Football Writers Association of America 2003 BEST WRITING CONTEST
COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE

FIRST PLACE: FEATURE
Olin Buchanan, Austin American-Statesman

The football reached Terrence Murphy's hands just before his feet reached the end zone.

As he crossed the goal line, Kendrick Bell jumped up from his chair, cheered and exchanged high-fives with men seated around him.

The second-quarter touchdown enabled Texas A&M to pull even in last October's game at Kansas State, but Bell's elation wasn't about the score. It was about who scored. Nearly a decade had passed since he roamed Floyd Casey Stadium as a cornerback for Baylor, and for the first time Bell was watching Murphy, his 18-year-old half brother, play wide receiver for the Aggies.

Olin Buchanan
Austin American-Statesman
Age: 41
Background: Buchanan came to the American-Statesman in 1995 after spending two years covering Texas A&M at hletics for the Bryan-College Station Eagle. He covered high school sports for five years before being promoted to a backup position on University of Texas football. Last year he became the lead writer on Texas A&M football. When not working he's preparing for the arrival of his first child. Quinn is due Dec. 31.

And when Murphy caught that touchdown pass, it was a classic case of sibling revelry. "I had my chest stuck out," Bell recalled. "I felt like it was me scoring. I said, 'I taught him that.'"

Bell remembers those Saturday games at Baylor, with his little brother in the stands with the rest of the family.

"He'd sit up there at Baylor in my No. 11 jersey and I'd find him and wave to him," Bell said.

But Bell, now 30, couldn't sit in the stands for Murphy's first college touchdown. Instead, he had to share the moment with his fellow inmates at the Coffield Prison Unit in Tennessee Colony, near Palestine, where Bell is serving a 25-year sentence for dealing narcotics.

Growing up in New Chapel Hill a small rural community a few miles east of Tyler Bell and Murphy were close-knit brothers.

Then, Murphy was an idol-worshipping pre-teen yearning to follow in his brother's footsteps. Now, Bell is a fallen hero determined to make sure Murphy doesn't. Then, Bell taught his brother how to play football, how to compete and the importance of studying tape. Now, he hopes to teach the value of reaching potential rather than just end zones; for earning a degree and not just a spot in the starting lineup; for running away from trouble as deftly as he runs away from cornerbacks.

Bell learned those lessons, too. He just learned them too late.

A family man

When Bell was a star tailback on Chapel Hill High School's 1989 Class 4A state championship team, he gained more than 1,500 yards and celebrity status.

"Kendrick was a leader at school," Murphy recalled. "Everybody knew Kendrick Bell. I looked up to him."

And Bell looked after his little brother.

"From the time I brought Terrence home he was like Kendrick's baby," said their mother, Brenda Guthrie, a former secretary and current substitute school teacher who has three other children. "When Terrence was 2 months old Kendrick taught him how to hold a plastic football and showed him how to throw it. Once he was walking Kendrick always had him out in the yard doing everything."

Years later, when a schedule change forced Guthrie to work nights, she said, Bell would go to the nursery and pick up his younger brother after football practice. "When I got home Kendrick would already have him bathed, fed and ready for bed," she said.

On nights of Chapel Hill football games, Terrence would stay up late, wearing a jersey with Kendrick's number on it, and wait for his older brother to come home.

When Bell brought home tapes to study the next opponent, Murphy was always sitting at his feet.

"I used to be big on film study," Bell recalled one day last summer. "I wanted to see my mistakes and learn from them." After high school, Bell went to Baylor, where he played running back during the 1991 and 1992 seasons before switching to cornerback, which provided a better chance of playing professionally.

"Kendrick had an awful lot of talent. He was gifted with speed and agility," former Baylor Coach Grant Teaff said. "We moved him to try to get him in position to maximize his skills. Potentially, he was good enough to have a chance to play pro ball.

"We had hopes for him. I felt he had a chance in the environment at Baylor to blossom and get an education and make something out of his life."

During his senior season in 1994, Bell recorded 69 tackles. "Kendrick had an interception against Texas A&M and I was walking around in his jersey," Murphy recalled. "I could hear people say, 'That's Kendrick Bell's brother.'"

A forfeited future

After college, Bell made a little money playing for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League in 1996, but his career was soon finished. "I worked out for pro teams," Bell said. "My main problem was I wasn't disciplined enough. I had always relied on just athletic ability and that caught up with me. I was drinking and partying all the time."

