THE FALL DENOMINATOR
As usual last Saturday the big silver airliners spun their transcontinental webs across the U.S.—and as usual the intercoms broke into occasional cracklings of pilot-to-passenger talk. Dull talk at first about altitude, air speed and weather conditions ahead, but with exciting climaxes like this:
" UCLA is leading Southern Cal 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.... Ohio State still leads Michigan 3-0, going into the final period.... We have now picked up a final score on the Harvard-Yale game: Yale 21, Harvard 7."
The same kind of information was buzzing out to drivers on U.S. high-ways and to ships at sea, instantly to become American conversation. For last Saturday was part of that season, from September to Thanksgiving or so, when Democrats and Republicans, highbrows and lowbrows, possibly even stray Guelphs and Ghibellines, find a common denominator, if not common agreement, in the football season.
This one had now worked its way from shirt-sleeves to earmuffs, and in its natural course had proved or disproved hundreds of fascinating September propositions.
Herman Hickman, whose now-celebrated hunches last year were 162 right, 62 wrong, 9 ties, after this fateful Saturday, stood at 180 right, 61 wrong, 9 ties at the same moment this year.
It had been a season when any good team (accent on the good) could apparently beat any other on a given day. For example, Michigan beat Michigan State which beat Illinois which beat Michigan. Mississippi beat LSU which beat Kentucky which beat Mississippi. Only two major teams—Oklahoma and Maryland—were left undefeated, and one of those would pretty certainly beat the other in the Orange Bowl.
Each section had its great team, some more than one: UCLA on the Pacific Coast; Ohio State and Michigan State and Notre Dame in the Midwest; Oklahoma and TCU and Texas A&M in the Southwest; Maryland, Georgia Tech and Auburn in the South. Navy emerged as the best of a wobbly crop in the un-deemphasized East, and Princeton stood out among the Ivy Leaguers, who were playing the game for fun, although an occasional bare knuckle was still visible.
Some of the stars (all praise to the modern university publicity department) were super stars. The mere mention of a select few leaves one conscious of omission. But how is it possible not to talk about Hopalong Cassady of Ohio State and Ron Beagle of Navy and Jim Swink of Texas Christian; Paul Hornung of Notre Dame and Tommy McDonald of Oklahoma; Maryland's terrific twosome, Ed Vereb and Bob Pellegrini, or the pair of dazzling tailbacks from UCLA, Ronnie Knox and Sam Brown? And to mention Ronnie again, how could it go unrecorded that, whereas the fates let his now famous stepfather Harvey off unscathed, he (Ronnie) wound up with a broken leg?
The surprise team of the year was Coach Bear Bryant's almost unbelievable bunch of sophomores at Texas A&M, who came up two years ahead of schedule to dominate the Southwest Conference. Or maybe Michigan State, which handed Notre Dame its only loss and earned a Rose Bowl bid by finishing second in the strongest conference in the land.