Bowling Green, Ohio is the kind of inconspicuous midwestern town where a man, if he spent a lifetime at it, could make a name for himself that would not exceed the city limits. Peaceful, pleasant, humdrum Bowling Green never meant harm to anybody and never had any done it. Even the things that might have brought it attention always happened someplace else. The name itself happened someplace else. The most persuasive of the city fathers of 1833 was a man who thought Bowling Green, Ky., his home town, was worth repeating. Consequently, Bowling Green, Ky. (pop. 23,338) is the metropolis that Bowling Green, Ohio (pop. 13,574) most often gets mistaken for. The wife of the assistant dean of the business school at Bowling Green State University was in the national headlines in 1934 when she was held at gunpoint by John Dillinger on the running board of a getaway car after an $18,000 bank holdup, but—bad luck—the big event happened 25 miles away in Fostoria.
Actress Eva Marie Saint went to school in Bowling Green but has not talked it around. The mayor of Bowling Green, native son Gus Skibbie, a bright, bright-eyed, gum-ball-jowled little man who doubles as high school history teacher and has been known to make a historical chip shot or two to win $2 Nassaus from pigeons at the Bowling Green Country Club, achieved a measure of notoriety in 1961. Officiating in a football game between Syracuse and Notre Dame, Gus called a roughing-the-kicker penalty that gave Notre Dame a chance to kick a field goal after the game was over. Notre Dame did, and won. Syracuse boiled. Its fans petitioned for a Notre Dame forfeit or for Gus Skibbie's pink-and-white scalp. Gus Skibbie happily carried on the argument—and carries it on convincingly to this day—in the sanctuary of the mayor's office across the street from Bowling Green High. He is safe in Bowling Green because the game was not played there. It was played in South Bend, Ind.
There usually are exceptions to sweeping generalities, of course, and it would be unfair to say Bowling Green has swept all its treasures under the rug. Dr. C. J. Hochanadel, a Bowling Green graduate, is a leader in the study of the peaceful use of atomic radiation. Dr. Paul Wood-ring is an education editor for the Saturday Review. Dr. Kermit Long has, in Phoenix, the largest Methodist congregation in the West. At home the Heinz Tomato Ketchup factory is known not only around and beyond Wood County for the size of its operation, second-largest catsup factory in the world, but also for its aroma. At this redolent time of year a traveler coming into Bowling Green on U.S. 6 or U.S. 25, 20 miles south of Toledo, can only imagine he has entered a nether world of ziti alla Siciliana. But the most prominent and most beloved exception is Doyt Leatherman Perry.
Who is Doyt L. Perry? As a starter, you could say he is the most successful college football coach in the country. You could say this with fear of contradiction, because Doyt Perry's Bowling Green teams never won a Rose Bowl game, never even went to a bowl game except one that was already on its schedule. They never had an All-America. They never beat a team from a major conference, or even played one. Doyt Perry never received a Cadillac or a swimming pool from his loyal fans, or had his picture on a magazine cover, nor has he written a book about his special gift for coaching football. He has never been mentioned for Congress or sued The Saturday Evening Post, and he is so shamefully unambitious that he has been heard to wish aloud for those rewarding days when he coached high school teams and taught 1lth-grade history.
What is incontrovertible about Perry's credentials for success is his record: 68 victories, nine losses and five ties in nine seasons at Bowling Green. That is a .860 percentage, and in the higher mathematics of college coaching that, sir, is coaching. Bud Wilkinson, Paul Bryant or Johnny Vaught cannot touch it. Doyt Perry has won the Mid-American Conference championship four of those nine years and has never had a team that lost more than two games in one season (no coach can touch that, either). People who know him, and those who wish they did, queue up to sing his praises. At Bowling Green, now accustomed to his genius, they say that won-lost records are gauche, that if it is figures you want, check the real record. Check to see that Doyt Perry has never had a player transfer to another school. Check the graduation lists—Doyt Perry's football players not only attend school, they graduate.
