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James Murray
September 22, 1958
Cactus Jack Curtice talks like Tennessee Ernie, but he is awakening memories of the 'Vow Boys' and the 'Wow Boys' in defeat-conditioned Stanford alumni
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September 22, 1958

A Cactus Plant In Stanford's Ivy

Cactus Jack Curtice talks like Tennessee Ernie, but he is awakening memories of the 'Vow Boys' and the 'Wow Boys' in defeat-conditioned Stanford alumni

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"Now, on the following play, George Boss, you're going to kick the conversion."

The dressing room, reports Grosscup, exploded with laughter. "But do you know the best?" he adds. "It happened!"

As a football coach, it is Curtice's duty to keep up the morale not only of his players but of his fans. This role gets him into more service club lunches than a president of the chamber of commerce. A recent one found him rolling down the highway to Modesto, Calif., a cow and cantaloupe town in the heart of the state's thriving San Joaquin Valley with Assistant Coach Bob Ghilotti as chauffeur.

At Modesto it turned out there had been a mixup in the dates of the Rotary luncheon. "There's been a mixup in the schedule, Coach," explained the program chairman in some distress. "Today it is 'Overthrow Day.' We got to change officers. We .tried to get the highway patrol to stop you on the way down but they couldn't find you." Coach Curtice looked reproachfully at Ghilotti. "You see, Bobby, I told you that officer looked friendly. I mean he wasn't shooting at us or anything like that. We oughtn't to of run away from him like that."

The Rotarians chuckled and brightened. "All it means, Coach," soothed one, "is that you'll only have to talk 15 minutes instead of 30." "Fifteen minutes!" exploded Curtice. "I usually bow that long!"

His speech that day, when he got to make it, was typically breezy and extemporaneous. "Ya know," he said, buttoning the third button on his suit jacket, "in this state you never know whether to be Ivy League like this, or [now unbuttoning his jacket and letting his belly flop over his belt, into which he thrust his thumbs] a big, ole Cadillac-drivin' cattleman from Tay-ax-as!" As always, it drew a big laugh from his listeners.

"But I would like to say I'm in what I consider a privileged profession. Just think of the privilege of one little ole short-legged, bald-headed rooster like myself who can stand out in the middle of a stadium full of 90,000 people and realize down deep in his heart that purt' near ever' one of those 90,000 people feel they can do a better job of running the team than I can!

"Lots of people ask me how I stayed in coachin' all these years—bein' so stupid and all, I mean. Well, I'll tell you. Down in Texas one year, I got the biggest, tallest and strongest two boys I could find. Then I gave each one of them one of those assorted scholarships you get at colleges down in Texas but not at Stanford—and I told these boys they had to do only one thing: after we lost a game, they had to hoist me up on their shoulders and carry me off the field. The folks would see that and they'd say, 'Oh, hell, ole Jack ain't much of a coach but you can see the kids love him.' "

Curtice becomes entirely serious when the subject of the worth of competitive sports is under discussion: "The President himself has said that the one great lack in America today was the lack of competitive sports for our youth. Russia recognizes its merit. I get tired when people say, for instance, that the Little League is having a bad effect on our youngsters. I think youngsters should find out early what it is to win—and lose. Too much of one or the other is not good for them. But it is not bad psychologically for them to have to meet defeat at an early age. It is bad for them not to. The next time you go to a Little League game, you look and see who's doing all the troublemaking. It's having a bad effect on the adults is what it's doing. That's because they never learned to be good sports when they were young. And it shows.

"It disturbs me every time I realize that only 10% of our youth is under the direction of coaches and on organized teams. You all know what unorganized corner-lot ball becomes. The great big fellow always gets to carry the ball or be at bat and the little guys never get to find out whether they are any good or not. Chances are they're really better than that great big guy but they'll never know it without organized coaching to equalize the competition."

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