Gordie Lockbaum Is Offensive, Then He's Defensive—Who Says He Can't Have It Both Ways?
updated 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
You're a dark horse, Gordo, you know that. True, last year as a junior you finished fifth in the balloting. You surprised a lot of people doing that. And true, you're sort of exotic: an All-America at both running back and cornerback—which makes you a throwback (a third position, yet) to the days of Bronko Nagurski and football with only one set of players. But, Gordo, you've also got problems.
First, you play for Holy Cross (enrollment 2,500), a Division I-AA school in Worcester, Mass. Compared to the upper reaches of Division I, home of the Muscle Beach types who play every Saturday in America's living rooms, that's like being in the bushes somewhere. On top of that, some football cognoscenti insist you're too small (5'11", 195 lbs.) and too slow (4.65 in the 40-yard dash) to make it big in the National Football League—you know, those guys who play rough on the picket lines. Then there's your attitude.
"I'd love to win the Heisman," you say. "But if I don't win it, and Holy Cross wins a lot of games [pause for a dazzling, ingenuous smile], I won't be disappointed."
Disgraceful, Gordo. We're going to work on that—among other things. But first let's roll the Gordie Lockbaum highlight film: There you are, 14 months ago, about to begin your junior year as the Crusaders' starting cornerback. A wrestler and baseball star when you were at Glassboro (N.J.) High School, you happen to be the best pure athlete on the Holy Cross team. So when head coach Mark Duffner finds he's short of running backs in 1986, he decides to give you a tryout. "His first practice, Gordie rips off six big running plays and six big receptions," says Duffner. "The offensive coaches' eyes bug out. They say, 'We gotta have him.' The defense says, 'Whoa, we gotta have him.' " Making like Solomon, Duffner decides both sides will get a piece of Gordie. This despite the fact there hasn't been a two-way player of note for nearly a generation. The college game is supposed to have grown too complex, too grueling, for players to go 60 minutes. So how does this foolhardy experiment work out?
"We created a Frankenstein," says Duffner. The opposition couldn't agree more. Duffner uses Gordie as punter, punt returner, kickoff returner and wedge buster on special teams, as well as on offense and defense. Holy Cross goes 10-1 in 1986, its best record since 1935, and Gordo the Holy Terror leads the team in scoring, rushing, receiving and minutes played.
Yep, save for waving the pompons and punching the tickets, Gordo does it all. But isn't the nonstop action kind of draining? "Well, yeah," he says. "But the adrenaline keeps me in the game." In fact, it would take a crowbar to get him out. "When he's in, he doesn't want to come out," says Duffner. "And when he's out, he's standing next to me on the sidelines, pounding on my arm, saying, 'Coach, right now.' "
This year, after six games, Holy Cross is undefeated. And once more Gordo, like the Scarlet Pimpernel, seems everywhere at once. But you've got no lock on the Heisman, Gordo. If you want to win the most coveted paperweight in college football, here's what you'll have to do:
Transfer to a school where all the scholar-athletes are named Bubba.
Holy Cross is one sorry excuse for a football factory. It takes a perverse pride in its academic standing and is even phasing out football scholarships. With no national network TV games this season, it's football's Albania.
Switch your major to aerobic geology.
Given your B average and your major, no wonder people are questioning the depth of your commitment to football. Even though you say you'd "like to play pro ball," you admit you're probably headed for a career on Wall Street. News flash, Gordo: Brokers don't get Miller Lite beer commercials.
Ask your family doctor for an ego transplant.
Gordo, you're what a public relations guy would call "modest to a fault." You take twice the beating of a player who's merely offensive or defensive, yet you shrug it off. Maddening. "I avoid a lot of contact," you say. "Maybe it's the positions I play. They require more finesse, more running, weaving and avoiding contact." Come on, Gordo, give us a break. Defenses key on you. Offenses double-team you. You're knocked down early and often. Of course, Heisman hype is striving mightily toward the realm of absurdity. In years past, voters have had to contend with comic books, posters, badges, bubble gum cards, soup cans, desk clocks and calculators, all promoting favorite-son candidates. Holy Cross has neither the budget nor the inclination for such folderol. So former sports information director Gregg Burke came up with a neat idea for the cover of the Holy Cross football annual: a photo of Gordo in tails and top hat standing amid the neon splendor of Broadway. "Gordie Lockbaum," it was going to read. "More plays than Neil Simon." But on second thought Burke decided it was the wrong image for Gordie. "Too glitzy," says Burke, who is now the assistant athletic director at Providence College.
Spend a couple of nights in jail.
College stardom and sociopathy seem to go hand in hand. So get busted. Sportswriters have come to expect this from big-time athletes. And please don't repeat last year's howling gaffe—sending thank-you notes to the 24 writers who did major stories on you. No strokes were reported last year among those crusty, cynical types, but you wouldn't want to push your luck.
Exploit your family.
Push 'em right up there in front of the cameras. Your parents and six brothers and sisters? Look at 'em, will you? Pure Norman Rockwell! They pile into the car and drive to all your games from Glassboro. And they love to talk about you. "What's Gordie like?" Your father, Bob, a chemical worker, ponders the question. "He's not the greatest student in the world, he's not the greatest athlete. He's an overachiever. There was always that burning desire to be the best." He remembers the time you came home from first grade depressed, nearly in tears, and announced you were going to summer school. "We got concerned," he says. "We asked Gordie if anything was wrong. 'Yes,' he told us. 'There's a girl in class who can read better than me.' "
Write your book now.
"Heck," you say, "things might not be this way again. Maybe this is once in a lifetime. Enjoy it when it comes." Great attitude, Gordo. Maybe it will rub off on some other college stars who can't take time either to sign autographs or to talk to the press. Anyway, it's worth a try.