Layers of freshly cut sod had been placed on the Hall's concrete floor to create a handsome, TV-ready field, but one that seemed to have no give whatsoever. Waiting for our game to start, we sat just beyond the end zone in full pads and watched Delaware thump C.W. Post 72-22 in the Boardwalk Bowl. The Hall looked like a gymnasium with elephantiasis.
Our game plan, which relied on a mix of passing and wishbone running plays, worked perfectly as we breezed to a 32-7 win. Hench Murray, our offensive coordinator, called a perfect game of triple options, flares and post patterns that drove the New Orleans D-backs insane.
Our next game was in Houston. Up to then I had ridden in an airplane only once, when my friend, Huck Farrell, had stolen $10 from his mother and he and I had taken a 15-minute tourist flight around the City of Brotherly Love. It had been in a single-engine clunker built by the Harbison Milk and Airplane Company. I suspected Delta Air Lines would be different.
The Little Quakers gathered at 6 a.m. in Philadelphia's International Airport, feeling important and professional. Our blue blazers, personalized bags and military haircuts drew attention from many travelers. "We're the Little Quakers," we said. Most men recognized us as a football team, while the majority of women wanted to know more about our church group.
We arrived safely in Houston, slightly shaken by our first taste of air turbulence. But there was no glad-handing mayor. No bands playing fight songs. I had envisioned myself standing at the top of the plane's stairs, waving to a pompon-wielding throng and squinting into the glare of the television lights.
We stayed at the Astro Village Hotel on the same floor as the San Diego Chargers, who were in town to play the Oilers. Our game, the penultimate of our season, was scheduled to start after the completion of the Oiler-Charger encounter inside the Astrodome.
We had a guided tour of the Astrodome on Saturday morning and later that afternoon we practiced on the turf to gain a feel for it. The tour was intoxicating. At the time I felt everything in life would surely be a letdown after playing in the Astrodome. What else could possibly match it? Little did this Little Quaker know.
Just before our game, we hustled from our locker room to a sideline area the stadium security force had cleared for us to loosen up in. More than 40,000 fans were in the stands, cheering in vain for their Oilers to beat the Chargers. I warmed up my throwing arm—putting all of my 125 pounds behind each throw in case there were any scouts watching—with my favorite target, Hassett. He turned many 10-yard outs into 40-yard TDs that looked impressive in the next day's sports page. John Hadl, the Charger quarterback, intercepted one of my warmup passes on the sideline, spun the tiny ball—we used one three-fourths the size of a regulation ball—in his fingers and urged us to "beat up on a Texas team" the way the Chargers were. I stood like the Scarecrow facing the Wizard of Oz, mouth open, trying desperately to look cool. I fooled no one. Hadl threw the ball back to me (I dropped it), chuckled and jogged away. Just what I needed. I normally grew nervous and anxious before game time, but this was almost too much; the Astrodome, 40,000 fans, a game just 10 yards away and a brief encounter with John Hadl.
Our matchup with the Baby Longhorns, representing Austin, was tied 16-16 with a minute and some to go and we had the ball on their 25, third-and-20. We had just been penalized for holding. I dropped straight back, faked a screen left and heaved the ball into the end zone. Hassett deftly took it over his head for six points. What a finish! I sprinted to Joe with congratulations—low five, then—when I realized he wasn't as excited as I. He'd already spotted the red flag lying in our backfield.
We were robbed. The backfield judge said our halfback, while pass-blocking, clipped a defender. I never heard of that call. Neither had our coaches, who were screaming their objections. I had been homered at the tender age of 14. The game ended tied.