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With less than half of the 1964 football season to go, it is beginning to look as if the best all-round player on the eastern seaboard (and possibly in the entire country) may finish the year alive. Archie Roberts, the Columbia quarterback, has spent most of his first two seasons and the first five games of the present one as perilously as a skiff in a typhoon, dodging mayhem-minded tacklers on Ivy League football fields. In the process he has set a new league record for pass completions, for yards gained passing and he has established one of the highest completion percentages in the nation. When he has no receivers to throw to, he runs with the ball, and that happens often enough to make him Columbia's leading rusher. He does all the punting for his team, and he plays safety on defense, making a disproportionate number of the tackles and batting down or intercepting passes. Last year, after each game was over, Archie would return to the field house, bloody and bruised but still smiling, and conduct a postgame interview over the college radio station with one of his teammates, coaches or opponents. Legend has it that he also paints the white lines on the gridiron before the contest and sweeps out the locker room afterward.
As an example of the way it usually goes for Roberts, in a recent game against Princeton he completed 19 out of 35 passes for 206 yards. Early in the game he thwarted a Princeton touchdown by recovering a fumble on his own one-yard line. He stopped another Princeton drive by intercepting a pass and returning it 54 yards. He scored his team's first touchdown with a quarterback sneak and passed 19 yards to Halfback Roger Dennis for the other. One of his six punts traveled 61 yards, but another was blocked in the end zone for a safety after a bad pass from center. Of course, Columbia lost the game, 23-13. Much the same thing happened two weeks ago against Rutgers. Roberts set all sorts of Columbia records by completing 25 of 39 passes for 320 yards and three long touchdowns, but again his team lost, 38-35.
By now Archie is used to adversity. He just smiles his friendly, boyish smile through puffed lips and goes out the following Saturday to try again. In the 2� years since he has been on the Columbia varsity the team has won 10 and lost 11 games. It is not pleasant to think what the record might have been without one of the finest college quarterbacks of recent years.
Some people have trouble understanding why Roberts insists on submitting himself to such weekly frustrations, but they just do not understand Archie. He plays football because he thinks it is a marvelous way to spend Saturday afternoon in the autumn, and he plays gladly for Columbia because he believes the university is providing him with the best premedical education he can get. He might just as easily and far more profitably have played for any of those large middle-western or southern colleges that favor unconditional-surrender football. As the quarterback for the undefeated Holyoke (Mass.) High School, he was the most widely courted high school player of his region.
Roberts has succeeded in acquiring a kind of Frank Merriwell coloration since becoming a Columbia celebrity. Not only was he an instant star at football in his sophomore year, but that spring he was also the shortstop and leading hitter on the baseball team. Against the advice of Athletic Director Ralph Furey and his faculty advisers, Archie added basketball to his athletic portfolio as a junior, thus becoming Columbia's first three-letter man in more than a decade. "He persuaded me he could do it," says his friend and counselor, Henry Coleman, the university's young dean of admissions. "He has a way of making you believe he can do what he says he can do. Archie is a very convincing guy."
When he is not playing games or maintaining a respectable B-minus average in one of the university's most challenging curriculums, Roberts avoids idle hours by participating in such campus frivolities as the Newman Club, the Premedical Society, the Undergraduate Dormitory Council, the Undergraduate Athletic Advisory Council, the Citizenship Council and the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity. As a freshman he was given a $50 bond as the Morningside Brotherhood Award for his work as a coach and supervisor with the underprivileged children who live in the slums of Harlem adjoining the Columbia campus. As a scholarship student, Archie has had to work his way through college, and for the first three years one of his jobs was delivering The New York Times to dormitory rooms at 6 a.m.
A certain number of New York sports-writers have been sufficiently awed by Roberts' accomplishments to write of him as if he were something extraordinary. This annoys Archie's young bride, Barbara Hudson Roberts, whom he married rather impulsively last August. Barbara is a nice-looking no-nonsense girl with straight no-nonsense dark-brown hair. She met Archie while she was doing her premed work at Barnard College, the female wing of Columbia where no-nonsense girls are in the majority. With a mutual interest in medicine, among other things, they figured out they would waste a lot less time if they completed their studies as man and wife.
"The tripe that gets written about Archie!" Barbara says vehemently. "None of it is exactly untrue, but it just isn't like him."
"What is he like?" Barbara was asked.
"Of course, he's a very good athlete," she replied, "but that comes easily to him. Also he is basically very thoughtful about other people's feelings, but he is careless, too. He has absolutely no sense of time. You will be walking along with him through the campus or down the street, and he will stop here and stop there when people speak to him, because everyone wants to say something to him about a game or something, and he doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. He is friendly with absolutely everyone. I remember one time when I was still at Barnard [now in her fourth year of college, Barbara has moved on to New York University Medical School], Archie was two and a half hours late picking me up. He didn't do that again."