For 69-year-old Mitchell Mays the famine is over. After last year's disappointing 5-5-1 season, Mays, a Texas Longhorn fan of the first degree and a barbecue vendor on Austin's main student drag, Guadalupe Street, said he was starving for some of that good old Texas football, well done, with championship dressing.
This year, after a perfect 7-0 record (including a whipping of those menacing farmers in Oklahoma) a top Heisman Tophy candidate, a super sophomore defense which is yet to be scored upon by ground attack, a third-string quarterback who plays like a first-stringer, and a curious new head coach who does such things as eating in the student union and visiting fraternities, this college town is enjoying an early Thanksgiving. Every Saturday night after the game is like New Year's Eve.
"Man, this street has been going crazy after evyer game," said Mays, a gold-toothed, plaid-capped Austinite who offers discount specials in honor of star Texas players. "The students just come pouring out here, stopping traffic, drinking beer, honking horns, screaming and yelling, hugging one another. They have to hire 30 extra police to handle it. When that game's over I pack my stand up, grap my silver whistle and jump out there with the rest of them."
With Darrell Royal learning the hand-coaching job to his younger former assistant, Fred Akers, this is indeed a new era in Longhorn football and the Texans are rushing it. With a new veer offense replacing the famous Texas wishbone, senior Earl Campbell, who on the field looks like a healthy bag of bowling balls, now has more of a choice as to whom he wants to bowl over.
After being out last year with a leg injury, this new, trimmers, Campbell (6-foot, 221 pounds) already has rushed for 6015 yards on 166 carries (a 6.9 average), bringing this career total to 3,714 yards, 12th on the all-time NCAA list and the third on the Texas Longhonr rushing list. In four of the seven games this year, he has gained more than 120 yards and two weeks ago against Southern Methodist, he galloped for 213 yards.
All of which is making the opposition feel rather sluggish. In their first three games Texas outscored its opponents, 184-14, including 68-0 over Virginia. Before a sellout crowd of 72,000 in the Cotton Bowl (and another 4,000 who stayed outside the gates) Texas defeated Oklahoma for the first time in seven years and then squeezed past an equally tough Arkansas team the following week, 13-9. Campbell's startling performance Saturday, two weeks ago facilitated the 30-14 SMU victory. A 26-0 defeat of Texas Tech left the 39-year-old Akers in two places he never dreamed he'd be: No. 1 in the Southwestern Conference and No. 1 in the nation.
"I don't think anyone expected it, especially me," said Akers, a fit, strait-laces Arkansas native. "We didn't have any plans for this kind of success. We just knew we have to improve some areas where we were very weak."
"Well, there were big questions about our young defense. We're starting seven sophomores and we were worried about their experience. The offensive line was uncertain even as we finished practice last spring. And Lord knows we could have bever predicted the quarterbacks situation."
The first and second-string quarterbacks, sophomores Mark McBath and Jon Aune, were both injured in the Oklahoma game. That's when senior Randy McEachern jumped in for a return to quarterback duty for the first time since he was injured his sophomore year. McEachern has played near flawless ball in the veer.
"Like most system changes in an offense or a defense, this one was brought on by a personnel evaluation," said Akers, who returned to Texas after spending two years building up Wyoming.
"When I came back to Texas I was still familiar with these players and their abilities. After viewing the personnel on film and making a study, it confirmed my belief that we would be better suited in the veer offense. That's the reason we went to the wishbone years ago. It suited our personnel better."
Going to the veer from the wishbone has changed little for the offensive line, said Akers. The big change for the veer lies in the mechanics of the backs. The world's fatest college football player, Johnny (Ham) Jones, has taken his 624-yard rushing total as a freshman from wishbone halfback to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] flanker, leaving behind a two-man running back combination of junior Johnny (Ham) Jones and Heisman candidate Campbell.
