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In Key West, Fla. the other day a barber named Onelio Alvarez got so lathered up by a customer's suggestion that George Mira of the University of Miami might not be the greatest quarterback in the history of football that he chased the customer into the street and advised him furthermore to stay away until he learned to keep a civil tongue. Onelio bought a new car last fall for no better reason than to make weekend trips to Miami to see Mira play, and when he is not accosting customers he is closing up early to assure himself enough time to get to the Orange Bowl. Mira's older brother, Jimmy, will not go near Alvarez' shop unless nature demands it for fear he will have to spend 30 minutes catching Onelio up on George's adventures at the university. "George," said Jimmy, "is costing Onelio money."
Meanwhile, life in Key West goes on as usual. Armando Rodriguez, known as G.I., gets into the U.S. Naval Base, where he works, with an identification card that has George Mira's picture pasted over his own. An exclusive autographed picture of Mira hangs on Alverez' barbershop wall, and on the walls of grocery stores, department stores and beaneries all over town. Eager-beaver City Commissioners Ismael (Terry Lee) Garcia and John (Will Rogers) DePoo have finally lived down their live-it-up trip to Philadelphia for the 1961 Liberty Bowl game, a journey they made at taxpayers' expense with flowery summer shirts on their backs and conch shells and sponges under their arms. "There was the devil to pay," says one native. "Everybody knew they just wanted to see Georgie play—which was all right—but they kept telling us how they were going to get on national TV with those shells and things to boost Key West tourism, and they didn't, of course, and then while they were in Philadelphia they had to go and get themselves lost. My Lord."
Key West is strong for naming streets after its favorite people. Truman Avenue feeds into Roosevelt Boulevard, which intersects Kennedy Drive, which is flanked by Eisenhower Drive. The latter is a pretense at bipartisanship. Key West has been irredeemably Democratic since 1832. But George Mira Street was just a temporary honor, a part of George Mira Day fun in December, and the red paint is now flaking away to reveal the true identity of Packer Street, the ancestral enclave of the teeming Mira family. "It's all right if Mira Street goes," said a neighbor. "Then we can always name the Overseas Highway after Georgie." Royal Castle, a chain of popular 15¢-a-hamburger joints, opened a shiny new hutch on Roosevelt Boulevard last month, and George was to be flown down by charter from Miami, where he was in summer school, to cut the ribbon. "I can see it now," chirped K. Don Williams, a close friend of Mira's who thinks naturally in headlines, "KEY WEST HOT DOG TRIES ROYAL CASTLE HAMBURGER." But Mira could not make it, so Miami Coach Andy Gustafson was flown in as the second luminary. Gustafson has not been much else since Mira passed into his life, but he swallows his pride with a suck of his pipe, knowing all the while that what he really is swallowing is the canary. "We were in Paris this summer, my wife and I," Gustafson says, "and we were having trouble with those Paris cab drivers. You know, blank stares. I saw this American MP and I called him over for help. I told him I was Coach Andy Gustafson of the University of Miami. 'Miami?' He shouted it. 'Mister, you sure got yourself one helluva quarterback.' I told him I sure knew it."
Gustafson was made Miami's athletic director in March and could have quit coaching this year to enjoy the sanctity away from his critics, who persist despite his 11 winning seasons in 15 years at Miami. But after carefully thinking it over for seven seconds he elected to coach one more year, or until Mira's eligibility runs out. "I've got the best quarterback I've ever had, the best passer I've ever seen" he said. "Retirement can wait."
Not all coaches believe Mira is that much of a something, of course. Some are retarded. Those who have seen him play resort to exclamation points. "Terrific!" said TCU's Abe Martin. "Fantastic!" said LSU's Charles McClendon. "Incredible!" said Northwestern's Ara Parseghian. More expansively: "He's the greatest passer I ever saw in college," said Nebraska's Bob Devaney. Devaney's team was riddled for 321 yards by Mira's passes in the Gotham Bowl last winter. "In the first half," said Devaney, "we crashed our ends, thinking we could contain him. We couldn't. In the second half I told our defense, "Whenever that monkey looks like he's going to pass, throw up your hands and retreat!' "
"Having Mira is like having a coach on the field," said Ben Martin of the Air Force Academy. "He's Willie Mays in a football uniform—electrifying," said Maryland's Tom Nugent. "The most dangerous man in football when he's cornered." Mira completed four passes in a row to accomplish 73 yards and the touchdown that beat Maryland 28-24 in the last four minutes. Nugent almost died. "We gave him the short stuff," he lamented. "What else could we do?"
In a private poll of the 22 head scouts of the American and National football leagues, 13 selected Mira as the college quarterback they would draft No. 1 among those who will play this year. The plurality is astounding, because this will be a chock-full-of-names season of Namaths, Trulls, Beathards, Staubachs and Shiners, and because pro scouts take pride in their ability to come up with somebody different. Minnesota Viking Coach Norm Van Brocklin saw Mira throw four touchdown passes in the Miami spring game and while fishing alone off Marathon the next day tried to think of all the quarterbacks in the NFL who could throw better. "I gave up," he said. "There were none."
Miami Publicist George Gallet, who can put out a release faster than he can say "George Mira was on seven All-America teams last year," issued a special 16-page booklet on The Amazing George Mira. In it he chronicled Mira's two years at Miami—3,232 yards of total offense, 20 touchdown passes—and proved conclusively that Mira's only fault is that he thinks he is 6 feet tall. Mira is barely 5 feet 11—pro scouts know it and wish he were taller—but Mira says he is 6 feet, he wants to be 6 feet, and Gallet cannot conceive of his failing. He lists Mira at 6 feet, 180 pounds.
The booklet tells, further, how Mira can throw passes sidearm (when too sore to throw overarm), left-handed (for the winning touchdown against Florida in 1961 when his right hand was being occupied by a charging end) and can even catch his own, which he did with a pass that rebounded off a TCU lineman in 1962. Gallet will not say Mira cannot be tackled, but he suggests that it is an achievement worth remembering. "Listen," says the publicist, "Alabama was after him all day in Tuscaloosa last year, chasing him out of the pocket and round and round every time he tried to pass. He always got the ball away. Finally in the fourth quarter they put him down. You should have heard the crowd. It was like a great war had ended."
George Ignacio Mira is called The Matador by Miami sportswriters, who fancy his Spanish good looks and supple, flat-belly grace, dark skin, flashing teeth, ears that stick straight out and eyebrows that appear to have been laid on by an asphalt paver. He is strong and well developed. His hands are huge. Newsmen find him attentive and eager to please ("Want to see how I run?" he asks a photographer). He is a splendidly confident, natural athlete, a good enough baseball pitcher to have been offered $13,000 to sign with the Baltimore Orioles after he won 31 of 33 games for Key West High. He is convinced he can do anything. After they played together, Miami Golf Pro Bob Toski told him he could be an excellent golfer. Later Mira announced to Halfback Nick Spinelli: "I've made up my mind. I'm going to be a professional golfer. There's big money in it." Spinelli says Mira has a new and more glamorous career lined up every month.