Saturday, August 20, 2011

Javelina Football Memory Lane

Note: Some of the Javelina football greats include Gene Upshaw, Sid Blanks, Randy Johnson, Johnny Bailey, Dwayne Nix, Heath Sherman and Karl Douglas. They are pictured here.

For the South Texas football fan, a visit to Javelina Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M University-Kingsville during a football Saturday is not one that will soon be forgotten.

Every year and every game there seems to be some hero or standout player who rises above the green gridiron turf and sparkles with greatness that transcends generations and eras.

For me, those memories started in 1957 when my aunt Clelia Chapa was attending college at then Texas A&I. My grandfather, Pedro G. Chapa, would bring me to football games. It was here where I first heard the Javelina Marching Band trumpets blaring the Jalisco fight song inspiring the team to greatness on the field.

I still, sometimes, get goose bumps when I hear Jalisco echoing off the stands in Javelina Stadium.

My first visit to Javelina Stadiium was in 1957 and I saw Joe Holcomb, a prep star from nearby Freer, rip apart opponent defenses while soaring for yardage up and down the field on punt returns. He was unstoppable as he blew past the yard markers with the ease of South Texas bred mustang rolling down the prickly pear studded terrain. Holcomb, in the three years he played for the Javelinas, would become the all-time leader in punt return average for a career, averaging more than 19 yards per punt return and scoring numerous touchdowns. He still holds that mark. Remarkable.

That visit got me hooked. From that point on I would ask my grandfather if he was going to Kingsville to the game. We continued the tradition long after my aunt graduated. It was during that time I decided I would come to Texas A&I and, ironically, because I read the headlines and stories on the Sunday Corpus Christi Caller-Times the day after the game, to become a sports writer and follow the Javelinas. I was lucky I realized that dream and much more here on what I will always call my home campus - now Texas A&M-Kingsville. I have had wonderful times on campus, but the football memories are the ones that linger because they border on legend and greatness. Yes, Javelina football and Javelina Stadium will always be equated with greatness.

Simply put, the memories are wonderful and the players great. I can’t begin to name all of the players, but I will give a chronological listing of the players whom I fell stood out and whom made an impact that lasted – as I said earlier – beyond generations and eras.

Sid Blanks, an African-American running back from Del Rio, had to be one of the best to ever don the blue-and-gold of A&I. He was a first-class scatback that revolutionized offensive play in the Lone Star Conference. He was the first black football player in the LSC. He was All-American twice and made the all-conference four times. He set numerous records while with the Javelinas, both conference and school marks, and led the team in rushing in 1960, 1961 and 1963; in scoring in 1960, 1961 and 1963, led the team in receiving in 1961 and 1963. 
He led the LSC in rushing in 1960 and 1961 and was the top scorer in 1960. Blanks was an unbelievable player, one with character and courage who overcame many cases of discrimination just so he could help the Javelinas win. Under Coach Gil Steinke, the Javelinas won the LSC title in 1960 and 1962, During Blanks tenure with the Hogs, A&I was 29-7-2. Blanks went to a stellar career for several pro football teams.

There were others just as valiant and exciting to watch.

One was Randy Johnson, from San Antonio, the first great quarterback I saw at Javelina Stadium. He had a sling shot for an arm. The football would come out of his hand like a whip and zing across the field in a blur. It was hard for the receivers to hold on to the ball. Often it went right through their hands and hit them on the shoulder pads or helmet. When Johnson was off target, the ball would hit the Javelina Stadium turf and leave a divot on the ground. I still remember the managers going back at halftime to replace the grass that had popped out after an errant Johnson pass. Johnson died a horribly in 2009, alone and broke, but his legacy as a Javelina standout will live on forever. In a run-oriented era (1962-1965), he passed for 4,350 yards and 34 touchdowns and ranks in the top 10 in both categories for the Javelinas. He was the first quarterback for the then expansion Atlanta Falcons and helped that franchise gain stability in the NFL.

The 1960s were full of standout Javelina football players. One that definitely stood out was Eugene Upshaw, from nearby Robstown. Upshaw was a giant of a man destined for greatness in the college and pro ranks. He was immovable as an offensive lineman and the Javelina running backs would gladly tuck in behind him and ramble for yardage during those mid-1960s when Javelina football was king in South Texas. Upshaw was an All-America and All-Conference and went to become All-Pro and served as executive director of the National Football League Players Association. He had a couple of nickname at the time “Thud" and "Tut." Few remember them, but "thud" was the sound that was made when he led the Javelinas on a power sweep and he took out the opponent defensive end or linebacker. “Thud” would be heard and the stands would go "ooooh" as “Big Gene” motored around Javelina Stadium. "Tut" was more of a reference to King Tut, and Gene certainly was the King of Javelina Stadium during his tenure here.

