One after another the boys from Zephyr drag themselves out of
the dark and into Mary's Place. It's Friday morning, the first
game day of the season, and it seems all the bugs in Texas are
Mary's stands hard by the Brady Highway in Brownwood, a town of
about 20,000, some 12 miles up the road from Zephyr, in the
central part of the state. Zephyr counts only about 200
residents, too few to support a restaurant. And so today the
boys got up before dawn and came here in a long, headlamps-lit
procession, sharing rides in old bombs and pickups, watching out
the window as the black land moved past.
Officially the 7 a.m. breakfast they've come to attend has been
dubbed the Meet the Bulldogs Breakfast, but except for a radio
crew and a local newspaperman, no one is waiting to meet the
Bulldogs but the Bulldogs themselves. "How're your boys lookin'
today?" somebody asks the coach.
Gary Bufe, 42, stares long and hard before responding. "Some
look ugly, some look sleepy," he says. "I don't know if they're
ready or not."
Bufe is only joking, but even at this hour of the morning the
boys have their game faces on, and nobody laughs. This makes
Bufe reconsider. "The boys have come a long ways, and I'll say
right now if you have confidence in a group, it's this one." He
seems to mean what he's saying, but at the same time he might
just be trying to persuade himself and to persuade the boys.
Gordon, the Bulldogs' opponent tonight, won't be easy, after all.
Gordon has Jim Ed Kostiha, an all-state linebacker and the
starting quarterback, and Jason Sizemore, an all-state running
back. Gordon has Jesus Tijerina, a feisty little two-way player
with a ponytail and shaved sidewalls and bad attitude galore.
Gordon also has that kid John Leven, a running back who, they
say, stands 6'5" and weighs 270 pounds and covers the 40 in 4.8
seconds, and when you hit him it's like meeting the stubborn end
of a cement wall.
From the way he's looking at his boys, Bufe seems to be trying
to read their minds. He's a tall, thin fellow with a prominent
Adam's apple and styled hair, and today he's wearing a crisply
starched white dress shirt and a necktie. In addition to
coaching, Bufe teaches math at Zephyr High, and this time of
year he reports to school at 7:30 in the morning and doesn't get
home until after 9 at night. To be close to him, his wife and
kids sometimes show up at the football field and watch him work
out with the boys under the lights. It's either that or try to
catch him rushing out the door in the morning.
Now Bufe says, in a stronger voice, "I feel when the boys step
out on the field, they'll be ready to play. I really do. They're
going to play hard."
All this heat and worry, and when you come down to it, the game
they play isn't something most people have ever heard about, let
alone seen. Zephyr is a six-man town, which is to say, it's a
town whose high school is too thinly populated to field a
regular 11-man football squad. In Texas a school can't have more
than 85 students if it wants to participate in the six-man
public league. Zephyr High, with an enrollment of 76, has 40
male students, 34 of them varsity and jayvee football players.
By last count there were 89 six-man public schools in Texas, 21
in Nebraska, 16 in Colorado, 14 in Montana, 10 in New Mexico,
three in Kansas and two in Arizona. In Canada, too, where spaces
are vast and the talent pool shallow, six-man schools abound.
This year at least one preseason poll is saying that Gordon has
the best team of them all.
This, of course, has been weighing heavily on the minds of the
Zephyr boys, who are an inexperienced lot and weren't included
in most of the rankings. They are quiet as they form a line and
take trays and silverware and decide on breakfast.
"Where's Torrey?" Bufe says. "What's Torrey got on his head? You
got some paw prints, Torrey?"
Torrey McClain runs a hand over his nearly naked scalp, which
was shaved by a teammate just this week. "Nosuh," he says. "Just
"Nicks," Bufe says, giving his head a shake. "We need to look up
in the Guinness Book of World Records to see the record for the
number of nicks on a head."
Zephyr means gentle breeze, Bufe will tell you. The word comes
from some foreign language he's not familiar with. And, yes,
Zephyr seems the sort of town you breeze through on your way
someplace else, with only a caution light to signal its
existence and with only one store, Petty's Grocery & Feed, to
satisfy its needs.
