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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE SUGAR LAND EXPRESS?
Douglas S. Looney
September 27, 1982
The record book attests that he's the greatest high school running back ever, but he was a flop in college and the pros. Nonetheless, three decades after Ken Hall turned on a Texas town, he has it made in the shade
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September 27, 1982

Whatever Happened To The Sugar Land Express?

The record book attests that he's the greatest high school running back ever, but he was a flop in college and the pros. Nonetheless, three decades after Ken Hall turned on a Texas town, he has it made in the shade

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That's correct, and perhaps a byproduct of growing up in Sugar Land, where, Hightower admits, 'it was no big deal if one of the boys on the team did something wrong, ran the wrong way or something. We'd just say, 'That's O.K. Let's make it right.' " And it was no big deal during high school that Hall left football practice early every Wednesday to work as a doorman at the Palms Theatre. But Hightower says, "When it all happened at A&M, I blamed Bear. Now I've changed my mind. It was just two personalities that didn't congeal. I think the both of them were just as much to blame."

Imogene isn't quite so charitable. "Kenneth isn't a quitter," she says. "But Bear Bryant just wasn't real nice to him. Here Kenneth was after four years of being treated great and suddenly he's being run down, shoved around and talked ugly to. It does something to a fellow." Recently, Bryant sent Hall a letter saying how wrong he had been and Hall wrote back saying, "Don't worry, it's O.K." In the view of Shelton, Bryant "didn't have sense enough to know how to handle him. But it's not sad. Just disappointing." Pause. "No, it's sad."

When the A&M freshmen opened their season, Hall was at fullback and Crow and Loyd Taylor were at halfback. The first time Hall carried the ball as a collegian, he ran for a touchdown. By season's end, he was the Southwest Conference's leading freshman scorer with 30 points—five touchdowns in five games. He had gained 206 yards on 26 carries, an average of 7.9 yards per rush.

Though not happy with the role of fullback, Hall felt he had performed well in his first year. As an added bonus, he received a medal for being the Outstanding Freshman Marching Cadet; he also was successful as a member of the freshman track team. But the A&M football coaches cared about only one thing: that Ken Hall couldn't play linebacker worth a damn.

Midway through his sophomore year, Hall became disenchanted. "I worked hard," Hall says, "but I was sitting on the bench. After our seventh game I decided I couldn't stand the situation anymore and went home to Sugar Land and got married."

Fearing later that he had reacted too emotionally in quitting the team, Hall approached Bryant about returning for spring training that year. The Bear accepted him back, and Hall immediately set about to challenge Pardee, who would be a senior, for the starting fullback job.

His junior season, however, was more of the same. Hall grew weary of the practice-session criticism he received and the spot duty he was dealt on game days, and again became discouraged. Still, he worked, hoping to convince Bryant and his assistants that he could contribute.

"Before we were to play Baylor midway through the season," Hall recalls, "I was told I was going to start. Jack Pardee was injured and I was eager to get my chance. But just before the kickoff, Bryant told me he had decided to start Jack. As I remember it, I played some, gaining pretty good yardage every time I carried the ball, but just as soon as I felt I was really getting into the flow of the game, they would take me out. Before the game was over I found myself standing on the sidelines, wondering if I really wanted to play anymore.

"After the game I told Coach Bryant I was leaving. That was it. No discussion or anything. Maybe he just didn't think I could play. I don't know to this day. For some guys he was a father figure, but it was different for me. Things just didn't work out.

"I don't blame anyone. It was just one of those things in life you have to learn to deal with. Looking back, I'd have to say I learned something from the experience."

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