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.
Cecil was plugging along nicely on the toll road when Pat reminded him that he was going 80 mph. The speed limit is 70.
“Can’t get there too soon,” said Joe. “Got to go hear Hank Thompson.14 He’s always singing on the fairgrounds at noon.”
“Yeah,” said Cecil. “That’s about like you common people from Fort Worth. You lack them hillbilly sangers.”
Said Joe, “Can’t beat it. Drink beer, listen to old Hank and then warp the Okies. Perfect day. I had to have about $50 worth of that 5 1/2 points.”
“Did you bet, Joe?” said Mary Sue in a concerned voice.
Mary Sue looked out of the window.
“We’re gonna warp ’em,” said Joe. “Guarantee you St. Darrell’s gonna drown ’em. Too much character. I don’t care who they got. Joe Don Looney. Jimmy Jack Drunk. Anybody. They don’t have Scott Appleton. They don’t have Tommy Ford or Mr. Duke Carlisle,” he said, referring to Texas’ finest players: Appleton, the brilliant tackle; Ford, the swift, chunky tailback; and Carlisle, the resourceful quarterback who prefers to run rather than pass.
Mary Sue and Pat opened the beer, and Joe and Cecil sang a parody on a hillbilly tune: I don’t care ’bout my gas and oil,/Long as I got my Dare-e-ull Royal,/ Mounted on the dashboard o’ my car.15
They sang it several dozen times until the Cotton Bowl traffic slowed Cecil to a creep along Grand Avenue, one of the main entrance streets. “Joe, baby,” Cecil said, “we’re gonna have to sell the car, ’cause we got no place to park it.”
“Keep goin’. We’re gonna get in a lot right up here.”
“No chance,” said Cecil, observing maybe 5,000 parked cars.
“Go on,” Joe said. “I’m gonna show you how to ease right on in. Keep goin’. Keep goin’.”
Joe said, “Right there! That lot right on the corner, just across from the main entrance. Right there, Cecil, where it says, ‘Full House.’ ”
Cecil turned in amid the frenzied waving and shouting of parking-lot attendants, but Joe leaned out of the window and hollered, “I got a five and a cold beer, podna, if you’ll let us in.”
Parking was no problem.
The Texas State Fairgrounds on the day of the Oklahoma game are no more crowded than the recreation deck of any ordinary troopship. The ground seems to sag from the weight of hundreds having picnics. “Fried chicken, boys,” said Joe, pushing along a walkway and observing the people sprawled on the lawn. “Two necks and a back and a piece of cold bread.”
“And some black French fries,” added Cecil. “Best meal they ever had. Boy, it’s fun.”
They stopped and bought six beers, two extra, and finally the voice of Hank Thompson greeted them as they came near Big Tex, the giant cowboy statue that is emblematic of the fair and would make fine kindling wood. Hank Thompson was singing a familiar hillbilly ballad that went, “We got time for one more drink and a … six-pack to go.” Joe and Cecil whooped.
By prearrangement, the Coffmans and Morgans had planned to meet Joe’s sister, Shirley, and his brother-in-law, David Alter, to straighten out the ticket situation. Joe had decided that Mary Sue and Shirley would sit in the end zone while he and David would take the two seats on the 50-yard line. Joe thought that seemed fair enough, and no back talk. Cecil and Pat had their own tickets.16 The Alters arrived, and Joe acknowledged them with, “Too much character, boys. We got too much character to lose that game.” Several beers and Hank Thompson songs later, they were moving into the Cotton Bowl, again singing, I don’t care ’bout my gas and oil, I Long as I got my Dare-e-ull Royal,/Mounted on the dashboard o’ my car.
