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It is summertime in Norman, Okla., Grapes of Wrath country. Every day the sun rises high and hot, and every day the sky goes from blue to gray to black, from cotton dry to spongy wet, in a meteorological option offense designed to confuse the few people moving around on the flat earth beneath it. Everything is terribly quiet and slow. Norman is waiting. The whole state of Oklahoma is waiting. At the Sooner Bar-B-Q and the Sooner Superette and dozens of other Sooner Thises and Sooner Thats, the message is clear: football cannot come back to Norman soon enough.
In Los Angeles the Dodgers are struggling, the governor's running, the Arabs are buying, the Rams are moving, the earth will be quaking (any day now), the Mercedes 450s are purring, and roller skaters are getting traffic tickets. They play college football there, too, starting somewhere around the time the new TV season begins.
Just a mile past Owen Field (HOME OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA SOONERS—NATIONAL FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS 1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975 reads a sign on the back of the scoreboard), in a modern apartment complex that rises out of a dusty lot, a 23-year-old man lounges in front of a television set. He can wait for football. He does not like the sun or the heat or, for that matter, the insatiable football fans who demand that he be great. He prefers to stay comfortable indoors when he is not running with a football. At six feet and 210 pounds, he is built for power, for speed, for explosiveness. But now he is as quiet as the town is. Low profile. When he married in June, some of his closest friends didn't know about it until it was trumpeted in the papers.
The apartment where he keeps himself has walls he could easily walk through should he come home one night without his keys. Up there on a bookshelf above the TV set, camouflaged by trophies, plaques, photographs and souvenir game balls—you expect books, too?—sits a bronze statue of a ballplayer sidestepping and straightarming. It is, of course, the Heisman Trophy, and the man sprawled in the easy chair watching an Andy Hardy movie is Oklahoma Running Back Billy Sims.
Sims is only the sixth player—Doc Blanchard (Army), Doak Walker (SMU), Vic Janowicz ( Ohio State), Roger Staubach (Navy) and Archie Griffin ( Ohio State) are the others—in the 44-year history of college football's most coveted award to return for his senior year as the defending Heisman winner. Soon he will be trying to become the only one besides Griffin to win it twice. The public demand the award carries and the pressure to win it again are burdensome. Sims can wait.
"Right now I'm just laid out," he says languidly, after six months of nonstop hot-stove activity. "I don't even want to go out and go through all the hassles. I'm trying to catch up on a lot of rest. But it's not easy. People are calling me all the time. They want just about anything—speak here, speak there, get me tickets, sign autographs, do this, do that. The fans around here are something. They come into Norman for a game, drink their beer, their wine, have a good time. They don't put in all the work, suffer all the pain. You hear them: 'Oh, I can't wait for football! I just can't wait!' Well, I can wait, I can wait. I'm in no hurry to get back out there and sweat and have to whirlpool my body so it don't hurt so much. Oh, no, I can wait."
At least his celebrity has helped him become a smash success at his two summer jobs: an adman for the Oklahoma Sooner Weekly magazine—he sold a whopping $6,500 worth of space one recent afternoon—and a salesman of trinkets such as T shirts, ballpoint pens, snuff-can lids and ashtrays that fit atop beer cans, all featuring the crimson and cream OU logo.
"Here's something nice," went his pitch to a prospective customer. Sims selected a cigarette lighter from a briefcase crammed full enough to do a Fuller Brush man proud. A flick produced a nice steady flame...and a tinkly rendition of Boomer Sooner, the OU fight song.
"Or how about this one? My favorite." Another lighter, another flick, another song—Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
More often than not, the response from the customer is, "Whatever it is you're selling, Billy, I'm buying."