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Tarnished Legends

By Mike Butts, Fri., July 9, 1999

"To attack football is to attack the major exhibit of the masculine view of the world; it would be much more strongly resisted than an attack on the church or most other American institutions." --Gary Shaw, Meat on the Hoof

Gary Shaw

About 10 years ago, I saw Gary Shaw walking in front of a Dallas video store. And I did what most people do when they see a street person: I averted my eyes.

But something about the haggard face on this homeless man made me look again. His hands were buried in the pockets of a dark-colored overcoat and his beard a coarse stubble. He walked briskly down the storefront sidewalk, toward and then past me.

It couldn't be, I thought. No. Gary Shaw wrote a critical book about University of Texas football that sold more than 350,000 copies. He was interviewed by Howard Cosell. With Meat on the Hoof, published in 1972, he garnered national attention in Newsweek and Cosmopolitan magazines for exposing what he believed to be extreme abuse of players and other corrupt actions by the men who ran one of the most successful programs in college football history. He was vilified by some, but others saw him as a courageous iconoclast. The book had been on the reading list of a junior college class I took. The instructor showed a picture of Shaw proudly standing next to the orange Datsun 240-Z he had purchased with part of the $92,500 St. Martin's Press paid him for the Meat on the Hoof manuscript. He appeared as a handsome jock with the smarts and chutzpah to assail three of Texas' most sanctified institutions: football, the University of Texas, and Darrell Royal.

And now he was wearing out a pair of castoff shoes, roaming the streets of Dallas.

That was in the late 1980s. Shaw was near the end of a 10-year period of homelessness. A 1990 story in the Dallas Morning News led to Shaw's diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic and an eventual reunion with his parents. With the aid of his family and mental disability payments, he was able to live the last nine years of his life away from the dangers of the street.

On June 21 he died of an apparent heart attack in Denton.

Shaw's book remains controversial to this day. Some say he was a kind and highly intelligent person who would never fabricate stories about his experience on the Texas football team. Others could find little truth in -- or for some, nothing wrong with -- the circumstances he chronicled in Meat on the Hoof. Whatever the case, there can be little doubt that for some readers, the book tarnished a football program, and even a way of life, that had never before been so publicly criticized.

Shaw arrived at Texas for the fall semester of 1963, a naive and worried scholarship freshman who had made all-state tackle at Denton High School. He struggled for four seasons trying to break into the Longhorn starting lineup as a guard. But injuries and his relatively small size (he was 6 feet, 196 pounds in his first year) kept him low on the depth chart. He quit the team in the fall of 1966, and soon after decided to write a book about his experience. Meat on the Hoof came out six years later.

The most damning passages from the book tell of UT coaches' attempts to run off the worst players so their scholarships could be given to other prospects. Shaw details practice drills designed to terrify or injure players until they would voluntarily quit the team. According to Shaw, the strategy worked well enough to chase off dozens of players a year.

Shaw also recounts sadistic hazing rituals, finagling to assure passing grades for starters, and tough courses and lack of medical attention to discourage unwanted sixth-teamers. Shaw characterizes Royal as an unfeeling tyrant who, once he had recruited a player, could care less about him if he was not contributing to winning. In one passage he quotes Royal saying he may treat Shaw "like a white man" if Shaw keeps practicing hard.

Meat on the Hoof

Royal said his thoughts about the book have not changed much over the years.

"I really don't care about discussing it," Royal said. "My sympathy goes to [Shaw's] parents. They were great people."

Bill Little, who has worked with UT sports media relations since before Shaw's book was published, said both he and Royal believed Shaw's major problem was that he never wanted to play football in the first place.

"He said in the book that he didn't want to play football," Little says. "And football is hard enough when you do want to play it.

"Gary Shaw was a product of the times. It was popular to attack the establishment. And I think it's sad he chose someone who is as filled with integrity as Coach Royal to be the victim of his attack on the establishment."

Joe Dixon's tenure as a Longhorn overlapped Shaw's. He played defensive back and made all-Southwest Conference in 1964. He is one of several players who have said they knew nothing of what Shaw wrote about in Meat on the Hoof.

"Those drills were to show the coaches what you could do, not to run you off," Dixon said. "What Shaw wrote about I didn't see."

But Wayne Suttle, another UT teammate of Shaw's who quit the team after a confrontation with Royal, says the first-teamers didn't understand what was going on because they were treated so much differently.

"People will still ask me about the book, 'Was that true?,'" says Suttle, who now lives and works in Plano. "And I say, 'Yeah, it was true.' I don't think there were any bald-faced lies in his book. If there were any questions of accuracy they were small ones."

It becomes evident reading Meat on the Hoof today that Shaw's mental problems had begun to manifest themselves soon after he left the football team. He describes anxiety attacks and trouble coping with his post-football life in the last chapter. But even in his illness, Shaw's ability to recall detail remained keen.

"He would tell me about things that happened years ago and I would go back and check them and they would all be right," says Rebecca Sherman, the freelance writer who wrote an eight-page profile of Shaw in the Morning News' Sunday magazine. "He could remember all the details of who the players were and what was happening."

Even Dixon seems to admit there could be truth to Shaw's story.

"What Gary said might have been the truth," Dixon says. "But I couldn't see it from my house."

As long as he's remembered, Shaw will be perceived as a hero to some and an unfair critic to others. But those who knew him well say he was a personable and gentle man who never found his way in the world.

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