In appearance Zephyr is not unlike most other six-man towns
around Texas: dirt-poor and down around the mouth, wounded by a
depressed ranching economy but still limping along. The most
interesting thing to have happened there lately occurred 95
years ago when a tornado went through and flattened everything
in sight, including the high school, which was later replaced by
a clunky stone structure that bears an uncanny resemblance to
"We might be small, but we do have cable TV in Zephyr," says
lineman Jeremy King. "We watch football from all over."
"Personally, I got no use for 11-man," says Mark Schwartz, a
cornerback. "It's boring. I can't stand it."
"I honestly don't know what 11-man's like," says linebacker
Dusty Miller. "I seen it, but I don't know nothing about it."
"Me, I never even been out of Texas," says McClain, the kid with
the nicked head. "As a matter of fact, I never even been farther
than San Antone. My mom works at the Red Wagon restaurant in
Brownwood. My dad, I don't talk to him. I went to Fort Worth
before. I had eye surgery once, and it might've been in Dallas.
That's what they tell me, anyway."
The boys eat biscuits and white gravy and sausage wheels and
bacon and hash browns and scrambled eggs and toast and milk and
juice, and some of them eyeball the ice-box pie but don't say
anything. They are wearing their white game jerseys with maroon
lettering, and some already have on their black rubber cleats,
even though they still have classes today and the game is 12
When breakfast is over they file outside and stand in the
parking lot, trying to decide how to feel. The sun has come up,
and the bugs have gone quiet, and not one of the boys wants to
believe that a kid as big as John Leven can run that fast and
hit that hard.
It's Stephen Epler they all have to blame--Stephen Epler, who in
1934 decided that the boys at his school in little Chester,
Neb., deserved a chance to play organized football. Epler is 87
now, retired and living in Sacramento. Over a distinguished
career he served as president of four colleges, but everybody
remembers him as the guy who invented six-man football. It's a
fact that leaves him slightly bemused. Sometimes when he answers
the phone he's asked to recount the story of how it all began.
"Well, I was 24 years old and just out of college," he says.
"Chester is on the Nebraska-Kansas line. There were about 80
students in the high school, half of them boys, most too little
to play football. They'd tried 11-man in earlier years and had
to give it up because of injuries and lack of students. The kids
still wanted to play, so one day I said to my superintendent,
'Why don't we have football here?' He told me all the reasons we
didn't, and I blurted out, 'Then why don't we have a team with
fewer than 11?' He said, 'O.K., you invent the game, and I'll
see that it gets a try.'"
First Epler decided how many players to put on each side of the
ball. He chose six because he figured he could count on rounding
up the five players who started on the basketball team, all of
them good-sized, athletic boys. Also, with six you could put
three on the line and three in the backfield. Next he devised a
set of rules, most of which still apply today. Six-man is played
on a field 80 yards long and 40 yards wide. All players are
eligible to receive a forward pass, but the quarterback can't
run the ball unless a teammate handles it first. After a
touchdown a kicked conversion counts for two points, while a
pass or a run is good for only one. (A field goal earns four
points.) A team must cover 15 yards for a first down.
Epler says the first six-man game, in '34, featured consolidated
Nebraska teams from Chester and Hardy on one side, Belvidere and
Alexandria on the other. They played under lights on a college
field in Hebron, and the final score was 19-19. About a thousand
people showed up to watch, a couple of wire-service reporters
among them. The oddball slant of the story appealed to newspaper
editors nationwide, and by running an account of the game they
helped light a spark at little nowhere towns across the country.
In that first year, Epler says, he sent out mimeographed copies
of his rules to about 50 schools. Over the next decade
thousands of schools would field six-man teams, and around 1954
an eight-man version of football would emerge. Eight-man
survives today, but with fewer programs than six-man.
Six-man has been enjoying a resurgence in the heartland because
a drop-off in enrollment has forced some schools to change from
11-man to six-man teams and because other schools that did not
play football at all have caught six-man fever. Elsewhere the
game continues to thrive because small towns have found in these
teams a repository for all their hopes and dreams and yearnings.
