When the offer came in 1962, Dan Jenkins drove to the home of his mentor and editor at the Dallas Times-Herald, Blackie Sherrod, and told him, "Blackie, I hate to leave Texas, and the Herald, and I hate to leave you guys, but, you know — the Yankees just called."
Jenkins joined Sports Illustrated that November, and over the next two decades, he would define exactly what an SI writer ought to be. The magazine carried more than 500 of his bylines, and Jenkins's mere presence at an event became a validation of the significance of whatever game he was covering. He'd fly into town, meet everyone for drinks, pick up every check, and then, a week later, get the last word in the magazine, in a style that was knowing, irreverent, sophisticated, and unmistakably his own.
Although he was still just a rookie at SI in 1963, Jenkins was persuasive. That summer, he convinced the magazine's urbane, gruff managing editor Andre Laguerre to let him forecast a preseason no. 1 in SI's college football preview issue; Jenkins went against the grain (USC was the consensus preseason favorite) and predicted Texas would win the national championship. (The performance of the magazine's previous experts had been so poor, SI stopped listing their "Eleven Best Elevens" after the 1959 preview issue .)1
Later that year, Jenkins sold his editors on his idea for an SI "bonus piece" — the long-form journalism that Laguerre had established as a key part of the magazine's editorial mix, and was earning Sports Illustrated a loyal literary following. Jenkins's concept was deceptively simple: follow four football fans for a weekend while they attended four different games. He chose a pair of his old friends from Paschal High in Fort Worth, and their spouses. The traveling party included Joe Coffman, a University of Texas alum and early incarnation of the superfan; his wife, Mary Sue; Joe's close friend, Cecil Morgan, who had played basketball with Jenkins on the Paschal High team;2 and Morgan's wife at the time, Pat.
Joe and Cecil (who had been next-door neighbors as youths) were already planning to attend the Texas-Oklahoma game with their wives, but Jenkins arranged the tickets for the rest. "I knew they'd want to do it, first of all," Jenkins said. Morgan still remembers when Jenkins pitched the story to the pair over beers at the Colonial Country Club. He also remembers his reaction: "I was all-in."
November 11, 1963
By Dan Jenkins
On Friday morning, October 11, a bright, warm Texas day, Elbert Joseph Coffman woke up with a squirrel in his stomach. In his good life as a football fan there had never been a weekend quite like this one. In the next 55 hours he was going to see three college games and one pro game, and the excitement of it, the bigness of the games, made him nervous. Nervous but delighted. Football to Joe Coffman, and thousands of other Texans, is as essential as air conditioning. It is what a Texan grows up with, feeds on, worships, follows, plays and, very often, dies with. Joe Coffman, 32, married, father of two boys, businessman, University of Texas graduate, football enthusiast, was either going to live a lot this weekend or die a little.
The first game — SMU against Navy — would be played that evening in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, just 35 miles away from Joe Coffman's home in Fort Worth. The next day he would go back to the same stadium to see the biggest one of them all, Oklahoma, ranked first in the country, against Texas, ranked second. He would drive to Waco (90 miles south) Saturday night to watch Baylor against Arkansas. And on Sunday he would return to the Cotton Bowl to see the NFL's Dallas Cowboys play the Detroit Lions.
If Joe Coffman's schedule seemed arduous, it was little more so than that of many others in the state. Thousands less fortunate than Coffman in getting tickets to the big games would settle for a game or two on television and radio and perhaps see a couple of high schools play. But Joe Coffman also knew that there would be more to his weekend than football. He knew that it was going to cost him at least $200,3 that he would be running into old friends, that there would be as many parties as kickoffs and that he would probably consume as much beer as might have been served in a London pub on V-J day. But Joe Coffman had been waiting months for this weekend and, as he prepared to leave home for his office at the business he owns, Terrell (medical and surgical) Supply Co., Inc.,4 near downtown Fort Worth, the only thing that concerned him was whether everybody was as ready as he was. Everybody included Joe's wife, Mary Sue; another couple, Pat and Cecil A. Morgan Jr. (he is a stockbroker for Rauscher, Pierce and Co., Inc. and a former University of Texas basketball star);5 and the Coffmans' baby-sitter. "I'll tell you one thing, Mary Sue," said Joe. "We got to be suited up and ready to go by 5 o'clock. We're gonna be in Dallas by 6 or I'm gonna raise more hell than the alligators did when the pond went dry."
Joe Coffman is a modern Texan. This means that Mary Sue is a pretty, loving and understanding wife, that his sons Bobby, 6, and Larry, 4, are healthy and happy, that his business is successful (four other branches in Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock and Amarillo), that his ranch-type home is comfortable, with all of the built-ins manufacturers sell these days, that he has a 1963 Oldsmobile Starfire and a 1962 Impala (both convertibles), that his close friends are mostly the ones he grew up with or knew in high school and college. Being a modern Texan also means that Joe Coffman might not recognize a cow pony if it were tied on a leash in his backyard, that he despises Stetson hats, that he likes cashmere sport coats, pin-collar shirts, Las Vegas, playing golf at Colonial Country Club, Barbra Streisand ("Think she can't sing?"), good food, good booze, Barry Goldwater and, more than anything else, the Texas Longhorns.6 And does he like those Longhorns!7
"They got too much character to lose that game," Joe said about Texas as he browsed through the mail on his desk at the office, drank some coffee and talked on the phone. Like any loyal Longhorn, his preoccupation with the OU game was all-consuming. The other games, they were good ones, Joe Coffman felt, but his good health, he said, his well-being and welfare would be riding with the Longhorns. It was not a very good day for work.
