Last Thursday the Avalanche-Journal in Lubbock, Texas, home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, ran a cartoon of an obese giant that was labeled "Gross George," who had "arrived on a freight train this morning." The cargo was Texas A&M Fullback George Woodard, who would be facing the Raiders on Saturday night. Woodard, who is 6 feet tall, weighs either 270 or 280 pounds, depending on whether he steps on the scales after practice or after dessert, and in the Southwest stories about him, apocryphal and otherwise, are replacing Aggie jokes. Not only stories but wisecracks, insults and tributes. To wit:
In the season opener against Kansas, Woodard broke a couple of tackles at the line of scrimmage and raced toward the goal line 51 yards away. At about the five, a defender leaped on his back. Without breaking stride, Woodard continued into the end zone, spiked the would-be tackler and calmly handed the ball to an official.
"He's not a fullback, he's a Winnebago," said Texas Tech Coach Steve Sloan.
"Our PE department conducted a test and submerged George in a tank of water," said A&M trainer Billy Pickard. "They found he had only 3% more body fat than a normal person of his build. They told us they didn't think George would ever get much below 260."
As a petite 238-pound high school senior in Van Vleck, Texas, Woodard won the district 100-yard dash in 9.9 and the state shotput title with a heave of 63'2".
"I don't know what George weighs," said A&M Coach Emory Bellard. "I just know he weighs more than he did at birth but less than King Kong."
Woodard's thighs measure 30 inches around, his neck 18½ inches.
To photograph him without a wide-angle lens, one must move back 20 yards.
Humor aside, the Aggies have more than an immense fullback. They have a potent wishbone attack designed by Bellard, who helped pioneer that formation when he was an assistant to Darrell Royal at Texas. In charge is senior Quarterback David Walker, a good lefty passer and an outstanding reader of defenses. After Walker became the starting quarterback last year, A&M won its final seven games, including a 37-14 victory over Florida in the Sun Bowl.
A&M also has in its backfield sophomore Curtis Dickey, a 9.4 sprinter in high school, who grew up just a mile or two from the A&M campus. He never even visited another college—in part because he was sure he wanted to stay and play close to his mother. Bellard and his staff have taught him how to block, which he didn't have to do at Bryan High but which is required of every back in the wishbone. Nobody had to teach Dickey how to run.
And if Woodard's bulk, Walker's arm or Dickey's legs can't get the Aggies on the scoreboard, there is always Tony Franklin's bare right foot. A junior from Fort Worth, he kicked field goals of 64 and 65 yards last season against Baylor. He approaches the ball like a sidewinder, but he kicks with the top of his foot rather than the side. Before the Texas Tech game he put on an astonishing display.
"He must have kicked 15 65-yard field goals in warmups," marveled Sloan. "That's intimidating. Maybe I should have blindfolded my team."
The A&M-Tech game was the biggest thing to hit Lubbock since a 1970 tornado literally twisted the tallest building (20 stories) in town. A record 55,008 people packed Jones Stadium to see sixth-ranked A&M and seventh-ranked Tech lambast each other in what many believed would be the game to decide the Southwest Conference title. Back at College Station, home of A&M, 6,000 more watched on closed-circuit TV.
For connoisseurs of collegiate rah-rah, there was no better place in America to be last weekend. Tech's Saddle Tramps, a booster group, rang their cowbells. A&M's student body, collectively known as "The Twelfth Man," continued its custom of standing throughout the game. A Tech student dressed up as the Zorro-like Red Raider and rode a black horse on the stadium's $45,000 rubberized track and another student dressed up as a mustachioed bandit, Raider Red, waved huge papier-m√¢ché pistols. A&M brought its mascot, a collie named Reveille IV. There were bands, coeds, pompons, blue cotton candy and hysteria.
Within the sidelines, Texas Tech had Rodney Allison, fearless hunter of rattlesnakes around his hometown of Odessa, Texas and a quarterback considered by many to be the best in the country. He had always been a skillful runner, but Sloan has made a passer out of him, too. "An absolute Houdini," Sloan calls him.
"They keep a lot of pressure on you offensively and have a great quarterback to trigger it," said Bellard. "They can burn you, even when you are in good position defensively."
Bellard also was worried about Woodard, who had injured a groin muscle the previous week in A&M's 27-6 defeat of Virginia Tech and would not start. Which is probably why Sloan did not carry out his threat to start the Red Raider's horse as Tech's fullback.
Tech felt even better after scoring on the game's first series. A screen pass from Allison to Tailback Mark Julian was good for 51 yards and a touchdown. But disaster struck moments later in the form of an Aggie safety blitz. Usually a veer quarterback gets hurt on an option play while pitching out or carrying the ball himself, but Allison's injury came on a drop-back pass, A&M Safety Carl Grulich tackling him 19 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Allison broke a bone in his left leg and, at the earliest, he does not figure to be back until the Texas game on Oct. 29.
In a second-period goal-line stand, the Red Raiders kept Woodard out of the end zone on four straight plays, the last time stopping him for no gain at the one-yard line. A&M tied the score on Walker's first touchdown pass of the season, but Tech took the lead back just before halftime on a school-record, 57-yard field goal by walk-on Bill (Blade) Adams, who had just been given a scholarship.
After a Walker-to-Dickey screen pass went 68 yards for another Aggie touchdown early in the third period, Tech took the lead for the third and last time, recovering a fumble on the A&M 16 and carrying it in four plays later to make the score 17-14.
The fourth quarter was all A&M. Franklin kicked field goals of 48, 25, 51 and 39 yards, Linebacker Roderick Reed returned an intercepted pass 25 yards for a touchdown, and Franklin's kick made the final score 33-17, Texas A&M.
"Great teams overcome injuries," said Sloan. "Poor field position in the second half hurt us worse than anything else. Because of it, we were limited in the things we could do."
"Tech was tough in the middle," said Walker, who played the fourth quarter with an injured pinky on his passing hand. "We had problems all night in the middle. It was a fight. It was the toughest fight I've ever been in."
Woodard, who had averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the first two games of the season, averaged 3.27 against Tech (59 yards on 18 carries) and insisted he had been only 75% of his usual self. Dickey, who had been averaging 8.98 per carry, averaged less than 3.0 Saturday night, but caught six passes for 117 yards.
The Aggies have another road trip this weekend, to Ann Arbor for a collision with Michigan before the usual Michigan Stadium crowd of 100,000-plus.
"Against Michigan I'll definitely be 100%," said Woodard. "We want it bad. We want to be No. 1 in the nation."
What a 270-pound fullback wants, he usually gets. And so does a 280-pound fullback.