The oil patch might run dry, and the bank might foreclose on the
family farm, but the football team isn't going anywhere, not as
long as there are a half-dozen young male bodies to suit up.
Six-man is the temple where the isolated come together and
celebrate their smallness.
On top of that, the game's a hoot and an even greater spectacle
to watch than 11-man. With only a handful of defensive players
to elude, a speedy back or receiver can break one tackle and be
in the clear. Long gainers are the rule rather than the
exception. It is not uncommon for six-man teams to trade
touchdowns throughout a game. In 1991 Zephyr beat Strawn 92-66.
And last year May toppled Sidney to the tune of 90-82 in another
Texas matchup. (Four weeks after the Gordon-Zephyr game, a squad
from Saskatchewan, Canada, would play in the first international
six-man match in history and lose to Gordon 92-24.)
"In six-man the game is never boring," says Terry Pophan of
Strawn, a town about nine miles from Gordon. Pophan, a partner
in a building-materials company, is a charter member of a group
that calls itself Six-Man Central. Each week he and some friends
attend as many six-man games as possible, occasionally catching
four in three days.
"Something's always happening in six-man," Pophan says, "and
everyone is involved. All the boys are receivers, which makes it
interesting, since you don't have five guys up front just
blocking while somebody's trying to throw the ball. Instead you
might have five guys going out and trying to get open for a
pass. A lot of people who watch six-man for the first time and
see all the hitting say, 'My gosh. This is wild, and, well,
yeah, it is still football, isn't it?'"
"Six-man distinguishes itself from 11-man in that it's a game
where a little guy can be successful," says Wendell Bradley, the
coach at Strawn. "Guys like that kid John Leven at Gordon are
the exception rather than the rule. Most guys that big are too
slow. In six-man you tell the fat boys to go to the sideline,
and you play with the skill people. It's all about speed and
"You'd be amazed at the size of some of the kids who've been
all-state," says Doug Hopkins, a member of Six-Man Central. "I
remember, not many years ago, a kid from Guthrie was 5'4" and
130 pounds, and he made second team all-state. That sonofagun
was hard to tackle--little tiny fella, ran straight ahead."
In Texas six-man is popular enough to have spawned a couple of
publications dedicated to covering the games, ranking the teams
and anointing the stars. Joe Nash and Tommy Wells of Ranger put
out an annual called Six-Man Illustrated and advertise it as
"North America's only international six-man magazine," whose
mission is "to preach the word of six-man football." Nash and
Wells show up at games wearing shirts made to resemble the U.S.
flag, and they confess that six-man changed their lives. Wells
met his wife at the first six-man game he ever saw, and Nash
says six-man is practically all he thinks about, day and night.
"I've been married 10 years, and I do love my wife," he says,
"but you know how you hear about love at first sight? Well, I
gotta admit it, six-man was like that for me."
Although the passion these men feel for the game might run to
the extreme, to love six-man is to love a way of life that other
places in this country have outgrown or discarded. Six-man
celebrates an America that didn't die with the social
revolutions of the 1960s but hid out in forgotten little towns
in big spaces, waiting for Friday night.
"People generally have two opinions of small towns," says
Granger Huntress of San Antonio, who publishes The Huntress
Report, a weekly newsletter devoted to the game. "They either
think small towns are innocent and pure and wonderful, which is
my view, or they think they're ignorant, mean and backward. But
go to any six-man town, and what you'll find there is wonderful.
All that talk from politicians about family values? They're
wherever six-man is played."
Wonderful, too, are the names of the towns, some of them too
little for the map, enduring like a secret: Groom and Rule and
Ropesville and Ira and Ackerly and Loop and Paint Rock and Star
and Buckholts and Cranfills Gap and Blum and Fruitvale and New
Home and Maple. The schools in these towns are "the heart and
soul of the community," says Phil Watts, owner of KXYL, a
Brownwood radio station that broadcasts six-man games.
