Texas Tech football has experienced three Golden Ages. These were the Pete Cawthon decade of the thirties, the Jim Carlin/Steve Sloan years of the early- and mid-seventies, and the Mike Leach era of the aughties.
My personal remembrance of Red Raider football encompasses the immediate aftermath of the second Golden Age--which was itself a Dark Age--the third Golden Age, and the present. During this period I have seen many a great Tech football player despite the fact that Tech experienced 11 losing seasons and two 6-6 marks in those 33 years.
And Tech was historically stacked at running back during this period. The fact that exceptional talents such as Robert Lewis, Anthony Hutchison, Anthony Lynn, James Gray, Sammy Morris and Taurean Henderson don't make the top five cut is an index of the running back talent that his come through Lubbock. The five that did make the grade were true Tech greats.
No. 5: Timmy Smith – If talent alone was what determined football greatness, Timmy Smith might have a spot in Canton right now. Alas, there are other factors. Injuries and character, for instance, play roles as well.
Outside of Byron Hanspard, Smith may have been the most heavily recruited running back Tech ever signed. As a high school senior at Hobbs, New Mexico in 1982, Smith was regarded as one of the nation's top 100 prospects and was heavily courted by Notre Dame among others. Spurning the Fighting Irish, Smith chose to follow his brother Steve, a Red Raider hoopster, to Lubbock.
Smith made an immediate impact as a true freshman, rushing for several hundred yards while splitting time with Robert Lewis. The remainder of his Tech career was plagued by knee injuries, but he still managed to amass over 1,300 career rushing yards.
He is most known, however, for his 204-yard rushing performance for the Washington Redskins in their victory over Denver in the 1987 Super Bowl. Smith set a Super Bowl rushing record that still stands.
But as great as Smith was in that Super Bowl, he was a shadow of the player he was as a Texas Tech freshman. Smith had an incredibly physical, torpedo-like burst through the line of scrimmage that I've not seen since from a Tech back. Jamal Lewis who rushed for nearly 11,000 yards in the NFL, is the closest thing I've seen to Timmy Smith. But Jamal Lewis fulfilled the potential that Timmy Smith possessed.
No. 4: Ricky Williams – Another tremendous runner whose career was damaged by injury was Ricky Williams. But before suffering that injury in the 1999 season opener against Arizona State, Williams had established himself as one of Tech's greats.
As a freshman in 1997 Williams rushed for nearly 900 yards, but his sophomore year was the piece de resistance as he carried for 1,582 yards, third most in school history.
That season was the highlight of Williams' career insofar as he never quite regained the choppy, quick-stepping form that made him such a hard man to tackle. Still, Williams surprised many people by playing two years for the Indianapolis Colts after going undrafted.
No. 3: Byron Hanspard – Byron Hanspard arrived at Texas Tech with such fanfare that head coach Spike Dykes had no choice but to give him as many carries as humanly possible. And so Dykes did.
In the three years Hanspard played for the Red Raiders he was the Tech offense. Consequently, Hanspard racked up the yardage—4,219 yards to be precise, 2,008 of which he amassed in his record-smashing 1996 season.
But as good as Hanspard was, he was never quite the Tony Dorsett many made him out to be. Hanspard was very fast and quite elusive in the open field, but did not have the strength to break tackles. In that respect, he was far more comparable to Gaston Green than Dorsett.
Hanspard lasted only two seasons in the NFL, and left a mark only as a kick returner. A knee injury formally terminated his professional career, but a lack of physicality meant his NFL days were already numbered.
No. 2: James Hadnot – Had James Hadnot not spent his first two seasons as a tight end it is entirely possible that he, rather than Byron Hanspard, would be Tech's all time leading rusher. As it was, "Kong" had to make do with just his junior and senior seasons. And he did pretty darned well.
Playing for a good team in 1978 and a bad one in 1979, Hadnot churned for approximately 2,400 yards.
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Hadnot in the third round of the 1980 draft, and he rewarded them with a solid, if unspectacular four years of play, during which he rushed for over 1,000 yards, and hauled in 54 receptions.
No. 1: Bam Morris – James Hadnot was a lunging, six-foot-two, 245-pound battering ram. Bam Morris was built along similar lines, but was a more nimble and graceful runner. He also had tremendous balance. All of which is to say that Morris was tremendously gifted.
He proved his talents at Tech by winning the Doak Walker award in 1993 and later being selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the draft. He had a solid six-year career too, but it could have been so much better.
Morris racked up 3,809 rushing yards and 790 receiving yards in the NFL, but his career was plagued and ultimately foreshortened by substance abuse and suspension. He had the talent to be another Jerome Bettis. Instead, he's a punchline. But despite his deeply flawed character, Bam Morris was a superb running back. And that's no joke.