The Texas-Oklahoma game is one of the maddest spectacles of sport. This was the 18th consecutive sellout of the series, with 75,504 seats of the stadium crammed with the throatiest, most enthusiastic partisans in football, evenly divided between Texans and Oklahomans. Regardless of the team records, the excitement is there each year; the game matches state against state, school against school, fraternity against fraternity, oil derrick against oil derrick. Some rooters become so emotional that they can see only black on the other side of the field. One who did this year was Fullback Harold Philipp of Texas. Before the game, talking about the Texas boys playing on the Oklahoma team, he said: “Why that’s just like somebody from the United States playing for Nazi Germany.” During the game an immense roar wafts up from the stadium on every play, and the two large bands play Boomer Sooner, the Oklahoma fight song, and Texas Fight, the Longhorns’ song, an innumerable number of times, always to the accompaniment of a cheering, jeering mob of singers. Occasionally fights break out in the stands.
The game did not provide any opportunities for Joe Coffman to fight, or even to officiate or complain. Texas was better than even he had expected, and simply swept Oklahoma away, winning 28-7. Joe still managed several excuses for leaping cries of, “Hook ’em Horns,” but mainly he occupied himself with pointing out to David Alter some of the more subtle, polished tactics of Darrell Royal’s second-and third-teamers. Every time Oklahoma’s Jim Grisham, a superb fullback from Olney, Texas, carried the ball, Joe hollered, “Get that turncoat!” And when an OU fan near him would yell encouragement to the Sooners, Joe would quietly remark to his brother-in-law, “Jimmy Jack Drunk back there thinks he’s still got a chance to win.”
Later, in the usual postgame playing of The Eyes of Texas by the Longhorn band down on the field, Joe stood silently proud, pleased and even touched that his team had been so great on the big day. “That song chokes me up every time,” he said, forcing a grin. “Man, Dare-e-ull had ’em hot today. You know what Joe Don Looney got? Mr. Scott Appleton gave him zip. Shut him out.”
Joyful cries of “Hook ’em Horns” were billowing out of the apartment in north Dallas, the good side of town, or rather, the only side, when the Coffmans, Morgans and Alters got there. Unlike the party the night before, this one was strictly for Longhorns. Platters of ham and turkey were laid out on a table. A bartender in the kitchen was mixing drinks and opening beers as fast as possible. Wives and girl friends congregated on the sofas. The men pushed into the kitchen and spilled out onto a balcony, drinks lifted, in a continuous toast to Dare-e-ull Royal and Scott Appleton and Duke Carlisle and Tommy Ford and to the memory of college days at Austin. “Hey, Cecil,” called Joe. “Just got the score. Florida beat Alabama!”
Cecil slumped back in a chair, laughed heartily, and said, “All I know is, Texas is No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 .”17
After a while, Mary Sue quietly asked Joe if, in the light of the Texas victory, he still intended to drive to Waco for the Baylor-Arkansas game.
“They’re still playin’, aren’t they?” said Joe.
“Well, we’d better do something about dinner,” said Mary Sue.
“Get after that turkey and ham,” Joe nodded. “Tell you what. Make up some sandwiches and grab six or eight beers out of the icebox and we’re gone.”18
Waco, Texas, is noted for only two things. One is that it is the home of Baylor University. The other is that Waco, from time to time, has tornadoes. From Dallas it is about one hour and 20 minutes across the flat north central Texas farmland and, since the Baylor-Arkansas game was mercifully scheduled for 8 p.m., the Coffmans and Morgans should have had plenty of time to make the kickoff. But they overstayed the Texas celebration party, and Cecil was moving along too briskly on Highway 77 when the flashing red spotlight on a Texas highway patrol car encouraged him to pull over.
“It’s the fuzz,” Joe said. “No bad mouth now, Cecil. Don’t give him any lip. Just ‘Yes sir, Officer, don’t hit me no more.’ or he’ll take us to the Waxahachie jail and nobody’ll ever hear from us again.”
Cecil Morgan put up a strong argument, but the patrolmen decided that he probably ought to have a speeding ticket for $20.50, payable by mail. Cecil had, after all, been driving 75 mph in a 55-mph zone.19
Joe Coffman writhed in the backseat.
“Don’t mind the money, just hate to miss the kickoff,” he said.