"Everything revolves around them, economically and socially. And
so at this time of year the football team becomes the heart and
soul of the town. Everybody goes to the games."
Jack Pardee is the most famous name to break out of the six-man
orbit, and his high school career ended 44 years ago. He came
from the West Texas town of Christoval, just south of San
Angelo, and went on to star at Texas A&M and to play and coach
in the NFL. "I was hit as hard in six-man as I was ever
hit--college or pro," Pardee once told USA Today.
However, few six-man players ever advance to major college ball.
Just last year a running back named Raul (Petey) Salaiz finished
a historic career at Mullin (Texas) High, where he rushed for
10,468 yards, the second-highest total ever by a U.S. schoolboy.
Salaiz received a handful of letters from Division I-A colleges,
but alas, none offered a scholarship.
"Kids in six-man don't get scholarships because college coaches
can go to bigger schools and pick kids of the same size and
ability who've already been exposed to 11-man programs," says
Bradley, the Strawn coach. "The six-man kids just don't get the
recognition they deserve, no matter how good they are."
The folks in Zephyr can't remember their last football player to
receive a free ride to play major college ball, but those in
Gordon remember theirs: He was Nelson Campbell, the coach and
principal at the high school. In 1967 Campbell led the Gordon
Longhorns to victory in the six-man regional championship, the
furthest a school could advance back then. Texas Christian and
Southern Methodist came calling, and recruiters from both
universities took Campbell to a restaurant for a steak dinner,
hoping to cast a spell. Campbell chose Texas Christian, but he
never got much respect there.
"Maybe in my coach's mind I was disadvantaged," says Campbell,
who lettered two years but played sparingly on the offensive
line. "They used to ask me, 'Do they play three-man basketball
in Gordon?' There was a bias against me, I think."
After college Campbell went home and coached first at Strawn and
then at Gordon, where he has been head man since 1981. Campbell
might've been slighted in 11-man, but this year in six-man he's
as big as they get. "Nelson and Gordon," says Bradley. "I
hesitate to tell you how good they really are in fear I may
It's early afternoon now, and the Zephyr boys pile into a yellow
school bus and commence the 110-mile journey to Gordon, with
Bufe behind the wheel. Accompanying the bus is a pickup truck,
its bed packed with helmets, shoulder pads and other gear. Most
of the boys have cottonmouth and fluttering stomachs that
nothing but a little physical contact can cure. An uncertain
fate awaits them at the end of this road, and here is the
lesson: Life is hard, but not compared with six-man.
With a population of 516, Gordon is more than twice the size of
Zephyr. Gordon doesn't have a red light either, but it does have
street signs, shiny things that were the talk of the town when
they went up a couple of years ago. It also has a dry-goods
store, a grocery, a video store, a fire hall, a post office, a
Ford dealership, a filling station, a bank branch, a barbershop,
a hardware store, three churches and a dominoes hall. Empty
buildings bracket Main Street, but all things considered,
Gordon--with its vital little business district and its
proximity to Fort Worth--is prospering compared with Zephyr.
While the Bulldogs are journeying over vast stretches of
mesquite-choked terrain, a pep rally begins in the WPA-era
gymnasium at Gordon High. Kostiha and Sizemore and Tijerina and
Leven are all in attendance, looking eager to get the prelims
over with, none of them wanting to crack a smile lest that show
For the football team, what's happening in the Gordon gym is
proof that all those miserable hours of pumping iron and driving
the two-man sled and running wind sprints were worth the doing.
You hear the applause and see the crowd come to its feet, and
it's almost as nice as being kissed for the first time. Both the
Longhorns and the Shorthorns--the name for Gordon's junior high
six-man team--run out and circle the shiny pine floor before
taking seats in the bleachers. Two groups entertain the student
body: the cheerleaders, led by Stacie Crain, and the drill team,
with Terra Golden in front.
Both girls possess the kind of pure, unsullied beauty that makes
your heart squeeze tight in your chest, and that explains why
the state of Texas occasionally mops up at Miss America
pageants. Mamas from town have come to see their girls perform
this afternoon, but all the daddies have stayed away, proud of
their precious little sweethearts but not that proud.
