Teammate Dorian Jackson fumbled, and the ball landed in Ty's hands. His discomfort, it seems, lies more in taking credit than ownership. He and Dorsett's son, Anthony Jr., would work out with Tony and Cowboys stars such as Everson Walls and Ken Norton Jr."Any man would be proud to be his father—and I told him that," Short said. Because I don't like this Johnny-come-lately s--- where all of a sudden he's in the pros and I'm his dad." Ty Law began noticing it his senior year at Aliquippa: His things were disappearing. and listen to Tony's tales, all the little backstories behind the nearly 13,000 NFL rushing yards and that surefire induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.When a season ended without a title, players were told by brothers and friends and mouthy fools, Y'all suck! Ty Law would go on to play at Michigan, then become the best cornerback in the NFL after breaking in with Bill Parcells's Patriots in 1995. That was in 1991, a year after the Quips dropped to AA, but what of it? But even those who would later decide that Peep Short was all kinds of dirty will tell you: He had guts.

He was convinced that only money could end his grandpa's worry, solve his mom's drug addiction. "I'm thinking you can buy your way off of drugs," he said. Minimally skilled, and realizing at last that the mill was never coming back. Families tapped connections in Phoenix, the Bay Area, New Jersey, and soon their cars were packed, their houses were empty, and they were gone.

Going to Ann Arbor, Ty wasn't worried about getting a degree. "Come to find out that ain't the damn case...." But that understanding wouldn't land for more than a decade. Besides, he'd seen the other so-called top college defensive backs. "I knew that if I worked out I would go higher than projected," Law said. Western Pennsylvania, by the 21st century, had become legendary among football cognoscenti for producing greatness: quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino from Pittsburgh, Joe Namath from Beaver Falls, Jim Kelly out of East Brady, Joe Montana from Monongahela. Just in 2003, Aliquippa had Ty Law starring for New England's record-setting defense, intercepting Colts QB Peyton Manning three times in the AFC championship game and winning his second Super Bowl.

Not that he thought he'd win the Heisman—he knew his future was as a cornerback, and corners don't win Heismans—but Dorsett was an Aliquippa guy, one who knew what it meant to have an old man working the mill and a family with drug problems, and he had made it out. I was like, This is where I want to be." But it wasn't just want: Ty needed more.

By the time he enrolled at Michigan, he had seen enough of Aliquippa.

"By the time the kids had reached 10th grade, 60% of the students, white and black, were reading below grade level—and 62% were performing below grade level in math," said Steals, who departed Aliquippa High in 1989. "Come down and put in an application." Warfield had always wanted to be a cop, and he did need a job.

But such bad academic news provoked little outrage at football or Yannessa. "Even in the pros, there was nothing they could say or do that I hadn't already seen or wasn't prepared for. For the next 18 months he worked at the Beaver County Sheriff's Office.

Football is the endgame, the gritty final distillation of the dream that our great-grandfathers came here to dream, the one proven process that can still result in a scholarship, a way out, maybe big money. Melvin Steals, an English teacher at Aliquippa High, was named the city's Teacher of the Year in 1984.

He spent most of the decade working on postgraduate studies in education.

And he had to pass if he wanted to play Division I-A college ball. "When we went to football games, we were going to wars," said Donald Walker, who played for Coach Marocco three years later. Peep Short wasn't a factor in Tommie's early life, but rumors flew and Della wasn't shy about feeding them; after Tommie graduated from high school, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called Short "Campbell's father." At the same time many locals, including Della's longtime boyfriend, Rick Hill, remained sure that Tommie's dad was the man for whom the boy was named: Della's former husband, Tommie Campbell Sr. Worse yet, Ty would find that Diane was selling the totems of his growing name to a local doctor, a white man to whom Ty had long looked up.

Georgia Tech, Pitt, every school with an eye on a national championship wanted him, but this was Ty's second try at the ACT. And then, right after the test, there was a state title game to get to, fast. "We'd close the doors, and he'd say, 'If you don't like what I've got to say? These mother------- are coming up here to our house and we're going to f--- them up! Tommie's patrimony remained a mystery for a simple reason. "When I had married Tommie Campbell Sr., I was dating Peep Short. because my mother was telling me that I wasn't grown, that I don't need to be going out every weekend. I just went and got somebody and got married." Later, while moonlighting as a security guard at Valley Terrace, A Building, Short would watch little Tommie compete with the other kids, "and if he wasn't crying, he was fighting," he said. The man was buying stock, getting in at crack-rock-bottom prices.

While researching a support system for high school student-athletes, Steals said, "I solved the major mystery: I began to realize the true meaning of a student-athlete. People said, '[Former coach Don Yannessa] could get a rock into college'—and he did.