PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

August 24, 2013

West column: Big signing turnout 'heartwarming' for Jerry LeVias

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR —     Looks like Beaumont’s puzzling indifference toward its biggest athletic hero this side of Babe Zaharias did considerable thawing during Friday night’s The Kids Got It Right book signing. Barnes & Noble sold out all 179 copies of the book it had in stock, as Jerry LeVias and author Jim Dent needed the entire two hours to sign and visit with all those who turned out. “I’ve never had this kind of welcome back to Beaumont in all these years,” said LeVias. “I’m grateful. It was heartwarming.” Among those attending was Beaumont city councilman W.L. Pate Jr., who promised that he would get the ball rolling toward LeVias receiving long overdue recognition for his inspirational and courageous battle to break down racial barriers in the Southwest Conference. Like Dent, Pate used Jackie Robinson to reference what LeVias overcame . . .Dent, by the way, feels strongly that The Kids Got It Right, with LeVias and Lamar University defense coordinator Bill Bradley the main characters, will be made into a movie, and sooner rather than later. LeVias, meanwhile, said reading the book was like an out-of-body-experience for him. “I was so impressed with Jim’s research,” he said. “He found out things I didn’t remember. It just brought back such great memories for me, particularly of what a unique experience it was getting to know Bill Bradley. I’d never met a white boy who could talk that much trash, then back it up. Actually, I’d never met many white guys. The Big 33 game was the first time for me to play against white players.” In catching seven of Bradley’s passes for 117 yards and  two touchdowns in a Texas victory, LeVias gave the Pennsylvania team something to remember him by . . . One of the interesting reunions for LeVias Friday night was with former Charlton-Pollard and Lamar University assistant John Payton, who coached against Jerry and his Hebert teams in 1963 and 1964. Asked Pollard’s plan to defend LeVias, Payton said, “Play deep.”  

    Earl Campbell’s appearance as the guest speaker at tonight’s Lamar University Kickoff Banquet resonated more with Port Arthuran  Igalious “Ike” Mills than most in Southeast Texas. Mills, who played basketball at Lamar under Billy Tubbs, launched his career as a self-taught artist in 1978 with a pen and ink water color painting of the Tyler home in which Campbell was reared. Living in Houston at the time, Mills presented the painting to Campbell prior to his explosive rookie season with the Houston Oilers. Since then, he’s done paintings for the likes of Bum Phillips, Bob Hope, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Cosby. Mills, who last saw Campbell a few years ago at Port Arthur Day in Austin, is hoping to make it to the banquet to say hello . . . The wait is about over for Jimmy Johnson and R.C. Slocum. The coaching duo with roots in Southeast Texas will be officially enshrined Wednesday night in Atlanta into the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012. Three other Texans — former Rice QB Tommy Kramer, former Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera and former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer, who shattered numerous state schoolboy passing records while playing for his dad in San Antonio — will join them. For Johnson, it will be his fifth different Hall of Fame of some sort — University of Arkansas, University of Miami, Texas Sports HOF and Florida Sports HOF. It should be six, but the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor continues to be denied by a pigheaded owner still searching for one of those 500 coaches who could have done what JJ did by winning two Super Bowls in five years.

    Two thumbs up to Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp for the way he came out swinging last week on ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell’s “lack of corroboration” on stories involving Aggie QB Johnny Manziel allegedly taking money for signing autographs. Sharp raised questions about brokers seeking to make money off a college athlete and noted that one of Rovell’s broker sources is of questionable character. Basically, he did everything but ask the question posed in this space last week — Would ESPN have been as aggressive in its reporting if the QB in question played for its business partner in Austin. Judging from Sharp’s stance, A&M fully intends to play Manziel and is betting the NCAA either can’t prove he took money or doesn’t really want to push the issue . . . The NCAA, in case you missed it, was on the verge of yet another black eye before quickly retreating on its initial stance involving a walk-on player at Middle Tennessee State named Steven Rhodes. Rhodes spent the past five years in the Marines, and while there played in a military recreational league that he described as being like “intramurals.” Because he did play a form of football, and because he’d been out of high school five years, the NCAA’s initial ruling was that he would have to forfeit two years of eligibility and take a mandatory redshirt year. In the face of a firestorm from both mainstream and social media, the NCAA quickly reversed its field and said Rhodes was immediately eligible.

    If you are a Houston Texans fan, you probably have good reason to be concerned over the health of star running back Arian Foster. Foster missed all of training camp and apparently won’t play in a pre-season game. He returned to practice this past week, insisting he’d be good to go for the regular season You have to wonder, however, if his extra heavy workload of the past three seasons hasn’t taken a toll. Foster, who isn’t exactly built like Earl Campbell, carried the ball 327, 278 and 351 times from 2010 through 2012. He also caught 199 passes during that period. That’s 1,155 touches. The most times Campbell touched the ball in a three-year span was 1,163. I’ll be surprised if Foster is not in and out of the lineup most of the season. But I wasn’t surprised when he wasn’t quoted as saying that he won’t let his kids play football . . .  Chris Stroud’s fans in Southeast Texas have to be happy with the way he rebounded in the first tournament of the Fed Ex Cup playoffs. Stroud was two shots over the cut line with 12 holes to play in Friday’s second round when he reeled off five birdies in the next 11 holes on the way to a 66 that moved him 60 places up the leaderboard. He climbed six more spots Saturday, thanks to an eagle that offset a double bogey and will start the final round T26. Keep in mind that if Stroud can move into the top 30 in Fed Ex points after the first three playoff events, he’ll qualify for the 2014 Masters. He’s currently No. 47, but projected to move to No. 40 after the Barclay’s. That, of course, is predicated on not backing up today.

    Thanks to one of his team’s tragically comical moments, Astros utility infielder Jake Elmore carved himself out a place in baseball’s record book last Monday night. Elmore, before the Texas Rangers 16-5 battering of Houston was complete, had become only the 13th player in MLB history to pitch and catch in the same game. Even more significant, he was the first to do it when pitching and catching was not part of a late-season stunt to play all nine positions during a game (four players), or as someone who wasn’t a catcher by trade (eight players). Elmore’s previous catching experience was one 2010 inning in the minor leagues. He caught four Monday night and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth . . . Samuel L. Jackson has long been one of my favorite actors and his stock went up after I read what he has written into his movie contracts. Jackson told CNN that he must be allowed to play golf at least twice a week during his movie shoots. “Generally, they either move me onto a golf course or I join a club so I can play there,” he told CNN . . . Was somebody in the Southeastern Conference thumbing their nose at the University of Texas with the league’s 2014 schedule announced last week? One of the featured games on the SEC schedule is a Thanksgiving Day matchup sending LSU to Texas A&M. Smart money says it will be put in the same time slot as the Longhorns’ Thanksgiving game.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.