Gordon High is too small to have a band, so the girls dance to
canned music from a jam box, and nobody trips and falls, and
this delights Terra no end. She couldn't sleep the night before
in fear of just such an accident.
"If I fell, I'd just lay there on the floor and cry," she says.
"We're supposed to get right back up, but I don't think I could."
Toward the end of the pep rally the boys spill out onto the
floor and stand around looking spooked as the girls dance the
macarena. Eventually a few of the team clowns join in, but the
real players know to keep still. Kostiha and Sizemore wear
sullen faces, the mask of the assassin before he clocks in for a
hit. "Nervous?" somebody asks Kostiha.
He gives his head a shake. "Ready."
It was his father, Jimmy Ray Kostiha, a teammate of Campbell's
on the '67 championship team, who once said, "Jim Ed's always
been a good kid, but then he went and grew his hair out long.
Some little girl told him he looked like James Dean, and you
know what it did? It ruined him."
In the eyes of his schoolmates Jim Ed is anything but ruined,
and the cheers that find him are meant to prove that. Boys are
boys until they strap it on come Friday night. Then they become
heroes, every one.
"Y'all make sure to wear long pants to the game tonight," Stacie
tells a couple of visitors as she leaves the gym. "Mosquitoes'll
eat you alive if you don't."
When Stacie's not leading cheers or running cross-country or
playing basketball, she likes to ride her horse, Duke. Except
when she goes off to college, she plans never to live anywhere
but in Gordon. One day she wants to have babies and send them to
Gordon High, and she wants her girls to cheer and her boys to
"I'm mainly just a cowgirl," she says. "I wear pants and boots
and a cowboy hat everywhere I go. I couldn't live in a big city.
In big cities they beat you up if you don't wear the right
clothes. What do you think they'd do to me, wearing what I wear?"
The pep rally ends, and everybody but the coaches goes home. The
coaches head out to the field and hit the fire-ant mounds with
another lick of spray. Before the ant and mosquito problem,
there were armadillos to contend with. Seems they liked to root
around in the soft earth of the end zone. Campbell and his
assistants finally ran them off. "When those fire ants bite you,
they leave a little blister," Campbell says, showing what one
did to his finger. "I guess they should be a concern, but I
don't think when the boys fall on the ground they'll be staying
down very long."
Gordon's field, called Longhorn Stadium, might be the finest
six-man facility in all the world. It has metal bleachers with
enough room to seat 2,000 and a field house under construction
(it will be completed soon after the Zephyr game) that promises
to be as good as any at small-town schools that play 11-man. The
current field house is a little metal building divided into two
spaces: The varsity dressing room, the weight room, the laundry
room and the showers occupy one area, and the smaller jayvee
dressing room occupies the other. Campbell himself made the
lockers and now says, "You can see I'm not much of a carpenter.
But it's better than when I played here. When I played here they
had hooks on the wall for your clothes."
Visiting teams suit up in the jayvee room, and that's where the
Zephyr boys congregate upon arriving at Gordon. The wall
separating the two dressing rooms ends with a panel of chicken
wire up by the ceiling, and one side can hear everything said on
the other. So everyone speaks in hushed tones and makes sure to
self-edit when discussing the game plan.
During the jayvee game the boys on the Zephyr varsity sit on
benches and in the grass in front of the field house. Not five
feet away stand Leven and Tijerina and other members of the
Gordon team, but neither side speaks to the other. The players
do, however, share whispered observations with teammates.
"We judge 'em by lookin' at 'em," says Jon Temple, a Zephyr
running back. "And I can tell you right now, that big guy ain't
so big. He's little. Not no 6'5" and not no 275 or whatever, and
definitely not no 4.8 in the 40."
Leven, who is in fact 6'5" but closer to 250 pounds, stands
silently by, unaware that he's the object of so much attention.