They missed the whole first quarter, as it turned out. It was just as well. Although Baylor’s passing wizard, Don Trull, and its excellent receiver, Lawrence Elkins, staged a wonderful exhibition, the Coffmans and Morgans could not have cared less. They were rooting for Baylor to upset the Razorbacks, which they did 14-10, but the Texas-OU game had drained them of all enthusiasm. “I’d feel O.K.,” said Joe, “if I didn’t have dust in my hair, dirt in my nose and sores in my mouth.”
The group laughed faintly. Mary Sue and Pat yawned as Don Trull completed a 53-yard pass to Elkins that brought 40,000 other people to their feet. Cecil and Joe pondered quietly the ability of Arkansas to defeat Texas. “No way,” Joe decided, sleepily.
“Baylor’s sure a swell place,” Cecil said, sarcastically. “I saw one of their biggest and oldest fans a while ago, and he’s sitting on the goal line. Can you imagine that? The man can’t get better seats than that. No wonder they can’t win a championship.”20
They all yawned again, and soon the game ended. Cecil said he “might could manage” to drive home. Joe said he would pay $100 if Baylor would let him sleep all night in the parking lot.
“Shame to be this close to Austin and not go,” Joe said. “Cecil, what would you give for some crispy, chewy tacos at El Rancho right now? You think El Rancho’s chili con queso sounds good? Good Lord!”
The ritual of a football fan, the real football fan, in Dallas on Sunday is to attend the Cowboy Club, both before and after the NFL games in the Cotton Bowl. Texas being a dry state (many blame the Baptists and some Texans therefore blame Baylor), the owners of the Cowboys long ago took the precaution of seeing to it that their loyal fans (those who buy memberships) can get a “mixed” drink and something to eat at the club on the state fairgrounds. During the fair and the big football weekend, however, so many people were in town that the club had to move from air-conditioned indoor quarters to a tent just outside of the Cotton Bowl. It was still the place to be on a lazy Sunday that dawned as clear and warm and calm as Friday and Saturday had been. The Cowboys had not won a game and had lost four, but Joe Coffman kept telling people that they were a cinch to beat the Lions. “It’s a sure thing,” he said to Bedford Wynne, part owner, along with Clint Murchison Jr. of the Cowboys. “It’s an upset weekend, boys. It just figures.”
“Hell, I’m startin’ to get nervous, now that you told me that,” said Bedford.
When a college game has been played in Dallas the day before, the Cowboy Club serves another purpose. It is sort of a hangover haven. Bloody Marys outsell any other drink, 20 to 1, and frequently spectators bring their own Bloody Marys in giant thermoses. Since Bedford Wynne, like Joe and Cecil, is one of the most ardent Texas fans in captivity, the Cowboy Club is also a haven for University of Texas fans.
From table to table, the talk was all about the “Horns and that terrific thing they did to Oklahoma Saturday.” Mary Sue and Pat sat with a long table of women, discussing the other women across the tent. Joe and Cecil stood, table-hopped, drank, laughed and finally ate two barbecue sandwiches.
“You think the eyeballing ain’t something in this place,” said Joe, looking around at the women, who, even though going to the game, were dressed as fashionably as if they had just stepped out of Neiman-Marcus. “Got to be headquarters for world champion pretty,” he said. “Can’t wait for the game to be over so we can come back.”
As Joe Coffman had said, it was the Cowboys’ day to win. The game lulled along for three quarters, but finally exploded into an offensive spectacular in the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys winning a close one, 17-14.
The crowd was sparse. “Had to be a guts-up fan to make this one on top of all the others,” said Joe, moodily. “I got to think the crowd’s bigger in the Cowboy Club — if they’re still serving booze.”
Mostly at the insistence of the wives, Mary Sue and Pat, there was yet to be one more stop for them all before the weekend would stagger to a halt. Mary Sue and Pat noted, without an excess of enthusiasm, that they had not eaten a hot meal in two days. The Beefeater Inn would be nice, said Mary Sue, and it was seldom crowded on a Sunday evening.
“Got to have it,” Joe said pleasantly. “Steak, asparagus, coffee and cognac. Got to have it right now.” They were there in 20 minutes.
