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Meanwhile, when the Mustangs went on the road, fans at Texas held up ropes tied into nooses, and the Texas A&M corps of cadets let black cats onto the field. As SMU, long a conference doormat, kept winning through the fall of 1966, the hate mail grew nastier. After LeVias emerged beaten up from a victory over Baylor that pushed the Mustangs' record to 7--2, Fry finally laid out for the press what his star had been going through and issued a plea that it stop. Other conference coaches indignantly denied any problem.
Several weeks later, before the season finale at TCU, someone phoned the SMU administration and vowed to shoot "that dirty nigger LeVias." Except no one told the intended target, who thought the team's police escort and late entrance that afternoon were part of the red-carpet treatment accorded any team closing in on a conference title. Only just before kickoff did Fry tell his star what was happening. LeVias spent the game crouched down in the middle of huddles. And every Mustangs play began with a quick count. "I ran quicker to the bench than I did for a touchdown," LeVias says of his 68-yard pass play in that 21--0 victory, which sent SMU to its first Cotton Bowl since Doak Walker's days.
No racial trailblazer was as jaw-slackeningly good. LeVias touched the ball only 66 times all season, catching just 18 passes, yet in seven of SMU's eight victories he either scored or set up the Mustangs' winning points. The press gave Fry heat for not using him more, although LeVias never held it against his coach. "He was protecting me," LeVias says today. "And the good Lord takes care. How can someone touch the ball 66 times in an 11-game season and do what I did?"
Neither he nor SMU would soar so high again, but the abuse persisted. The following season a Baylor linebacker sent his fist over LeVias's face mask, causing three fractures in the arch around the socket of his right eye. "You pay the price, you get the prize--but here I wasn't really seeing the prize," says LeVias, who vowed to transfer after each of his first three seasons, only to be talked into staying by his sister Charlena. "You can't really understand it unless it's directed at you day after day, year after year."
Like Darryl Hill, LeVias had a knack for making opponents pay--as he puts it, "Turn the other cheek, then show them both cheeks" as you cross the goal line. During LeVias's senior season, with the Mustangs tied in the fourth quarter at TCU, a Horned Frogs linebacker tackling him said, "Go home, nigger!" and spit in his face. LeVias stalked off the field, flung his helmet against a wall and declared, "I quit!" He sat at the end of the bench and broke down in tears. Fry pleaded with him while the SMU defense held, and soon the Frogs were lining up to punt. As Fry scrambled to find a return man, LeVias bolted past him and onto the field, turning to say, "Coach, I'm gonna run this one back all the way."
"It was kind of like the Babe Ruth story," says Fry, who had picked up LeVias's headgear. "I handed him his helmet and said, 'Jerry, you might be needing this.'"
Breaking down the film, Mustangs coaches would count 11 eluded tacklers, several of whom had two shots at him, and a couple of reverses of field during LeVias's 89-yard return for the decisive touchdown. "A lot of stuff had happened, and that was the first time I outwardly showed any real emotion," LeVias says. "But sometimes you just get your fill."
Several years ago, fed up with his thrashings about in the middle of the night, LeVias's girlfriend of the past 26 years, Janice McKinney, finally challenged him to tell her why he was so angry. LeVias began to talk through his past openly for the first time in years. Now he finds peace in a Latin phrase he runs across in his line of work, with a court-reporting firm in Houston: res ipsa loquitur. Let the thing speak for itself.
When his phone began to ring in late 2003, after his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, LeVias became even more comfortable sharing details of what he had gone through. He also learned to handle congratulations with a grace he didn't know he had, even when the source astonished him. At a Hall of Fame reception in New York City, the teammate who had spit at him during freshman year came up to apologize. And the TCU linebacker who had spit at him, while not apologizing, much less acknowledging what he had done, called to congratulate him and say that he had raised his children to respect all people.
During the course of that conversation LeVias had the sense of being felt out by a man nervous that he might be fingered. But to this day LeVias has never publicly identified that Horned Frog. In one respect it's enough to have fielded the phone call. As LeVias puts it, "He knows that I know."