Doyt Perry has never been hanged in effigy—what on earth for? He has retained, at age 54, the unlined, uncomplicated look of a born winner and looks 40. He has established a private rapport between himself and everybody in town. They all call him Doyt, even freshmen, after a respectful period of awkward first attempts. "We call him Doyt," says a former player, "but we think of him as mister." It is a special point of pride at Bowling Green that the football department is not autonomous and that Doyt mixes with all manner of people, including professors. His assistants do, too. "Here," says Line Coach Jim Ruehl so that his listener knows what is about to follow might not be true just anywhere, "here we are accepted. And we are well organized. For example, Bob [Dudley, Perry's chief assistant] over there goes down to the faculty lounge every Monday morning during the season to tell the professors why Doyt doesn't order more passes."
Among his players Perry inspires a special allegiance. They describe him as if "honesty" and "integrity" and "sincerity" were qualities peculiar to him, and they say he is almost unbeatable at golf, pool, poker or the word games that enliven bus trips home. He leads them in song at his traditional night-before-game gathering known as the Hot Chocolate Hour, or Sing Along with Doyt. The song is usually a nonsensical number called I Ziggy-Zumbah-Zumbah-Zumbah that requires little song-leading talent, which is what Perry has. "And one more thing about Doyt—when he tells you something, he means it," says Chuck Perry, a former Bowling Green quarterback now in the school's administrative offices. Chuck is not related to Doyt; he only sounds like it. "When he tells you you've got a four-year scholarship, brother, that means four years," says Chuck. "And when he tells you to suit up, shower or sit down, you suit up, shower or sit down."
Bernie Casey, now a halfback with the San Francisco 49ers, was All-Conference his junior year at Bowling Green in 1959 but had his sitting time increased sharply enough in 1960 to make him suspicious of Perry's good judgment. "Do you like Perry?" Casey was asked that fall. "I do more than like him," answered Casey. "I respect him."
Ralph W. McDonald, the former president of the university and the man most responsible for the current building and academic boom at Bowling Green (a boom, coincidentally, that is conference-wide), once said of Doyt Perry: "He is the finest addition we have made in this administration." McDonald hired Perry off Woody Hayes's staff at Ohio State. Known for his impetuosity, McDonald was also a man who was willing to put the school's money where his foresight was. He gave Perry three salary increases before the first football season. Bowling Green went from last place in the Mid-American in 1954 to second (4-1-1) under Perry in 1955. Thereafter the conference had to get better to keep up.
The Mid-American is, essentially, a seven-member league of bus riders that received major status from the National Collegiate Athletic Association only two years ago, and only after some strong lobbying on the part of Ohio State's Hayes. " Bowling Green, Ohio and Miami," argued Hayes, "are playing better football right now than Dayton, Cincinnati or Xavier. Why shouldn't they be major league?" Five member schools are located in Ohio: Toledo, Miami (in Oxford), Ohio University (in Athens), Kent State (in Kent) and Bowling Green. They are linked on the southern Ohio border by Marshall of Huntington, W. Va., and on the north by Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, spanning as they do an area from the Allegheny foothills through the undulating soybean and corn fields to the industrial Lakes region. The schools are at short-hop intervals of no more than 250 miles, and scholastically and physically they are practically homogeneous. Student bodies range from 14,500 at Kent State and Western Michigan to 5,500 at Marshall, and their smallish football stadiums seat from 18,000 at Ohio University to 10,000 at Marshall. Bowling Green is medium-size in this general grouping, and its character is consistent with it: 9,000 students, a football stadium that seats 14,000 (a larger one is on the way) and a fully accredited curriculum offered by good colleges of business, liberal arts and education but no medical, dental or law school. Entrance requirements in the Mid-American are not uniform and, unlike other major conferences, the MAC does not require college boards and will allow a student in the bottom third of his graduating class to enter college early for preliminary study.