Each summer the story, as predictable as a Rebel yell at Ole Miss, floats out of head coaches' offices all over the South. They are going to forget defensive football for a change and open up the attack. Each autumn, their debt to hard-working press agents fully paid off, the coaches get down to the bread-and-butter business they understand, winning games by defense.
"The passing team gets beat," says Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Dodd. "All that throwing and dashing about doesn't mean you have an offense," growls Alabama's Bear Bryant. "That's just for coaches who are about to get fired or are trying to impress the newspapers."
Impressive on defense
Southeastern Conference schools did have impressive statistics last fall, and they were all on the defense. Four of the nation's eight least-scored-upon teams were from the conference, six of the 14 best in total yardage defense, four of the 11 best punting teams and three of 1960's four best at intercepting passes. They will probably do just as well in the 1961 season, but this year, for the first time, the Southeastern's conservatism will not dominate the South. The rival Atlantic Coast Conference is actually ready to throw passes and put men in motion, and one of the main reasons for this is the serious-looking student at the left, who carries his books through an archway at his North Carolina State College campus with the same swinging assurance that characterizes him when he carries a football through enemy tacklers on Saturday afternoons. His name is Roman Gabriel, and although he is big enough to play tackle or fullback, he is a quarterback.
Until 1960, which was Gabriel's junior year, football in the Atlantic Coast Conference was known for its power plays, while football at North Carolina State wasn't known for much of anything—except, of course, the loss of more games than any other conference team save luckless Virginia.
Then Gabriel, who as a sophomore in 1959 had been the nation's most efficient passer with a completion average of 60.4%, really went to work. He led his team to a surprising six victories and one tie in 10 games by completing 105 of 186 passes for an average gain of more than 10 yards per completion, and he was one of four college players in the nation who were personally responsible for more than half of all the yards gained by their teams. With an unsouthern, uninhibited offense that Coach Earle Edwards specifically designed to take advantage of Gabriel's passing, N.C. State now, just two years after losing all six league games, seriously challenges champion Duke for the title.
The man for the role
Roman Gabriel is ideally suited for his pioneering role. Although he is not particularly fast, Gabriel has the rare ability to pass effectively while rolling out to his left as well as to his right. Because of sheer physical strength he can throw accurately from awkward positions, and he also has the poise to wait for a second man to break free if the first receiver is covered.
A North Carolina native on a Wolf-pack roster that could just as easily be known as Earle Edwards & His Pennsylvanians (there are 29 squad members from the Keystone State), Gabriel is the son of a 5-foot 9-inch, 150-pound Filipino who married an American girl of average size and now works for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Roman Jr., like many of today's college players, is married. His son, Roman III, will be a year old on October 30, two days after the big game against Duke. In that game Duke will be faced with two overwhelming problems—how to get enough tickets (State's stadium seats a mere 21,000) and how to squelch Gabriel, who may be even more valuable to State for his qualities of leadership than for his football skills. Last year, when N.C. State upset Maryland, Gabriel forced his team to win. Late in the game State was behind after Maryland blocked a punt and scored. Gabriel stormed from one man to the next, then proceeded to drive them 68 yards to a touchdown and a 13-10 victory.
"I try to get the confidence of the team," says Gabriel, who plans to play pro football after he graduates next spring. "I sometimes get mad if an argument starts in the huddle. I ask them if we are going to play football or walk off the field. That usually does it."