The mid-1960s also produced one of the all-time great receivers in Javelina football history – Dwayne Nix. Nix, from nearby Ricardo, was neiher big nor quick. All he did was catch the football. He was the ultimate “possession receiver,” snaring 127 passes for 1,676 yards during his four years as a Javelina. He was a three-time Associated Press Little All-America and twice All-Lone Star Conference player. He concluded his career as the record holder of most of the school's receiving marks. He was elected to the All-Lone Star Conference team of the 1960s, was named a member of the Texas A&I 50th Anniversary team, and was elected to the Javelina Hall of Fame. After he left Texas A&I, he began a military career in the Marine Corps.

Around that same era came two great quarterbacks.

One was Karl Douglas, the first African-American quarterback for the Javelinas. Simply put, there were no other Black quarterbacks round in the South. Between 1967 and 1970, Douglas led the Javelinas to four Lone Star Conference championships and two national titles while posting a remarkable 41-4-0 record. Douglas is still the all-time career passing and touchdown passing leader for the Javelinas. During his All-America career, he completed 401 of 759 passes for 5,996 yards and 54 touchdowns. Douglas, from Houston, went on to a stellar career in the Canadian Football League.
Then, there was the irrepressible Richard Ritchie, the little engine that could. Between 1973 to 1976, he took the Javelinas on an unbelievable journey. As a quarterback, Ritchie had a record of 39-0. After winning in his only start during his freshman year of 1973, he would lead Texas A&I to three consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division I national championships. Between passing and running, he scored 60 touchdowns in his career. He is third all-time in total yards with 6,884 yards.

Then came the running back era for the Javelinas. Whoa! You talk about excitement. These were great.

Larry Collins was the first great running back of the modern era (past 40 years). Between 1974 and 1977, he rushed for 5,300 yards and 54 touchdowns, good for second all-time on the Javelina leader list. He would team with fullback Don Hardeman to terrorize defenses. Collins had 27 games of 100 yards or more rushing while Hardeman had 10. Together, they were “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” and they led the Hogs to a 37-0 record. Both went to pro football careers. Hardeman would crash the defense inside and Collins would ramble outside. Together, they were unstoppable. Both went on to successful pro football careers.

If they were great, the next dynamic duo were simply fabulous – Johnny Bailey and Heath Sherman. Between 1985 and 1988, they were simply the best in the nation. Bailey was a three-time Harlon Hill winner and rushed for 6,900 yards, 72 touchdowns and averaged 164.3 yards per carry. Sherman averaged 114.2 yards per carry and rushed for 5,140 yards and 69 touchdowns. Bailey had 36 100-plus rushing games and Sherman 26. They were simply unstoppable.

Another running back who would follow the footsteps of greatness was Larry Williams between 2001 and 2004. Williams would rush for 4,060 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Great receivers were also plentiful. The most outstanding came between 1966 and 1976 when the likes of Nix, Dwight Harrison, Eldridge Small, David Hill and Glenn Starks rambled up and down Javelina Stadium like a flock of gazelles in the African savannah. Starks and Harrison are still the career touchdown leaders with 30 each. Just this year, Ryan Lincoln, who signed with the New York Giants briefly this season, broke Starks' reception record. Lincoln has 210 catches after Starks held the record for more than 40 years. Starks still holds the single-season touchdown-reception record with 14.

The defense definitely had its stars, too. Who can forget John Randle, who joined Gene Upshaw in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his days as Javelina. Randle was ferocious and still holds the quarterback sack career mark with 36 and in 1988 he had 22. He was great and destined for greatness. This past season, a young man named Matt Romig reminded me of Randle's play. Romig, who fell ill at mid-season and did not return, had 12 sacks in two years. Too bad, he too had greatness written all over him. Other great ones, in my book, include Robert Young (1969), David Palmore (1977), Andy Hawkins (1979), Jimmy Rivera (1982), Chris Hensely (1995), and Deandre Fillmore (2005).

