Most of Merritt's players come from families with incomes of less than $4,000 a year, and Merritt knows well the uses of adversity. "It's the old story about the rabbit. A boy is chasing a rabbit, and they pass a squirrel in a tree. 'Are you gonna make it?' the squirrel asks the rabbit. 'Man,' says the rabbit, 'I got to make it.' It's that way with Negroes."
And Tennessee State is making it. After beating Florida A&M 21-10 Saturday the Tigers are now 6-0, and a third national championship is within sight.
As the mini-giants are bound to do every so often, two of them, Arkansas State and Abilene Christian—with its ace quarterback, Jim Lindsey—met head-on Saturday. It may have lacked the prestige of Texas vs. Arkansas, but not much else was missing.
Abilene Christian is associated with the Church of Christ. There is a ban on smoking, drinking and dancing—and there go a lot of fine football prospects. Each day the 3,000 students spend 25 minutes in chapel, praying and meditating. Coed skirts are allowed to go no higher than four inches above the knee.
You could search a long time before finding a less likely place to produce the nation's college offensive leader. But there he is: Jim Lindsey, a 5'11", 185-pound towhead once rejected by Baylor because they thought he was too slow. "I went around to a lot of big schools," he said, "and I saw all the drinking and smoking going on in the dorms. Well, first off, I figured it wasn't going to help make a great football team. And I just didn't want to get with that whole animal image. I'm a member of the Church of Christ. I like to go to church every time the doors open. I feel God gave me all that I have. I feel grateful for what happens to me."
Through five victories and a loss going into Saturday's game what had happened to Lindsey in 1970 were 117 completions in 213 passes, 1,635 yards and 16 touchdowns. Through four seasons so far, he has passed for 7,863 yards.
"One thing that has helped me," says Lindsey, "is reading the Bible. I like to read about Christ. They spat on Him, beat on Him, but He still kept his cool. Guys call me dirty names, tell me they are going to break me in two. If I worry about it, I'm not going to be worth a durn."
At breakfast on Saturday morning Bill Davidson, the Arkansas State offensive coach, thought about facing Lindsey, and then he thought about the injustice of the rules of the Church of Christ. "They can't drink, they can't smoke, they can't dance," he said. "Why did they stop there? Why didn't they put in a rule against quarterbacks?"
But Davidson smiled. He knew that Bennie Ellender, the low-keyed intellectual who teaches football at Arkansas State, would be going into the game with some potent commandments of his own. A percentage man all the way, Ellender is a professor who analyzes every variable and then plays the most pat hand. He has none of the usual qualms about being voted No. 1. "In fact, I kind of like the idea," he says.
Arkansas State is a terriblv basic team—big and slow and very strong. Its long rushing gain this season is 30 yards. Ellender likes to run his fullback, Calvin Harrell, 40 times a game. It's slug, slug and slug, and so far not one of State's first six opponents have out-slugged the Indians. And they are highly annoyed by any lack of recognition, especially from within the state.