Earnie Shavers did his campaigning today for Ross Browner of Notre Dame, rather than for the heavyweight boxing championship he regards as the temporary property of Muhammad Ali.
Shavers, 33-year-old former left halfback and sprinter from Newton Falls (Ohio) High School, cut off his ring work for Thursday night's bout and distributed bumper stickers as he took a walk. "Browner for Heisman," the stickers read.
First-timers encountering Shavers with his shaven head wonder if he is going to sing at them in the manner of Isaac Hayes, intimidate them like Otis Sisstrunk of the Oakland Raiders, or maybe say, "Hootchy-kootchy, baby," a la Super Heat Theo Kojak.
Invariably he is asked why he made his head look like "The Acorn," as Ali has tabbed him.
"They (meaning nonblacks) think we all look the same," he said with a toothy grin. No one dares to remind him that Joe Frazier shaved his head before his rematch with George Foreman last year and was knocked out in their rematch.
Shavers says he has no fear whatever of Ali, although the challenger has been knocked out by such as Ron Stander of Omaha, who is said to bleed when he even signs for a bout. Stander once was a punching bag for Frazier and also for Ken Norton in a bout at the Capital Centre on the Ali-Jimmy Young card.
Washington-area fans saw Shavers fight Young at Capital Centre. He droped Young, but couldn't keep him down, and the Philadelphia got up, closed Shavers' eye and earned a 10-round draw.
If naturally prudent jab-and-grab Young was extra cautious after leaving Shavers one-eyed, in effect, it was understandable, because Shavers had knocked him out in three rounds two years earlier.
Shavers has been knocked out by Jerry Quarry, in the first round, and by Ron Lyle, in the sixth, and both of the winners fel before Ali's punches.
But, reflecting his style of being a gambler who knocks out his opponent or gets knocked out, Shavers also boasts a one-round knockout of Jimmy Ellis, former World Boxing Association champion who nows earns about $1,000 a week as the champion's sparring partner.
Shavers may be keeping his courage buoyed by a trick played with numbers by the hucksters at Madison Square Garden. Downplaying the quality of most of Shavers' other inglorious opponents, the publicity men are seizing on the mere fact that the challenger has scored 52 of his 54 victories in 60 bouts by knockouts.
That works out to a slugging percentage of .963, mathematically ahead of effective bangers Foreman, Rocky Marciano, Frazier, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, Primo Carnera, Floyd Patterson, and The Greatest himself, 10th, no less, with a .685 average.
Ali is "psych-out" practitioner, did not get through to Shavers when they first met here. The upstart made a show of stuffing cotton in his ears when the champion began his familiar monologue.
"Ali can't psych me," Shavers said. "When you're broke and from the ghetto, not too many things can bother you."
As to Ali's threat to exhaust Shavers with his rope-a-dope defense, the latter said, "If he goes into that I'll hit him a couple licks and back off and lay on the ropes myself. And we'll just look at each other till he's ready to fight.
Persistently, the champion tells anyone who will listen that all the Shavers has is a right hand.
"I hope he just looks for my right hand," the challenger commenteed. "They'll raise my hand and he'll still be looking for my right."
The word is out in the trade that Ali is ready to be taken, at age 35, but the trouble is he has such a capability of taking a hard punch and leftover endurance in his legs.
Boxers can't hurt him and punchers such as Shavers cannot catch him. But some guy some night will, and Shavers doesn't want hair encumbering him if Thursday night is the night.