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When Oklahoma Running Back Buster Rhymes (rhymes with rhymes) was 16 and growing up in a rugged area of Miami he was shot in the back—by his father. "It was O.K.," Buster says. "It was an accident." There was no argument on that score. Dad, George Rhymes IV, had the .22 caliber pistol out, the safety wasn't on, and the gun just sort of went off. "It paralyzed my left side for about an hour and a half," says Buster. "At first I thought my back was on fire, then I thought I had a knife in it. Now we all laugh about it. You'd really have to do something terrible to make me mad at my dad."
These days, Buster is getting ready to do terrible things to Sooner rivals. As a freshman in 1980, he set the alltime Oklahoma record for a first-year man by rushing for 659 yards (only 19 yards less than the team leader, David Over-street) and also scoring 10 touchdowns. Already there is talk that Buster just might make Sooner fans forget about Billy Sims. When Rhymes arrived in Norman to the sound of that old tune Much Hoopla, he says that fans repeatedly came up to him and said, "We hope you don't fumble like all the other guys we've had."
Fumbling has been the bugaboo of the Sooners' wishbone. By its very nature, the attack creates fumble possibilities with its last-second decisions under very trying circumstances. In 1979 Oklahoma lost a school-record 36 fumbles; last year only 26. But in his 86 carries in 1980, Buster fumbled nary a time.
The quarterback in the Sooners' system must be sure-handed, to say the least. There will be a new wishbone operator this year, probably junior Kelly Phelps. He runs well, throws not so well. But Phelps was redshirted last season and still has a lot to learn. For example, he admitted last spring that "they'd call a play and I'd have to stop and think, 'That goes to the left, doesn't it?' " But he will be helped greatly—as will Rhymes and Fullback Stanley Wilson—by an outstanding offensive line bulwarked by guards Terry Crouch and Don Key. On defense, the Sooners are super as always, with the only caveat a somewhat inexperienced secondary. But junior Cornerback Darrell Songy (32 tackles last year) should help keep things together.
Coach Barry Switzer complained bitterly about poor play in spring practice—"the worst spring we've had since I've been here"—and the final insult came when the alumni beat the varsity, 39-36. But, like so much at Oklahoma, it wasn't all that serious. On the opening kickoff one former Sooner (Terry Peters) rushed onto the field from the bench—where he belonged—and tackled a freshman, Ricki Byars, who was touchdown bound.
One thing that may make life easier for Switzer this year is the overall weakness of the Big Eight, which really is only the Big Two—Oklahoma and Nebraska. The key games in the pollsters' minds will be at USC on Sept. 26 and Texas (at Dallas) on Oct. 10. Still, Sooner coaches are trying to dampen excessive enthusiasm, which is why Assistant Head Coach Merv Johnson deadpans, "Buster had a pretty good year for a freshman, but he is by no means a complete back. He does, however, understand what it takes to play."
He also understands what it takes to make money over the summer. He worked as a porter on Miami's Pier One and knew when to throw a fake on the docks, too. While carrying bags for some Florida State fans ( Oklahoma beat the Seminoles 18-17 in the Orange Bowl last January) "all they could talk about was how much they hated Oklahoma," he says. "Finally, one of them looked at me and asked me where I was from. I just told them Miami." Good for a $10 tip.
5. NOTRE DAME
Everyone knows that Notre Dame football players are different. They are well-rounded, clean-cut, God-fearing and generally indistinguishable from the rest of the student body, except that they tend to be 6'7" and appear to have misplaced their necks. Take senior All-America Linebacker Bob Crable, for instance. Here's an easygoing sort, a marketing major with a 2.6 GPA, who married his high school sweetheart this past summer. He also worked on a construction crew. "Shoveling was my specialty this year," he says. Big deal. Lots of college kids work construction. But not too many "come home and lift three times a week," as Crable did.
All right, so maybe Crable isn't exactly like everyone else. His teammates noticed that a couple of years ago when he tacked a picture of USC Tailback Charles White on the wall and punched it each time he entered his room. When Crable is asked for a role model, he says, "Hey, anyone who can really stick a guy on a tackle. I enjoy watching that...but I enjoy doing it more."