation, a regular shoe for punting, or a square-toed one for place-kicking, both of which he does exceedingly well.
Last Saturday in Austin's packed Memorial Stadium, Texas beat 13th-ranked Texas Tech 26-0 and took another giant step toward the Cotton Bowl. Campbell rushed for 116 yards against a defense keyed to stop him; the defense, aided by a holding penalty in the second quarter and the fact that injured Tech Quarterback Rodney Allison was in for only four plays, got itself a shutout. And Erxleben, trotting into the game for just 15 plays, was devastating.
He punted five times for a 44-yard average. Two of his six kickoffs landed beyond the end zone. With Texas leading 7-0 near the end of the first half, a Long-horn drive stalled on the Tech 44. Coach Fred Akers sent in Erxleben wearing the placekicking shoe. In the first quarter he had missed a 56-yard field goal into the wind. This time he had the wind with him and he kicked it through the goalposts from 60 yards away.
It seems as if a fellow who can kick 60-yard field goals should be allowed to mail in his extra points, but Erxleben blew the try after Texas' second TD. He made up for it with a 35-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
"You know what that guy does to you?" asked Oklahoma Assistant Coach Larry Lacewell, whose Sooners lost to Texas 13-6 as Erxleben made good on attempts of 64 and 58 yards. "He puts you in a goal-line defense on the 50-yard line."
Meanwhile, over in College Station, Texas A&M's Tony Franklin was helping the Aggies beat SMU 38-21 by kicking a 54-yard field goal and five PATs (he has not missed an extra point this season). Like Erxleben, Franklin is a junior, but he uses only one shoe. His kicking foot he keeps bare.
And against Rice, senior Steve Little of Arkansas, a sidewinder, kicked field goals of 52, 44 and 29 yards, punted three times for an average of 52.3 yards, and six of his seven kickoffs could not be returned as the Razorbacks won 30-7. Little is a senior and the three field goals brought his career total to 46, five short of the NCAA record.
Just another typical Saturday in the Southwest Conference, which in the last two seasons has produced the five longest field goals in modern NCAA history.
In Texas and Arkansas these days "being in field-goal range" means a team has stepped off its bus outside the stadium. It is such a competitive league for kickers that Tech's Bill Adams, who made 47-and 52-yard field goals against Rice, and Baylor's Robert Bledsoe, who had a 47-yarder against SMU, are considered mere chip-shot specialists.