"I got to think a Bloody Mary's the answer," he said, heading out to Colonial Country Club. There would be friends there, talking football, "getting down" (making bets), and the time would pass more quickly through the endless football arguments that take place in Colonial's 19th hole the day before the games.
"Hey, Coffman," someone called as Joe entered Colonial and headed toward a table. "What are the Sooners gonna do to those T-sippers ?"8 Joe Coffman removed his sunglasses, postured with his fist raised like Mussolini and said, "We're gonna send those Okies back across the Red River, boys." He greeted a table of friends, ordered drinks and replied to every argument about the strength of Oklahoma's team with his message of the week:
"Have to win, boys. Too much character. We got too much character to lose that game." Several Bloody Marys later, Joe Coffman had got through the day. Now the long, exhausting — and utterly perfect — weekend began.
It is roughly 35 miles, or 25 minutes, by way of the toll road from Fort Worth to Dallas. The first stop on Friday night for Mary Sue and Joe Coffman and Pat and Cecil Morgan was Gordo's. Gordo's is to Dallas what the Cafe Select is to The Sun Also Rises. It is a tiny beer-pizza-steak-sandwich parlor across from the SMU campus. Through its portals stroll many of Dallas' prettiest girls, its brawniest athletes, its newspaper columnists, flacks, poets, politicians and anyone, in fact, who is in enough to know about the place or who likes the world's best pizza or steak sandwich or who wants Gordon West, the owner, to cash a personal check.
The dilemma of the visitor to Gordo's is what to eat. "I got to have a steak sandwich and a cheeseburger between two pizzas," said Joe. "It's all so good, I can't stand it."
Mary Sue, a small blonde who went two years to SMU and then graduated from Texas, suggested that whatever they were to have they have it quickly, because the traffic to the Cotton Bowl for the SMU-Navy game was going to be pretty brutal.
"I hope SMU does good," she said. "Do they have a chance to beat Navy, Joe?"
"Flattop Fry, boys," said Joe in his sepulchral voice, as if he had been asked to answer the entire room.
"Old Flattop," said Cecil Morgan. It was Joe and Cecil's private way of making fun of SMU's crew-cut Coach Hayden Fry, who somehow acquired that nickname from them. Coffman and Morgan, given time, can make fun of every coach in the country — except Texas' Darrell Royal.9
"Can they, Joe?" Mary Sue asked.
"Hell, yes," said Joe. "They haven't got any athletes, but they'll get after 'em. Like to see it. Be the start of an upset weekend, boys. The one we gotta have is tomorrow, though. Got to send 'em back across the Red River." Joe ordered another beer. And another. And one more.
"We better move out," Cecil Morgan said presently. "They're gonna hang us up in that state fair traffic."
"Yawl want paper cups?" Gordo asked, thoughtfully.
"I 'magine," said Joe. "Take that pizza with you, Mary Sue. Grab that beer, Cecil. We got to go see the Red Helmets play the Navys."
"Old Flattop," said Cecil.10
There is no easy way to reach the Cotton Bowl in Dallas except to be dropped into it by helicopter. The stadium sits squarely in the middle of the Texas State Fairgrounds, and all roads lead in confusion from downtown Dallas about two miles away. This week the fair was in full swing. Indeed, that was the reason for three games in three days. It was almost as though somebody said, "There's no use bringin' 'em in from halfway 'cross the state for one li'l ol' extravaganza." Complaining about the traffic and the parking at the Cotton Bowl is one of Dallas' favorite pastimes. It is not so amusing when one wants to make a kick off.
Behind the wheel of his Starfire, Joe Coffman sighed, "Man, man. Only stadium in the whole world where you have to get here on Wednesday to make a Friday night game."
Mary Sue said, "I can't believe all these cars are going to the SMU game."
"They aren't," said Cecil. "They're goin' to buy balloons. I'll guarantee you, there's seven million people out here tonight to buy balloons."
"Main thing they're doin'," said Joe, "is driving in front of me."
By the time they had reached a parking place inside the state fairgrounds and trudged through the dust of the carnival midway, with only one beer stop, and then reached their seats, the game was five minutes old.
"Look at that!" Joe said, pointing at the SMU bench. "Flattop Fry don't know how many players he can send in or take out. He just sends in 10 men every time."
"St. Darrell knows the rules," said Cecil.11
"I 'magine," said Joe.
