Texas A&M's powerful relay forces showed up for the California Relays in Modesto last weekend, but they were limping badly, and the Mills brothers figured that the collection of watches they had amassed back in Lufkin wouldn't be increased for a while. For one thing, Rockie Woods was out with a pulled hamstring and had been left in Texas. "And," said Assistant Coach Ted Nelson, "you don't lose a 9.3 sprinter off your 440 and 880 teams and not feel it." Too, Curtis Mills would be running with two large knots in his left thigh, and brother Marvin couldn't decide if he felt lousy because of a recent attack of food poisoning or from just plain exhaustion. "Otherwise," said Nelson, "we're in pretty good shape. I wonder how the fishing is out here?"
And so on Saturday morning the brothers stretched out on their motel beds and planned the day's strategy. "Let's just stay in bed," said Marvin. They thought about that for a while. "No," said Curtis at last, "let's run the 440. It'll be over so fast we won't even know we're hurting. And the 880." He sat up in bed. "Hey, maybe we can still win it. I know we can. They give great watches here, too. Let's win the 880."
"O.K.," said Marvin, settling that. "Now what about the mile?"
"Aw," said Curtis, "we'll worry about that when we get to it."
And that's just the way it went, of course. They ran the 440, and it was over fast, and if they were hurting it was because they finished third behind Texas at El Paso and UCLA. It was the first time this season Texas A&M had put both Mills brothers in a relay and lost.
The Aggies had won 20 straight with them. Multiply two times 20 and you can see that there are a lot of unwound watches in Lufkin. Next year the multiplication table jumps to the threes. Brother Wayne will join the act after a year of fattening his grades at a junior college. And then there's Lester and Ester, the fastest 15-year-old twin brother and sister act in Texas.
"She claims she's faster than the brothers," says Coach Charlie Thomas. "But they won't run against her, so we'll never know."
The closest Ester gets to competition is in the role of official starter for a series of match races between Curtis and Marvin over 150 yards in the street in front of their house. The series started about a year ago, when Curtis came back from the NCAA championships with a world record in the 440. Marvin was a 17-year-old senior in high school, Curtis a 20-year-old sophomore at A&M.
"I suppose you think you're pretty fast?" said Marvin after dinner on the night of Curtis' triumphant return. Curtis grinned at him. He had talked Marvin out of the band and into track, and he knew what the next move would be. "You can't even beat me," said Marvin. "Oh, yeah?" said Curtis. "Yeah," said Marvin. "Let's go out in the street. Hundred and fifty yards." They went out in the street and measured off the distance. Ester stepped in as starter as the neighbors flocked to watch.
"Allez-vous zup," she said.
"What's that?" said Curtis and Marvin.
"That's French for get ready," said Ester. "Now uggie boom boom. And go."
They went. Marvin won. They went again. Marvin won. "Once more," said Curtis, and finally he won. "See," he said, "you won the heats but I won the final.
"Marvin has always been faster over the short distance," said Curtis. "I need more yards." In high school all Marvin figured he'd ever need was 100 yards—or less. Not on a track, on a football field. He was second-string all-state. With his speed and build (6'3", 180) he got 32 football scholarship offers. He picked California.
"But he never had a choice," said Curtis. "Mom told him he was going to Texas A&M, and that was it. I had a choice—sort of. I really wanted to go to Southern. But Coach Thomas told me if I went to A&M I'd be a pioneer, one of the first black athletes in the Southwest Conference. I sort of liked that idea. Then when I first got there I said, oh, oh, Curtis, you're a pioneer, all right. Man, you're doomed. But the school has been great to me. If I had to start over I'd go right back to A&M."
But Marvin is unconvinced. It's not the thought of running at A&M, but the thought of not playing football at Cal that bothers him. "But Mom said A&M, and I just didn't feel like arguing with her. She felt the school had done a lot for Curtis. He seems to think so, too. Sometimes I think of going to a school where I'd be on my own, not be Curtis' kid brother. But I'm here, and I'm going to try and make it here."
In any event, they are there, Curtis the pioneer, Marvin the dutiful son, Wayne on the way, and Texas A&M has become a track powerhouse. The Southwest Conference meet three weeks ago was no contest, with the Aggies so far out in front by the time they called the mile relay the brothers didn't even have to run. Texas A&M scored 72½ points—only nine of them by seniors. Curtis won the 220 (20.7) and the 440 (46 flat). Marvin was second in the 100 (9.5) to Rockie Woods and second to Curtis in the 220 (20.7). And the brothers ran on the winning 440-yard relay team.
But that was when they were healthy and fresh. Now they weren't, and it was time for the 880 in the California Relays. Donnie Rogers, a freshman, led off, and when he passed the baton to Scotty Hendricks A&M was only a few yards off the pace. Hendricks, a senior filling in for Woods, was the key. He's a 9.6 sprinter and leads off the 440, but he's the only man on the relay teams under 6'2". He's 5'6" and, said Ted Nelson, "220 yards is a lot of ground to cover with his short legs." If so, Hendricks covered them quickly. When Marvin took over A&M was still a few yards behind the leaders, and so the brothers went zap and a couple more watches were added to the stockpile.
Then they got around to worrying about the mile relay. "To hell with it," said Curtis, who was limping. "Right," said Marvin, looking for a soft piece of ground to pass out on. And that's when Ester should have shown up. Right then she could have beaten either at anything from a yard to a mile. Come on fellows, allez-vous zup, uggie boom boom, go—and ha, ha, what took you so long?