Others who played defensive backs and linebackers cannot be ignored. Perhaps the greatest athlete to play for the Javelinas was Levi Johnson (1969-1972), who went on to star for the Detroit Lions. Johnson still holds the Javelinas interception mark with 22 and he still holds the return yardage record as well. Other greats in this area were Ed Scott (1967-1970), whose spinal cord injury ended perhaps a great pro career as well, Durwood Ruquemore (1978-1981), Leonard Avery (1973-1976), and Maurice Smith (1987-1989)

Then, there were the punt returners. What a crew that was. Some will say, and without argument here, that Darrell Green (1978-1982) , who went on to Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Washington Redskins, was the best and most exciting. Agreed. Green was sensational. At any time he had the ball he could score and just soar past potential tacklers. However, between 1965 and 1968 a diminutive defensive back named Larry Pullin energized the Javelina fans with his consistent work at punt returns. Pullin leads, confortably, in career punt return yardage. Statistically, and in many ways, Pullin was the best. Now, this season, we have Jonathan Woodson who is threatening to become the best.

More recently, the quarterbacks have taken the sportling.

Abel Gonzalez (1999-2002) became the second all-time leading passer with 5,905 yards and 51 touchdowns. Gonzalez simply was an expert field general and a leader off the spread or pro set formations.
Billy Garza was the last great gunner. In a scant two years, became the third all-time passing leader with 5,498 yards and 40 touchdowns. Seeing Billy fling the ball was reminescent of Randy Johnson.

And, that's as it should be. That’s the beauty of Javelina football. The great players of the past are more than memories, they are idols and figures to be emmulated and aiming for their records is part of the greatness of Javelina football.

Greatness has always been associated with Javelina football.The memories run long and deep. When you see this year’s star, it will rekindle memories of years past. Or, if you’re new to Javelina football, you will start making your own memories.
And, in years to come you will say, Javelina Football is a true South Texas legend and stories of greatness abound.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Battle of Medina - A True Tejano Revolution Celebrated its anniversary Aug. 18

Note: Pictured here are Dan Arrellano in a 19th century Tejano costume with replica of the Emerald Green flag of the Tejano Republican Army of the North who died valiantly in the Battle of Medina, the reenactors from this year's remembrance of the battle and the state historical marker.

How long have Tejanos been fighting for liberty and freedom in this land we call Texas?

Most of us are familiar with the battles at the Alamo and Goliad when thousands of Tejanos joined ranks with Gen. Sam Houston, William Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett to help oust the treacherous Mexican government of Gen. Santa Anna. That was in 1836. Few of us, however, are familiar with our battle for freedom against Spain, the country that controlled Texas and much of the American Southwest for several centuries. That struggle started in the late 18th century and reached its peak in the early 19th century. Tejanos - the first European settlers of Texas and the first to "mingle" with the indigenous population of the American southwest and what is now Mexico - wanted independence from Spanish tyranny.

Author and Tejano historian Dan Arrellano from San Antonio, has done an admirable job of reminding us that the Tejanos' quest for liberty and justice from oppression predates the Battle of the Alamo and the soverigninty of Mexico in Texas. Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. There were battles for freedom here in this land well before that date.

For a brief shining moment, Texas was a "republica" pre-dating the Republic of Texas of Gen. Sam Houston. In 1812, Tejanos fed up with Spanish (not Mexican) rule rebelled. Arrellano's research reveals that on April 7, 1812 the Republican Army of the North crossed the Sabine River into Spanish Texas. Flying the Emerald Green Flag of Liberty, these Tejanos ensued in a journey across Texas that would see them claim victories over Spain in several key battles. Don José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara and William Augustus Magee, supported by 142 American and 158 Tejano volunteers, invaded Spanish territory with the aim of forming a new government. The rag tag army would be successful in every battle and every skirmish against Spain, beginning with the capture of Nacogdoches, Trinidad, the four-month siege of the presidio in Goliad, the Battle of Rosillio, the capture of San Antonio and the Battle of Alazan. After victory in San Antonio, there was a declaration of independence for the State of Texas under the Republic of Mexico on April 6, 1813.

But Arrellano reminds us that, unfortunately, Spain was still a super power in the early 19th century and it would only be a matter of time before it squahed the upstart rebellion. Spain would send an army of its best to take on the Tejano rebels. Gen. Joaquín de Arredondo, commandant-general of the Provincias Internas (Internal Provices of Spain) of the Spanish government, organized an army of 1,838 men and marched them early in August from Laredo toward San Antonio to quell the rebellion.

On August 18, 1813, the Tejano Republicans Army of the North set out to fight in what would become the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil - “The Battle of Medina.”

The upstart army, consisting of approximately 300 Americans, one to two hundred Native Americans and eight to nine hundred Tejanos were tired from the continuos skirmishes agaisnt the Spanish, but willing to stand up and fight for freedom. The Tejanos - in particular - were determined.

