Glory days, well, they'll pass you by. Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye. --BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (ASCAP), 1984 Sprinter Houston McTear was riding the bus to practice at UCLA from his apartment in West Los Angeles the other day when a man sat down next to him.
"Say, didn't you used to be the world's fastest human?" the man asked.
The man had a good memory. Many people have long since forgotten about Houston McTear, the one-time schoolboy sprint flash from Florida. Still, there is always someone who remembers.
"It happens all the time," McTear said. "People still remember Mac. I was the world's fastest human. I did it once and I can do it again."
McTear became an overnight sprint sensation when he tied Ivory Crockett's world record in the 100-yard dash 10 years ago last month in a high school track meet.
He has been down and out, but he still dreams of beating Carl Lewis.
McTear, 28, self-destructed nearly as fast as boxer Leon Spinks. That's why he's riding RTD buses these days, instead of driving a Rolls-Royce.
He was unable to capitalize on the once-in-a-lifetime breaks that came his way because of his amazing speed.
He has had problems with lack of coaching, money, swindlers, drugs and just being able to cope. He has failed at several comeback attempts. Many who figured him for a world-class star have forgotten, or simply given up on him.
And now, McTear is attempting what may be his final comeback.
"I still believe in the young man," said John Smith, a former Olympic quarter-miler who has made a reclamation project out of McTear. Smith has invested time, money and patience in McTear.
Smith is an actor who is also an assistant track coach at UCLA. He has known McTear since McTear came to Los Angeles. Smith says that all McTear needs is discipline and good coaching.
Making something big of McTear's athletic career is a longshot, though, at best. McTear will be 32 when the 1988 Olympics are held. And his is not a young body. It is a body that was frequently injured, then abused by, among other things, a cocaine habit that cost $200-$300 a week.
Once he had shown the world his speed, things came quickly for McTear. He lost them even more quickly. He was fast, but he also was poor, immature and naive. He also had a third-grade reading level.
McTear was the second-oldest of nine children. His family lived in a shack on a sandy road in the backwoods of the Florida panhandle. His father worked in a sawmill in Baker, Fla. McTear's family was clearly losing the war against poverty.
Muhammad Ali read about McTear's speed and the family's plight, and bought the McTear family a four-bedroom house.
"McTear's a special people," Ali said at the time. "I can recognize special people because I'm special. It's not easy to run fast. What did he run the 100-yard dash in? Nine seconds flat. Well, that makes him the fastest man in the history of the world."
Later, McTear ran for the Ali Track Club until promoter Harold Ross Fields Smith was jailed for his part in a million-dollar scam involving the club. McTear claims that he still talks to Ali.
It was all so sweet in those early days. McTear ran into instant celebrity as an 18-year-old Florida schoolboy on May 9, 1975, with his 9-second clocking in the 100-yard dash at the Florida state high school track meet.
"That 9-flat could have been the greatest thing that ever happened to him," Will Willoughby, McTear's high school track coach said in a recent story in the Orlando, Fla., Sentinel. "But unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. It's a sad story. I had coached him all I could, but I knew he needed someone more advanced. I'm not sure he ever got it from anyone though, and I'm not even sure who's to blame."
The Times story on the race the following day quoted Bill Buchalter, who had covered the race for the Orlando Sentinel, as saying: "I don't know what the situation is for a world record, but I know he ran a perfect race. He had a great start and just kept accelerating. He won by about 10 yards. We knew the time would be fast. A lot of us were guessing 9.1.
"All three timers had him in 9.0 One timer had him between 8.9 and 9.0 and he called it 9.0. The head timer as Paul Herman, a veteran timer who worked the Florida Relays for many years."
The story also reported that after the race McTear pulled at a small gold cross hanging from his ear and mumbled repeatedly: "I don't believe it."
McTear's record was accepted by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) after some debate. Now, though, it is practically meaningless. The IAAF decided several years ago to list records for races in meters only, and the 100-yard dash is a race of the past.
The race was the high point of McTear's life, though, and he can still recall most of the details.