He lives on his family's 1,400-acre cattle ranch just outside
Gordon, and what he likes almost as much as football is showing
heifers, in particular Sarah, a black Angus that recently won
grand-champion honors at a state competition. Leven, everybody
says, needs to get meaner if he wants to become a really good
player. He's too kindhearted. "I wish we could make him mad just
once," his stepfather, Joey Swain, says. "But I don't think you
can do it. He's not the mad type. John's little brothers, on the
other hand, they'll go outside and run into trees just to show
how tough they are."
If you could put Tijerina's aggressiveness in Leven's body,
everybody says, you'd have one of the best football players ever
to play the game. "That Mexican kid is cut pretty good," one of
the Zephyr boys allows, glancing over at Tijerina.
"Yeah, pretty good," says another. "But can he hit?"
Tijerina stands there with his shirt off, letting Zephyr and the
world have a look. Except for a few girls, he's the only kid in
Gordon with a ponytail and rings in both ears, but he's not the
kind of person you would want to say that to. At 5'7" and 145
pounds, Tijerina is small in size; in terms of heart, they don't
come any bigger. He lives with his mother in Palo Pinto, a town
about 20 minutes from Gordon. Elaina Tijerina cleans condos and
sells tamales to the county jail, and Jesus learned from
watching her work that not a thing comes easy in this life. His
body, for instance, is the result of years of cutting wood.
Handle a chain saw all day in the hot heat of a long Texas
summer and see what kind of muscles you get.
The Gordon boys aren't all the Zephyr players talk about. They
rate the Gordon girls, too, giving Stacie and Terra high marks.
And they can't get over the bleachers, the field house going up,
the black rubber track encircling the field. This is big-time.
Their place back home is pretty primitive, almost an
embarrassment, but typical of most six-man schools. Zephyr's
playing field abuts a pasture, where a rancher used to keep
several head of buffalo. Whenever games got dull, the fans
turned their attention to the action on the other side of the
fence: the exotic animals moving under the wild pecans and scrub
oaks. The rancher finally got rid of the buffalo and replaced
them with llamas, which occasionally looked over the fence but
didn't seem to know the difference between the six-man and
11-man games. There are no metal bleachers at Zephyr, only eight
long steps of cement in a small hillside. The Bulldogs dress in
the school's locker room, and the visiting team uses the weight
room off the gym.
Asked to compare Gordon with Zephyr, the Bulldogs' McClain says,
"They got a bank and a car dealership in Gordon, so that right
there makes them huge compared to us."
"We're going to start a new tradition here tonight," Bufe tells
his boys shortly before the start of the 7:30 p.m. game. He
sounds the way he did earlier, at the Meet the Bulldogs
Breakfast, less certain than hopeful. Twelve hours have passed,
and it's time to get this thing over with. "You ready to play?"
he says. When no answer comes, he says, "That's good. I know
Night is starting to fall, and with it comes the smell of
barbecue commingled with one of mosquito repellent. Down on the
sideline in front of the home stands Stacie is cheering, "Two
bits ... four bits ... six bits ... a dollar," and out in front
of the drill team Terra's sequined uniform shivers under the
tall electric lights. It is quite a beautiful thing, this night.
It is 1996 and 1946. It is today and yesterday and what you hope
tomorrow will be. And it is a few other things besides.
It's a Gordon spirit leader dressed up in a velour longhorn
costume, and it's little kids playing rough-and-tumble behind
the seats, and it's the hills all around colored a mix of pewter
and blue, and it's a radio tower way off in the distance beating
red lights in the gloaming. It's good old boys in cowboy hats
and Wrangler jeans and big-buckled belts talking a language that
no untrained ear can make out. It's the U.S. flag hardly
stirring over by the scoreboard and a knot of nervous daddies
standing on the sidelines, following the movement of the ball as
it advances from one end of the field to the other. It's all the
mamas, too, wincing at the hard hits and the soft ones, laughing
to show they aren't afraid. It's a long train roaring through
town just as Gordon's Chris Chamberlain scoops up a fumble and
runs it in 25 yards for the game's first score. And it's the
mosquitoes and the ants and the armadillos, wherever they've gone.