They would encounter a well-trained and disciplined Spanish Royalist Army. The Tejano Republicans were ambushed and out of the 1,400 only one hundred would survive. The bodies of soldiers killed in battle were left where they fell. It would be nine years before their bones were gathered and buried in a communal grave.

Ninety of the survivors would be Americans, which proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the ones with the most to lose would fight the hardest for freedom were the Tejanos and their Native American allies. The Tejanos and their indigenous brothers stood and fought to the last man. "This battle raged on for about four hours with our Tejanos, like Leonidas at Thermopylae, determined to achieve victory or die trying," Arrellano writes on the research of the account of the battle. Little did any one realize the sacrifice these men would pay would be the ultimate.

After the battle, the victorious Spanish Army marched into San Antonio where 500 additional Tejanos would be arrested and crammed into a make shift prison. The Spanish were furious and wanted to not only quell the revolt, but send a message to the residents of Texas that Spanish rule was supreme. Spanish military records show that 17 of those jailed, suffocated in the scorching heat of night. The next day several would be released, as a show of leniency from the Spanish crown, but to also spread the word that there would be consequences. Soon, 327 Tejanos who remained in jail would be executed. Three a day would from be taken out and shot, beheaded then their heads were placed on spikes and displayed around the square (what is now Market Square in San Antoino) for all to see as a lesson to those who dared rise up against Spanish rule.

Arrellano writes that no one would be spared the wrath of General Arredondo, not even the women and children. Ironically, one of the Spanish Royalist officers was a young lieutenant named Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Of course, he would return to San Antonio in 1836 with his Mexican Army to quell yet another rebellion by Texans and Tejanos.

Spanish military records show, according to Arrellano, that approximately 300 of the wives, mothers and daughters of the Tejanos would be imprisoned. He reports that many of them would be brutally and repeatedly raped, several dying as a result of the brutality. The women were forced on their knees from 4 in the morning till 10 at night to grind the corn to make the tortillas to feed the despised Spanish Army. And through the windows of their make shift prison the mothers could see their children searching for food and shelter on the street which became Dolorosa St.

The Battle of Medina is historic.

It showed that these new settlers of Texas were people of courage, foresight and discipline. They were a special breed, whose descendants would survive this and other atrocities the world would throw at them in the 19th and 20th centuries. It showed that this new breed of settler - The Tejano - would not stand still and allow to be ruled by despots and cowards who did not value human life or freedom. In short, their sacrifice - both men and women - in the Battle of Medina and in the streets of San Antonio would foreshadow the downfall of Spain in the new world and eventually lead to the formation of Texas. Their courage foreshawdowed the fight for equality that would lead to the the Catarino Garza rebellion in the late 19th century, the Plan de San Diego revolt in the early 20th century, the formation of organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American G.I. Forum in 1917 and 1948, respectivley, and the Chicano Youth Movement and revolution of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It foreshawdowed the descendants of Tejanos finally been able to seek justice, freedom and educatioin in the state their forefathers helped find and hone and it signalled to all that we can never let our guard down. We must always find for our freedom, dignity and respect.

Arrellano writes, "Short-lived as it may have been, this Republic was a real Republic and this was a real revolution, a revolution of the people, by the people, and for the people and these were our ancestors, and to this day they have remained unknown and unrecognized for their ultimate sacrifice."

In the San Antonio area, several associations celebrate the Battle of Medina. The celbration is usually around what is now the community of Medina Valley, south of San Antonio. Re-enactments of the battle are common. Words are spoking about valor and roots. This is wonderful, but we should do more.

This battle is an important part of Texas history and should be taught to our children. It cannot be found in the history books. It is the "bloodiest battle" ever fought on Texas soil. It represented a struggle for freedom that is still with us today. It's time we recognize this battle and make it part of our every day conversations about the Lone Star State.

Texas history did not start with Davy Crockett (John Wayne) and the Alamo. It started with the indigenous who were here, the Tejanos who helped tame the land and their ancestors who survived atrocity after atrocity to make sure they could stay and live in the land we call Texas.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Air Accordion - or Acordion al aire

Note: Performances from greats (pictured here) like Ramon Ayala, Raulito, Estevan Jordan and Flaco Jimenez have helped make the accordion part of Tejano, Mexicano, Chicano culture. It's part of our roots and an instrument which we have learned to dominate and enjoy. Is it little wonder some of us break out in air accordion routines? It's part of our roots, raices, and we are proud of our link with this instrument.
I have often marvelled at the fun people have "playing" air guitar.