It was a quiet evening, spent mostly in reflection on the four games, and all the people they had seen and in forgetting how much each had drunk. “Guarantee you,” Joe said, “we saw everybody but Nasty Jack Kilpatrick.”
“Who?” Pat Morgan asked.
“Nasty Jack Kilpatrick,” Coffman laughed. “Toughest man I ever knew. Hitchhiked all the way from Miami to Austin one time with nothing but an old toothbrush and a Johnnie Ray record of Cry. Think he wasn’t tough?”
In the fatigued after-dinner silence Mary Sue thought it would be a good idea if Joe called Fort Worth long distance to check up on the children.
“Why don’t you call, Honey?” Joe asked.
“Please call, Joe,” she said.
“Go on, Honey,” said Joe.
“You can do it quicker, Joe,” Mary Sue said, pleadingly.
Joe Coffman frowned, shoved himself away from the cognac and coffee with a groan.
Walking off, he turned and said, “One thing, Mary Sue. You just lost yourself a fistful of dimes.” A little less than two hours later, tired but full, aching but pleased, oversmoked, overlaughed, dusty-weary but all-victorious, they were home. All four teams had won, all four people had survived.
“Don’t forget,” said Joe, as he left Cecil and Pat, “we got to get away from here early Friday.”
Pat said, “Are we really going to Little Rock for Texas-Arkansas?”
Joe Coffman looked offended. “They’re playin’, aren’t they?”
The story set the tone for much of Jenkins’s work to follow and, in Morgan’s words: “Joe and I were instant celebrities for about 20 minutes.”21
It also caused some consternation among family members when the magazine hit newsstands. Mary Sue Coffman’s father, Wilbur “Doc” Smither, was a prominent rancher and businessman in Huntsville, Texas, and tried to buy every available copy in town, so no one could read about the drinking exploits of his daughter and son-in-law. Cecil Morgan’s mother was equally scandalized. “My mother thought I could do no wrong, period,” says Morgan. “She knew I drank but she refused to think I would drink that much, and until her death she was mad at Dan for inferring that her little boy could drink that much beer on that weekend.”22
While the story generated plenty of letters to the editor (including the predictable reproaches about the drinking), it also accomplished something more subtle. It presented football fandom from a different perspective; there were none of the leisure-class niceties that had characterized depictions of fans in raccoon coats cavorting to stadiums in the Ivy League. Here, football was at the center of the experience, rather than on the margins. Jenkins’s story didn’t patronize, and it made the case that fans could be well-rounded, sophisticated, interesting people — and still irrationally passionate about football.23
Coffman remembered that Jenkins “was already semi-famous” by 1963. Within a decade, his bawdy novel Semi-Tough made the best-seller lists, and Jenkins became the nation’s most celebrated sportswriter. He left Sports Illustrated in the 1980s, but remains active today, writing books and a monthly column for Golf Digest. (His Twitter feed is a must-read during any major.) Earlier this year, Jenkins was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Later this month, he will receive the PEN/ESPN Literary Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing.
This Saturday, when OU and Texas renew their rivalry, all three men will be watching. Coffman stopped attending the Cotton Bowl extravaganzas decades ago (“It just got so easy to watch from the 50-yard line on HDTV,” he says), though he and his youngest son are considering attending this year’s game. Between 1948 and 2010, Morgan saw 61 out of the 63 games in the series, missing one game in the ’50s when he was in the service, and another in the ’90s when he was recovering from surgery. He stopped going after 2010, having grown weary of his seats being moved farther and farther away from the field.24
“Starting in high school, I believe I saw every Texas-OU game from ’46 through ’72,” Jenkins says. “First, it was the thing to do, then it was business. I’ll be watching right here in the comfort of my home, and if it’s hot outside, I’ll turn up the air conditioner and build a fire.”
More of Jenkins’s work for Sports Illustrated can be found here.
Michael MacCambridge is the author of America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation. His new book, Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports, was just published by Andrews-McMeel.