As the SMU-Navy game wore on, it became clear that SMU was in no mood to lose as easily as the odds (13 points) had suggested. In fact, by the start of the fourth quarter Joe and Cecil had become enraptured with SMU's blazing-fast sophomore, Tailback John Roderick, whose running was exciting them more than the passing of Navy's Roger Staubach. Although there merely as impartial observers, saving their enthusiasm for the Longhorns, Joe and Cecil could not resist blending themselves into the madness of the occasion as SMU won rather miraculously 32-28. The wives, Mary Sue and Pat, might have enjoyed it more if they had not been so fascinated by the conversation of an elderly Dallas lady in front of them, who kept talking to a friend about the "common people from Fort Worth."
Once Mary Sue giggled to Joe, "You can't believe what this woman is saying. She's saying that no saleswoman in Dallas will wait on Fort Worth people because they come over here without hats or gloves on. Just common as can be, she said." Joe roared. He leaned down the aisle and repeated it to Cecil. Cecil roared. It gave them a theme for the weekend, and some exit lines from the stadium.
"Naw," said Cecil, "we jest gonna git our common little ol' wives and go git drunked up on thet ol' beer."
"Good Lord, Cecil," said Pat. "You sound country enough without talking that way."
"Hell, we jest common," Joe laughed. He looked at Cecil. "You 'bout half country, ain't you, boy?"
They were badly in need of a beer.
"It'd be gooder'n snuff," said Cecil as Pat frowned, and they walked to the parking lot.
The Friday night before the annual Texas-OU game is a night that Dallas must brace for all year long.
Even without another football game to further overcrowd the city, which considers itself a cultural oasis in a vast wilderness of oil workers' helmets and Levi's, the downtown area is declared off limits by every sane person, cultured or not. Throngs of students and fans gather in the streets, whisky bottles sail out of hotel windows, automobiles jam and collide and the sound of sirens furnishes eerie background music to the unstill night. Joe Coffman skillfully managed to commit his group to a post-SMU-game party (or pre-Texas-OU-game party) in the cultural suburbs, where the status symbols are a lawn of St. Augustine grass and a full-growing mimosa tree.
"Joe, are all of those funny people really going to be there?" Mary Sue asked as they drove out the Central Expressway.
"Honey, I got no idea. All I know is, they said come on out and they'd give a man a drink. And I know a man who really wants one."
"What's the name of the apartments?" Pat asked.
"I got the address," said Joe. "That's all. It's one of those Miami-Las Vegas names. Every apartment in Dallas, I'll guarantee you, sounds like a Polynesian drink. The Sand and Sea, or the Ski-Sky-You, or something."
"I think it's The Antigua," said Cecil.
"Well," said Joe, "that figures."
Through the night the party was both visible and audible before Joe parked the car. People were standing on the lawn, sitting on the steps of other apartment units or gathered around a clump of trees. The door was open. A Ray Charles twist record poured out. Inside there was a curious mixture of "stewardi," as Joe described the girls, along with SMU fans, Texas fans, Oklahoma fans, Dallas Cowboy fans, Dallas Cowboys, bartenders, musicians, entertainers from the city's private clubs, models and artists.
Joe observed the crowd and turned to Cecil and said, "Go anywhur, do anythang." And they inched toward the bar.
Joe saw a man he had been with in the Army. Mary Sue saw a girl friend she was supposed to have met at the game. Cecil calmly studied the wall. On it were a Columbia pennant, a bizarre unidentified animal's head with a sign hanging around it that read, "Joe Don Looney,"12 a bullfight poster and a hand drawn sign that proclaimed, "If the Lord Didn't Want Man to Drink, He Wouldn't Have Give Him a Mouth." In the bathroom hung a replica of the Mona Lisa. Joe saw an old fraternity buddy from Austin, an SAE. "Sex Above Everything," said Joe, shaking hands. Somebody said Henny Youngman had been there but left because nobody wanted to talk to him. Somebody said strippers were coming over from The Carousel club. A man who kept introducing himself as "Sandy Winfield" and "Troy Donahue" said it had not turned out to be a bad party, considering he had not called anyone. No one ever found out who lived in the apartment.13
Joe Coffman was making coffee at home by 7 a.m. Saturday morning on four hours' sleep. He stared blankly at the Fort Worth morning Star-Telegram, which had the starting lineups for the Texas-OU game, and said, half to his sons and half to the western world, "They outweigh us, but we got too much character." By 9 o'clock he was dressed and ready, except for his lucky cuff links. "Tell you one thing, honey," he said. "If I can't find my cufflinks, there's gonna be more hell raised than there are Chinamen." Mary Sue went to a drawer and got them. "You just won the game," said Joe.
Everything moved briskly now. Joe took the 6-year-old, Bobby, to a party, and arranged for him to get home. Cecil called and said he was on the way with the car already gassed up and the beer iced down. Joe told him the sitter was due about the same time. It was Eva Mae, he said. "All I know is, she's the head pie lady at Paschal High. Bakes 20 to 30 a day." They hung up, laughing. The two couples were on the road at 10 a.m.