A Tale of Devotion
It was a blind date. Bowling Green coach Gary Blackney recalls, a favor for a friend. Just a few sodas on a Saturday night in 1964, his sophomore year at Connecticut. "God, we didn't hit it off at all," he says of that evening spent with the former Lauretta Cross. "Neither of us was very impressed with the other."
They have been married 28 years now, and last Friday afternoon Blackney kept another date with his bride. This one came at the Wood County Nursing Home, where Lauretta lives, just three miles from his office at Doyt Perry Stadium. In March 1986 Lauretta suffered a brain aneurysm, which paralyzed her and limited her speech.
Leaning over to kiss his wife on Friday, Blackney told her she looked great, then asked. "Who's the best coach?" Lauretta smiled and pointed awkwardly at him with her left hand. Three decades after that first date, it's clear that they are now very much impressed with each other.
Blackney was an assistant at Ohio State when he was hired to take over at Bowling Green in December 1990. The Falcons were coming off five consecutive losing seasons. The squat, muscular Blackney, then 46, strode into his first team meeting and, more sensitive than most to the caprices of life, vowed, "We're going to win the MAC championship right now because I can't guarantee where Tin going to be next year."
"From the minute he walked through that door," says senior defensive end Curtis Collins, "it was automatic respect."
Blackney made good on his oath. In his first season Bowling Green went 11-1 and beat Fresno State in the California Raisin Bowl. The success has continued. On Saturday the Falcons defeated Ball State 59-36 to run their '94 record to 7-1 and their home mark under Blackney to 17-0-1. Most important, they put themselves in position to win their third MAC title in Blackney's four seasons.
"I'm no hero, no extraordinary person," Blackney insists, referring to his record, his marriage and the fact that for the most part, he has raised two of his four children by himself. "Lin just doing what I had to do, what anyone would."
Strength in Numbers
Going the route of prison inmates and select agents from Get Smart, the Syracuse Orangemen have taken to being identified by numbers instead of names this season. "We didn't want this to be a group of individuals. We wanted it to be a team." says number 55 ( center Dave Wohlabaugh), explaining why the seniors voted to have names removed from the team's jerseys before this season.