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It was well past midnight when Sherrill rushed into the precinct looking tired and bleary-eyed. As Sherrill tells it, he quickly located the officer in charge and requested a moment alone with him. "Now, this is what we're going to do," Sherrill said, trying to keep his voice down. "I'm going to go in there and convince Tony not to press brutality charges and to forget what happened. And you're going to let him out of here. Or you can go ahead and keep him in. You keep him in, and that policeman of yours will have to answer some questions."
The police let Dorsett go. And that weekend, in a win over Notre Dame, he rushed for 303 yards, a Pitt record and the most ever against the Fighting Irish in a single game.
It was at about this time, the mid-1970s, that Sherrill developed an interest that would become a great passion: collecting clowns. He liked figurines and paintings that depicted big-footed jokers fishing or playing golf or riding swings. The toys were great to show to the kids whenever he stopped by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and made the rounds. Everybody knew him there. He would walk through the doors and spread his arms wide, and children would scramble to meet him, some in wheelchairs, some shouting, "Hey, it's Jackie! Jackie's here!"
In the late 1970s Sherrill attended a charity banquet in Dayton, Ohio, and happened to sit next to somebody named Harpo the Clown. Sherrill tried not to stare at the wildly painted man. Unable to help himself, however, he finally leaned over and said, "I collect clowns."
One of Harpo's signatures is that he doesn't speak in public, so he simply nodded and smiled. "You could tell he was intrigued by me," Harpo says of Sherrill. "He watched me the whole time. It was like he was studying me."
Several years later, after they had become friends, Sherrill had Harpo fly down to College Station to entertain his players during two-a-days. In November 1987 he arranged for Harpo to return for another visit. Harpo took a commercial flight from his home in Palm Springs, Calif., to Houston and then flew to A&M in the private plane Sherrill had sent to fetch him. It was the week of the Texas game, the biggest of the year. It was also the time Sherrill decided to become a clown himself.
One night after practice Harpo rounded up his makeup kit and painted Sherrill's face. They went to a couple of fast-food joints and horsed around with the kids, neither of them saying a word. Sherrill was doing the mute thing too, and he was a natural at it.
Nobody recognized the coach, and this made the night even more interesting. Sherrill liked the anonymity. He was both himself and somebody else, although he never did get around to giving himself a clown name like Jacko or Silly Sherrill.
Eventually he and Harpo went to a nice restaurant for dinner. They pointed to what they wanted on the menu and sat through the meal without saying a word.
Wild Willie died last month, the victim of a freak accident. While tethered to a post, the two-year-old steer apparently became entangled in the rope and fell and broke a leg. His owners, two men from Greenwood, Miss., had him hauled to the Mississippi State vet school, but there wasn't anything the doctors could do. "We had to put him to sleep," says Frank Truitt, one of the owners. "We ended up cremating him. We didn't slaughter him. He wasn't hit in the head with an ax or made into hamburger meat."