The new offense is just one of the things Akers is doing to surprise and tease Texas fans. Akers, a family man with three young children, has stressed that players must be responsive to the rest of the student body, instead of being jock dorm-to-gym pariahs. Akers holds a staff-faculty luncheon periodically as well as a question-and-answer lunch session with the student body after every road game. It's all an attempt to keep the school and football a single unit, Akers says - something which doesn't always happen in college football today.
"I know its something I don't have to do, said the former Arkansas player, "but it's something I wish we had had more of when I was in school. I think so far the student body's reponse has been responsible for the unbelievable effort I'm getting from my players at practice and during the game."
Royal knew Texas would improve but he never suspected it would be No. 1 by midseason. He attributes the success to Akers' managerial ability, to the surprising defense led by senior defensive tack Brad Shearer, to junior Russell Erxleben's kicking and to a healthy Campbell.
Campbell has been around Texas for four years, but only now has the mention of the Heisman Trophy has been raised. Akers calls him "the finest college football player in America today." SMU coach on Meyer said that if Campbell doesn't get the Heisman then, "they should melt it down." Royal, who built the football dynasty that gave Texas national champions in 1963, 1969, and 1970, said, "I have never been around a finer football player than Earl Campbell."
"The only thing that hurts Earl's chances for the Heisman is that he was injured last year and missed a great deal of publicity," said Royal. "He made all the All-America teams his sophomore year. Last year the kid was hurt. He never did have a well game. Terry Miller and those other guys were having top years as juniors because they stayed healthy. They got all the publicity so theyw ere the leaders going in. But they wouldn't have been if Earl Campbell had been well as a junior."
Campbell is a genuinely modest person who was "most embarrassed" when a group of coeds on a sorority seavanger hunt asked for his silk underwear. All the talk about the Heisman has brought a lot of "are-you-thinking-about-it type questions." Campbell is practical, even mature about the fuss.
"Sometimes I do think about it. I'd be lying if I said I didn't," said the 21-year-old whose scarred forearms look like charred oak logs. "If it comes, then it comes, but I don't worry about if. If I do win it, I plan to give it to my mom because without her help I never would have been here."
It was his mother, who sells roses for a living in Tyler, Tex., who straightened out Campbell when he started experiencing a "little bit of street life."
"My father died when I was in the fourth grade and ever since then I've been close to my mom. I can't tell you how much I appreciate her. She raised seven boys and four girls and none of them was ever in trouble with the police.When I sign a pro contract, I'm going to take a portion of the money and build her the house she deserves?"
Campbell also attributes some of his success to the then-new integration laws in Texas, an event that place Campbell in more visible, predominantly white John Tyler High School, where he led the team to the state AAAA title. He chose Texas because the current star at the time, Roosevelt Leaks, was encouraging and the opportunity was tremendous.
"It's sort of funny," said Campbell who is a communications major. "It looks like every week you get to play it in the Super Bowl when you play for Texas. It has been that way since I've been here - every game is all important."
A religious man, Campbell says he repeats a littler prayer before each play and rarely misses church on Sunday. He doesn't drink or smoke, dates his ninth-grade sweetheart who is still in Tyler and relaxes to music of black soul groups.
Akers, who admits to having no special relationship with Campbell, is also quick to sing his star's praise.
"Earl is the kind of person you hope your kid grows up to be like," said Akers, who added, "He's extremely popular among the players, acts like a leader and behaves like a gentleman. Just a real class guys."
For the Texas Longhorns and their fans, the new coach and a possible Heisman Trophy winner has marked the beginning of new traditions. The Longhorns now have a new five-game home win streak: last year a 42 home-game win streak ended when Houston beat them, 31-28.
The newest tradition, however, is happening on Guadalupe. So far this season, every time that Texas tower burns orange (it is lit for college victories) students and fans create pandemonium. After Michigan lost to Minnesota last week, "We're No. 1" signs started appearing on storefronts, windshields, telephone booth, dorm windows and raised hands.
"I think we have a new tradition," said police Capt. Mike Belvin, moaning at the prospect of an undefeated season. "At least the riot isn't over a war."