It's the endless beauty of a night in Texas when nothing
happened in town but a six-man football game. Tonight there's a
crowd of about 1,200, including 200 that made the trek from
Zephyr, Brownwood and neighboring towns. The series between the
two schools dates back 10 years, and Gordon barely leads, 4-3-1.
Because the Bulldogs and the Longhorns traditionally meet early
in the season, when play is still ragged, their games tend to be
unusually low-scoring by six-man standards.
Both Bufe and Campbell call plays from the sidelines, but given
the chaotic look of things, the boys could be drawing diagrams
in the dirt, doing it all on their own. There is a reckless,
freelance quality to the action that makes it seem as if
anything is possible, that keeps your jaw slack from start to
finish. Up and down the field the boys go, playing what amounts
to a glorified version of sandlot football, delivering blows
that smack like firecrackers. "We aren't exactly performing like
ourselves tonight," Campbell says at halftime, though his team
"The mosquitoes are a distraction," Bufe says. "But nobody's
complained yet about the little ants. Heck, if little ants are
the only pain they've got, they shouldn't be out there."
In pads Leven looks like a pro, but he doesn't handle the ball
much tonight, and he's hardly a factor. In the end it's Kostiha
and Sizemore who prove to be as good as their hype. Kostiha
completes eight of his 15 passes for 148 yards and one
touchdown, and Sizemore runs for three second-half touchdowns.
As yellow-haired eight-year-olds they had vowed to be two
things: buddies forever and world champs of six-man football.
Magic has come to Gordon and to that pair of dreamers, and the
Longhorns roll 34-8.
"I'm disappointed in how it all had to end," Bufe says. "Guess
I'll stop up the road at the truck stop and let the boys buy
themselves some snacks. Then we're going home."
One after another the Zephyr boys take their pads off and put
them in the back of the pickup and climb into the bus. They sit
steaming in the dark with their wet uniform pants and
undershirts still on and with grass and mud clinging to their
cleats. "What were they, Number 1 in the world or something?"
says Todd Jordan, a senior wide receiver. "We'll see them again.
We'll be ready for them when the playoffs come around."
After the Zephyr bus leaves, Campbell hangs around the stadium
for a while accepting congratulations from the proud people of
Gordon and remembering things about the game that were special
or that will require some attention at practice next week. By
now most of his boys have headed either to the teen dance at the
Gordon fire hall or to the nearby town of Mingus for pizza and
root beer and games of pool.
The lights go out, and Campbell is a lone figure moving through
the night, his black cap pushed way back on his head, his shoes
crunching the ground. He swats a mosquito and looks up at the
stars and seems altogether pleased. "Well," he says in a voice
gone hoarse from yelling, "I guess I'll go home now and pop a
top and relax a little. Anybody want to join me, they're
welcome. You remember where I live, don't you?"
Campbell lifts a hand, points to a place not a football field
away: "Double-wide right up there on the corner."
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK OPENING NIGHT In its first game of the '96 season, at Gordon, Zephyr (in white) often lined up in the slot spread. [Gordon High School playing Zephyr High School in six-man football]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK RANCH HANDS While six-man football is said to be Zephyr's heart and soul, cattle is the town's lifeblood. [Football players stretching]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK NUMBER: ONE The Bulldogs and their cheerleaders are Zephyr's only entertainment, and Petty's is the only store. [Members of Zephyr High School football team with cheerleaders sitting on their laps]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK SLOW DOWN Zephyr has no red light, but a yellow one urges drivers to adopt the town's somnolent pace. [Intersection in Zephyr, Texas]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK CLOSE SHAVE Bulldogs sit for their traditional game crops in--of course--Zephyr's high school shop. [Football player getting haircut]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK GORDON FLASH Tijerina, the Longhorns' little tower of attitude, got his muscles wielding a chain saw. [Jesus Tijerina]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK COWGIRL Cheerleader Crain gives her horse a rest and rides Gordon High's only band instrument. [Stacie Crain sitting on bass drum in front of horse]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK DOWNTIME At the half all the Bulldogs had to look forward to was more domination by Gordon. [Zephyr High School football players]