When his football career ended, so did the adulation that comes with it. The celebrity status was gone.

And Bell wanted it back.

He returned to Tyler and opened a nightclub ironically called The Turning Point just across the dry Smith County line in wet Gregg County.

"You get used to being the type person everybody looks up to and commands a lot of attention," he said. "When you don't have that any more you try to find a way to get it.

"Guys selling drugs ... some people look up to them and treat them like they're something different. You have those old friends you don't know how to let go of. They will pull you into that situation. I didn't recognize that."

Bell started selling cocaine out of his nightclub.

Murphy recognized something was different. Bell remembers his brother asking him, "What are you doing?

"I guess he started figuring out something was up because of the people I'd been around," Bell said. "I was never at home and I was never asleep. I stayed up constantly." Murphy wasn't the only one with suspicions. In December 1997 U.S. Marshals arrived at the home of Bell's mother with a warrant for his arrest.

In August 1998, he was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance and engaging in organized crime and began serving a 25-year sentence.

"Never in my wildest imagination would I expect him to wind up in prison," Teaff said. "He's got more to him than that.

"But we're all influenced by the people around us. It's a great lesson for everybody that who you associate with has a huge impact on what happens to you in the future."

Brothers' bond

The brothers say their forced separation has brought them closer together.

Murphy visits Bell whenever possible. He mails newspaper clippings of A&M football games. His football games give Bell something to look forward to and a three-hour escape from his reality on game days.

Cable television isn't available in the prison television room, so Bell can't watch games on ESPN or Fox Sports Net. When the Aggies aren't on network television, Bell listens closely to a transistor radio that stays tuned to the Aggie network.

Bell celebrated every one of Murphy's 36 catches last season. And when Murphy nursed a pulled groin that kept him out of the season-opening win over Louisiana- Lafayette, Bell ached right along with him.

Bell said Murphy is constantly in his thoughts, especially at night, when Bell often lies awake and ponders the choices that put him in prison.

"I'm ashamed," Bell said. "I made a mistake and I'm dealing with it. I take the responsibility because I was raised better than that.

"The most important thing is for Terrence to learn from me," Bell added. "He knows he has to have discipline and stay focused. Had I done that I wouldn't be here."

But Bell insists his brother will never see the inside of a prison except as a visitor.

"He's the kind of young man every father would be proud to call his son. When you meet him it's 'yes sir' and 'no sir.' I've never even heard him curse."

Murphy has the same kind of belief in Bell.

"I love my brother no matter what he did," Murphy said. "He made mistakes, but when I look at him I don't see mistakes. I see my brother.

"I want to do things for him."

He's written letters to the parole board on Bell's behalf and promises to write more.

For his part, Bell has apparently done all he can. Although he's only served one-fifth of his sentence and was denied parole last February, he has attained trustee status and works as a furniture assembler and installer on a road crew for the Coffield Unit's metal fabrication division. He hopes he can use the skills he's learned in prison to get a job working construction. His next parole hearing is Feb. 1, 2003.

Until then, the future tantalizes Bell like a brass ring just out of reach. He'd like to have a normal life, to get married and raise a family. And he fantasizes about walking into Kyle Field as a free man, wearing his brother's No. 5 jersey.

"I want to go there and sit in the stands and watch my brother play football and root for him like he did for me," Bell said.

Murphy, who has one more season left at A&M after this one, dreams about that, too.

"That would mean a lot to see him with my jersey on," Murphy said. "I'd probably explode. That's one of my dreams, to see my brother there."

For now, Murphy can take solace in knowing that Bell will be watching him on television or closely listening for A&M announcer Dave South to mention "Murph" on radio broadcasts on Saturdays.

And the rest of the week, he'll be bragging about his brother.

Comment of the judge, Gene Duffey: Texas A&M receiver Terrence Murphy and older brother. Good insight into two brothers and how one is succeeding where the other failed. Story details how the older one went wrong and why he ended up in prison and how he now lives to see the Aggie receiver succeed.

Second place: Randy Holtz, Rocky Mountain News
Third place: Al Lesar, South Bend Tribune
Honorable mention: Rob Biertempfel, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; Ron Higgins, Memphis Commercial Appeal; Brett McMurphy, Tampa Tribune; Steve Ellis, Tallahassee Democrat; Tom Shatel, Omaha World-Herald; Mark Rea, Buckeye Sports Bulletin; John Lukacs, Freelance