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Neil Lomax carries his right shoulder lower than his left as he moves through the crowd, stepping lightly around large pots of congratulatory plants, breathing in a piercing aroma of brand-new nylon carpeting. He has on a white knit shirt emblazoned with EAST-WEST SHRINE CLASSIC, and so remains brightly visible among the beige double-knits and dark cotton prints of the congregation blocking the path to the punch and cookies. Lomax is 6'-3", weighs a well-muscled 212 pounds and has blue eyes and a craggy red face that cannot be called classically handsome, but has lately proved to be memorable, certainly around Portland, Ore., where he has spent the whole of his 22 years. Now Lomax is about to become a notable to a nation of pro football fans. Despite playing at little-known Portland State University, he is rated by NFL scouts as one of the two best senior quarterbacks in college, along with the University of California's more heralded Rich Campbell. Both are expected to be snapped up by pro clubs in the first round of next week's NFL draft.
On this day, however, Lomax has contracted, for a small fee, to spend two hours as an added attraction to the microwave oven to be won in a drawing, helping to fill the lobby for the grand opening of a new bank on the fringe of Portland. He is good at it, although his present method of winning favor consists of simply answering questions.
"I won't get Dallas, I don't think," he says. "Green Bay and Denver have called a lot. I'm hoping for somewhere on the Coast, but it might be St. Louis or New York." His blond lashes drop a little with conviction when he says, "I'm just looking for the opportunity to play until I can't play anymore."
Lomax is the most staggeringly prolific quarterback in college history. In four seasons at Portland State, operating out of Coach Mouse Davis' double-slot "Run-and-Shoot" offense, he threw 1,606 passes and completed 938 for 13,220 yards and 106 touchdowns. All are NCAA all-division records. Now he awaits the April 28-29 draft, working away at completing his degree in communications and contemplating a new life that will be founded on an old determination, as he puts it, "to be a good Christian example."
If Lomax is chosen in the first round, his eventual contract will have a value of perhaps $1 million over five years. Thus, when a pair of bank officers take him into an adjoining conference room, one imagines they already consider him a terrific example—of someone to buy stock in their bank. And he has come here in part because he has heard that this venture, Stewardship Bank of Oregon, is a "Christian Bank," pledged to donate 10% of its profits to Christian education and missions.
Lynn Wallace Jr., an affable, energetic bank director, confirms this and asserts to Lomax that the organization is altruistic in the extreme, saying, "None of our directors see it as a means to personal gain but as a tool to further the Kingdom of Christ." He adds the arresting statement: "The key to ownership [of bank stock] is whether or not you profess Christ as your Savior," and points out such an oath of belief in the agreement of purchase.
Lomax takes all this in solemnly, without any rush to buy. He is called away to draw some prize-winning names in the lottery for the microwave and $500 cash. The money-winner is a shocked 15-year-old girl, who seems to experience a seizure of expanding dreams. "Is that...enough for a car?" she says as her parents rush to talk some sense into her.
Lomax watches intently, as the scene seems to capture in microcosm something of his next few months. Outside in the parking lot, his duty done, he says, "Making public appearances is new to me. I enjoy meeting the people, coming to know the businessmen who might help me later, and the Christian fellowship. Sure, there are people out for the buck only, but there are also the committed, helping people. I've somehow got to learn how to tell them apart."
And what does he make of this bank, with its requirement of a specific belief in order to own stock? Does it not seem unnecessarily exclusionary? Lomax says he doesn't know about that, but he is conscious that there is a good reason why "holier than thou" is a pejorative expression in our society.
"Sometimes I worry about being perceived as the big scholar-athlete-Christian hero," he says. "The press can make me sound like the greatest thing to hit Portland since Henry Weinhard's [a local beer]. People have to come to religious things on their own. Right now, I'd rather stick a football into somebody's gut than a Bible."