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Bring on 'Bama. Bring on Notre Dame.
It happened three years ago, when a lowly Baylor team was about to face mighty Texas. At a pregame pep talk Coach Grant Teaff figured he had to pump up his Bears, get them to give that "little bit extra." So he rattled off a tale about two Eskimos fishing in a hole cut in the ice. One is reeling in fish after fish, the other catching nothing. Finally the unlucky Eskimo asks his friend why he is doing so well. "Easy," the first Eskimo answers. "I keep the worms warm in my mouth." His story told, Teaff shouted that—by gosh—he would do whatever it took to succeed! Then the coach pulled a worm out of his pocket, threw back his head and popped it into his mouth. Baylor, of course, upset Texas.
"It just shocked and excited them," Teaff recalls. Yeah, Coach, but about the worm? "Well, when they charged out of that locker room, I followed them and spit that thing out first chance I got."
Point is, Grant Garland Teaff has been shocking and exciting folks at Baylor since the day he arrived in 1971. The Bears won a Southwest Conference title in 1924 and didn't win another until 1974. Then last season Baylor won one again. "It took us half a century to win one title but only six years to win the next," Teaff says. "So we must be doing something right."
What Teaff's doing right, among other things, is recruiting and signing such players as Walter Abercrombie, the senior tailback who is Baylor's alltime most productive ballcarrier. Last season he rushed for 1,187 yards and had 10 touchdowns, both tops in the SWC. Off the field, Abercrombie sings in a gospel band called The Real Thing and earns more than peanuts in the Mars candy factory. Teaff's worm act beguiled him. He chose Baylor because he was raised in Waco and thought it was whacko to leave. He's elated that he stayed. "I think we're contenders again," he says.
If so, Teaff must find able replacements for 13 departed starters from the 1980 team that led the SWC in offense and defense. Missing on defense alone are six starters, notably all three linebackers, including two-time All-America Mike Singletary. Teaff got a lift in the secondary when Safety Scott Smith, a fifth-year student, passed up an offer to coach at Mississippi. Good news, too, is Baylor's front four, thanks to the sudden development of Tackle Tommy Tabor and End Charles Benson, who last fall batted down 13 passes at the line of scrimmage. And immediate help is expected to come from freshman recruits—particularly Brian Camp, Alan Jamison and Kevin Hancock, all of whom are among superscout Joe Terranova's "Sweet 60 Freshmen."
On offense, the entire returning backfield—Abercrombie, Fullback Dennis Gentry and Quarterback Jay Jeffrey—is All-SWC. And for additional punch, Teaff moved Alfred Anderson, last season's SWC Freshman of the Year as a running back, out to wingback. Quarterback Mike Brannan, MVP of the 1979 Peach Bowl, is back to challenge Jeffrey after sitting out the last four games of 1980 with a knee injury. "The offense has to pull some games out of the hole," Abercrombie says. "I think we can." Some, yes. A lot, sure. But all of them? Like that old worm, it's pretty hard to swallow.