This activity mimics dance and rock 'n' roll as a person - usually a guy - pretends to play a guitar while heavy-metal-style electric guitar music is heard in the background. The person gyrates wildly on the stage (floor?) as his fingers and hands strum through imaginary parts of the song - including riffs and solos. The performance usually involves exaggerated strumming and guitar-picking motions at times coupled with lip-synching.

I can relate to air guitar, having been around for the birth of rock 'n' roll and enjoyed the heavy metal and punk rock era. I understand the energy rock music generates. I can see where a person can just be taken away by the sound electric guitar and how a person would want to be able to play that instrument with the efficiency professional rock musicians do every day. And, so, air guitar was born.

Growing up Mexicano, Tejano, Chicano, air guitar didn't really make the rounds at our parties until the late 20th century. We Mexicanos, Tejanos, Chicanos were way ahead on that simulated playing an instrument notion, ese (dude). I mean, don't get me wrong, we love rock 'n' roll and heavy metal and can jam to Jimi Hendrix as well as Santana, but our raices (roots) are too strong to just settle for that.

In the 1960s and to this date, most Mexicanos, Tejanos, Chicanos grew up with the sound of the accordion accompanying a conjunto or banda. The sounds of Tony de la Rosa, Estevan Jordan, Los Relampagos del Norte, El Indio, Flaco Jimenez coming from our radios graced our automobiles, living rooms, backyards and patios, and dance halls more frequently than any other sound.

The songs these and other bands played were as electrifying to us as any punk rock tune or classic Santana ballad. This music was ours, combined from the meshing of cultures that settled our beloved Texas and refined in the farm fields of our nation and in neighborhood cantinas and dance halls. The sound took the Mexican corrido (ballad) and the European (mainly German) guitar instrument the accordion to interpret the melody that accompanied the legendary lyrics that were an integral part of communication within our culture.

So, it was not unusual at pachangas (parties, gatherings)for some of us, as we were listening to a tune by Tony de la Rosa, Paulio Bernal or any other top conjunto to break out in our own air accordion (el acordion del aire) routine. We'd be sitting there, drinking beer or other beverages, eating barbacoa (barbecue) and charleando (chatting) with our families and friends when one of us just couldn't take it any more and we had to break out into a air accordion routine.

Granted, this air accordion routine is not a pretty site, but no one seems to mind. It involves (usually a man) standing up and starting to strut around the floor (dirt or otherwise, his arms shoulder length, his hands facing toward his body at about chest level and his fingers moving wildly as he hits the keys of an imaginary accordion hanging from his neck. The routine also involves lifting the heels of your boots or Los Chucks (old-style black Converse tennis shoes)up in the air while you prance around on your toes and do a little dance a la Raulito fame (Emilio Naivara's brother) and slowly making a circle (a la washing machine like in the Selena movie) while those around you whoop and holler and sing the song you are trying to perform on your air accordion. Raulito's famous air accordion routine now includes a shuffle that he performed during George W. Bush's fund raiser for his presidential bid. Ese (That) Raulito. Wow.

So, I've been thinking. They have national air guitar festivals and competitions. What would it take to have an air accordion competition? I know, I know, we Mexicano, Tejanos, Chicanos think that contest stuff is below us. When we perform we do it spontaneously and with gusto. We do it because it's natural and we don't want to perform for anyone but ourselves and our families. It's kind of like the grito. It just comes out - naturally - when we hear a song by Vicente Fernandez, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Michael Salgado or Ramon Ayala or from a group like Intocable or Solido.


That reminds me of one time when I heard the grito and saw the air accordion routine performed together by more than 2,000 people. It was at Fairgronds Field in Robstown, Texas. The Coastal Bend Aviators were playng a baseball game against another minor league team when the PA announcer started playing Ramon Ayala's "Tragos de Amargo Licor (Drinks of Bitter Liquor - I know, it's not the same in the translation). Almost instantaneously, the mostly Tejano crowd of men on a Thirsty Thursday promotion rose to its feet, joined in the chorus of the song as others let out a grito and some did their air accordion routine. Here's the chorus:

Tragos de amargo licor (drinks of bitter liquor)
Que no me hacen olvidar (don't help me forget)
Y me siento como un cobarde (and I feel like a coward)
Que hasta me pongo a llorar
(and I break down and cry)

Truly, it's a moving song. The air accordion routine, the gritos and the community chorus that night were inspiring. It touched to the nerve of what it is to be a Tejano, Mexicano, Chicano in America. We have our own music and we use the accordion. It's unique and it's ours. We don't need no pinche (sorry) contest to let us know we're good at it. We're Tejano, Mexicano and Chicano and we have the American right to party like we want to...(simulate air accordion routine here accompanied by a chorus of gritos).