In addition to being the best defender in college football, Texas Linebacker Tommy Nobis has another distinction. He is a landmark. This has nothing to do with the fact that in both size and coloration he somewhat resembles the University of Texas Tower, which also has a glowing orange top. What makes Nobis a landmark is that he is the fifth Longhorn to appear on our cover, moving Texas out of a three-way tie with Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
Like many cover subjects, Nobis is important not only for his physical prowess but as the representative of a trend. Since November of 1959, when the Longhorns made their cover debut with Quarterback Bobby Lackey and his lovely wife (below), Texas has been one of the dominant teams in the land. When All-America Halfback Jimmy Saxton appeared two years later the Longhorns were on their way to a 10-1 season and a victory over Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl. In 1963 another Texas quarterback, Duke Carlisle, sliced through Oklahoma to earn a No. 1 ranking that was never relinquished through a perfect 11-0 season. The most recent Texas cover appeared last January. Ernie Koy, now a New York Giant rookie, ran alongside the words TEXAS UPSETS NO. 1! The story described Texas' victory over previously unbeaten Alabama and a future New York Jet rookie, Joe Namath.
But a person does not have to be an All-America halfback or linebacker, go undefeated, outperform $400,000 quarterbacks or have a beautiful wife to make a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED college football cover. He does not even have to be from Texas, since the Midwest still outranks the Southwest 16 covers to seven, and there have also been nine from the East, five from the South and four from the West. The record shows he does not even have to be a football player. Cheerleaders have made it and marching bands and the Yale Bulldog. Once Shirley MacLaine achieved it, running 99 yards for a touchdown past camels and Bedouin warriors in the Mojave Desert—which, we will admit, is doing it the hard way.
The solid path to our cover is much less exotic. Just have the kind of season that will win the Heisman Trophy. Ohio State's Hopalong Cassady, Army's Pete Dawkins, Notre Dame's Paul Hornung and John Huarte and Navy's Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach all used this approach. And so did tall, lean Terry Baker of Oregon State, the only college player to appear on our cover twice. He was The Best Athlete in College in his junior year, 1961. Then, on January 7, 1963, he was our Sportsman of the Year.
We do not, however, claim infallibility. Our cover of November 18, 1957 featured a joyous Oklahoma bench and the words WHY OKLAHOMA IS UNBEATABLE, a not unrealistic appraisal of a Sooner team that had gone undefeated through 47 games and seemed destined to continue undefeated for 47 more. That weekend Oklahoma lost to Notre Dame. It was a delicious Saturday night in South Bend. Pretty quiet around here.