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Alfred Wright
November 09, 1964
For Columbia, Archie Roberts runs, passes, kicks, tackles and gets a bloody nose every Saturday
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November 09, 1964

Look Out, Mister Roberts

For Columbia, Archie Roberts runs, passes, kicks, tackles and gets a bloody nose every Saturday

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Archie was almost late to his wedding, however. The night before he had been in Chicago working on the broadcast of the Ail-Star football game for the ABC network, with whom he had a summer job, and he caught an early plane back to New York in the morning. "The wedding was supposed to be held at 11 o'clock up in Pearl River, where Barbara lives," recalls Archie. "That's about an hour's drive north of New York on the other side of the Hudson. I didn't get into Kennedy Airport until 9, and I had to rent a car and then go into the city to pick up Pat Sheehan, my best man. We stopped at a gas station along the way to change into our wedding clothes and arrived at 10 minutes to 11. Barbara swore I wasn't going to make it."

As Barbara Roberts says, it is Archie's utter normality that confounds people. Roberts is simply a friendly, easygoing young man whose fresh-faced good looks would make him the ideal model for a Norman Rockwell painting of the boy next door. He was born and raised in the tidy New England factory town of Holyoke, where his mother and father and their families grew up before him. Mary Roberts, his mother, is a large, cheerful lady with white hair who comes from Irish baseball lineage that includes Jack Doyle, a first baseman and manager of the New York Giants in the trolley-car era. Arthur Henry Roberts, Archie's father, is the peppery and popular director of athletics and assistant principal at Holyoke High. In the late '20s, Art Roberts was a star, if pocket-sized, quarterback for NYU, and afterward he coached there before taking his family back to New England.

Despite his own athletic background, Art Roberts avoided pushing his son into sports. Archie wasted the first six or seven years of his life horsing around with tomahawks and bows and arrows and other tools of the cowboys-and-Indians trade. In 1950, when the Holyoke football team coached by Art Roberts went to the Peanut Bowl game in Georgia, 7-year-old Archie insisted on staying home so he could watch a Gene Autry movie at the local movie palace on Saturday afternoon.

By junior high school time Archie had worked the tomahawk out of his system and was in sports to stay. He fell naturally into the quarterback's job on the football team and played shortstop and pitched for his baseball team in the local peewee league. As a 115-120-pound sophomore in high school he became first-string quarterback for a team of much bigger boys, and everyone swears there was not a smidgin of father-son favoritism involved. "Mr. Roberts treated Arch just like everyone else," says Pat Sheehan, who then, as now, was playing center in front of Archie. "You wouldn't even know they were related." By his senior year, Archie led Holyoke through an undefeated season in football and had been named on the All-America high school basketball team.

It was in these adolescent years that the pattern of Archie's character was drawn. "Arthur," as Archie's mother calls him, for his true name is Arthur James Roberts, "was always such a good boy. His father used to say he wished Arthur would throw a rock through a window or something, just so we would know he was around."

Once Archie opted for sports, his father proved a willing collaborator. They spent long afternoons watching football and baseball on television, and together they went to the University of Massachusetts games in nearby Amherst or the Holy Cross games in Worcester. Often they drove down to New York City to watch the football Giants or the baseball Yankees. They would discuss the subtleties of strategy, and the father taught the son everything he knew about the technique of the game. He drilled him in the fine points of broken-field running—how to feint with a hip or the head and not to commit oneself too soon to either side of the tackler. How to pivot, how to stay in the pocket—all the small but important moves that a truly first-rate quarterback must perform by instinct. "Passing is a kind of natural thing, I guess," Archie says, "but my father would correct small errors, such as not following through enough or not bringing the ball back quite right."

Any coach whose teams have lunged and stumbled after Archie Roberts will testify to the success of Art Roberts' paternal assistance. Tom Harp, of Cornell, is one. When he speaks of quarterbacks, Harp is not flying blind, for it was he who groomed young Gary Wood, the heir designate to Y.A. Tittle on the New York Giants. "As a T quarterback," says Harp, "I can't think of anyone who can do the job better than Roberts. It's Roberts who keeps that offense moving, and there isn't a person I know in college ball in the country who can pass any better than Roberts. I would rate him with Roger Staubach, Gary Wood and George Mira as the top quarterbacks I've seen in college football."

John Yovicsin, whose Harvard team squeaked past Columbia 3-0, says, "Archie Roberts is as fine a quarterback as I've ever seen in 24 years of coaching at the secondary and college level."

Dick Colman of Princeton says, "I've never seen a better passer."

Buff Donelli, Archie's own coach, has to fight back the superlatives when he discusses the young man who has made his life considerably happier these past three seasons. "I could tell the first day he walked on the field," says the soft-spoken, low-pressure Columbia coach, "that Art had it. He's a well-set-up boy. When he steps on the scale ready to be taped, he'll weigh just over 190. He's six feet tall, but he looks smaller on the field, because those boys you see him next to are well over six feet. And another thing—although I hate to mention it—he never gets hurt. He's very strong, and he's always in top condition."

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