The 1970s were a decidedly snowflake free decade. A man was free to say what he wanted without fear or offense or the threat of a sound doxing. Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford put children to bed via television. Barry Switzer was King or at least a Viceroy of saying whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Never forget, Switzer was known to smoke a few heaters on the sideline during games. In the 70s cigarettes were just beginning to turn into fodder for countless after-school specials that defined my childhood.
So, in 1974, after a win over Baylor, when Barry Switzer said his team struggled to stop diminutive Bear running back Steve Beaird because his team hadn’t practiced tackling midgets, no one batted an eye. Today the op-ed pieces and twitter uproar would drive Barry into hiding, or at least back to smoking. In 1974, everyone nodded as they read the quote and went back to their Tang and Quaker Oats. Lost in Switzer’s assessment, was just how good Steve Beaird was, all 5-7 of him.
Beaird came to Baylor from Blinn Junior College where he was an All-American. Baylor was the only prominent school to take a shine to the Angelton native. During his junior year, Beaird rushed for 345 yards, 176 of which came in a win over SMU, a school record at the time.
By his senior year, Baylor’s veer was coming into form with a rotation of running backs, of which Beaird was just one. Pat McNeil, Phillip Kent, and Cleveland Franklin helped form a potent rushing attack with Neal Jeffrey pulling strings. The Bears last SWC championship was in 1924, they’d never graced the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day. Thanks to their 5-7 dynamo running back, they achieved both in 1974.
His Bear teammates took to calling Steve Beaird “Buffalo” based on his ability to leg press 750 pounds, the maximum weight on the machine. The Buffalo rumbled over the league in 1974, rushing for a SWC leading 1,104 on a workhorse like 267 carries. His thirteen touchdowns were sixth-most in college football and fourth in points. He led the Southwest Conference in attempts, yards, touchdowns, and points and his 22 receptions were sixth in the league. The 267 carries set a SWC record. He also became the first Baylor Bear to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Beaird earned All-Conference Honors for his season, as the Bears finished 6-1 in the league and made a trip to the Cotton Bowl where they lost to a top 10 Penn State ball club. Most importantly Beaird and the Bears broke an eighteen-year losing streak to Texas and broke the sa’Longhorns’ six-year stranglehold on the league.
The NFL passed on the undersized back, but he caught on with Winnipeg of the CFL and played two seasons. Beaird fought against the perception that he was too small to play big-time football. In 1974, Beaird played as big as any player in College Football.