Whereas Auburn will showcase Bo Jackson, Texas A&M will try for attention with it's so-called 12th man kickoff team, a collection of non-scholarship players who walk-on each year.
It's a Jackie Sherrill invention, in his appeal to the student body, to further involve the students in the football program. It has done that, of course, but the wonder of the 12th man kickoff team is that it works on the field as well. This group of players, most of whom weigh in at about 180 pounds and all of whom resemble mortals, hold the opposition to an average of 14 yards per kick return. Regular players, who must perform this task on the road, do about six yards worse.
"They are crazy," Sherrill says. "I would say they have no regard for their well-being. Our other players want nothing to do with them. They went full speed against them once and that was it. They will slap hit you."
The players, winnowed from a try-out pool of about 250 students, seem to be characterized almost entirely by a need to plow into on-rushing bodies. "I guess what you call it," says the bespectacled and mild-mannered Dennis Mudd, "is sacrificing your body."
Mudd, a self-proclaimed "small town country boy from Yoacum," nevertheless can't understand how he acquired the nickname of Maniac Mudd. "I'm not a crazy man," he says. "I just run down the field." He shrugs.
Although opponents tend to resent the use of "amateurs," (some Houston players said they wished the 12th man would leave the field on a stretcher), Texas A&M has such confidence that the Aggies have elected to kick off at every home game when winning the toss. On the road, when the 12th man is not available, they elect to receive.
Bo Jackson, Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner, is tantalizing scouts with his ability to hit a ball as well as carry one. Auburn Coach Pat Dye says Jackson will almost certainly choose pro football over baseball because there is more money up front. Jackson is coy and says, "Well, everybody has their own idea."
Meanwhile, nobody has to worry about Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray forsaking football for baseball. He already tried it and it ended with a .178 batting average and a lawsuit.
Murray signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for a bonus of $35,000 out of high school, played one awful season for Pikeville, Ky., in the Appalachian League and immediately contacted Jackie Sherrill at Texas A&M. The Brewers tried to prevent that in court but lost their case.
Asked about his baseball career Sunday, Murray stonily said: "Let's talk about football."