There is charm even in the imperfection of the college game. Johnny Unitas will spot and hit a receiver in the clear 60 yards away almost by instinct. Beautiful. On the other hand, there is the possibility that the quarterback at Morphine Tech will not see his man at all, and he may not be able to throw 60 yards. But cool perfection can be deadly dull. The pros have done that to place-kicking, made it dull. I would rather see a man fall off a bench than watch Lou Groza kick a 50-yard field goal. The pros have the posts on the goal line to make field goals easier, and they have great kickers like Tommy Davis to kick 186 extra points in a row and Groza to kick 198 field goals. There is no such thing as a goal-line stand in pro football, because every team has a kicker. He comes in just in time to cheat the fan out of something exciting, like a touchdown when it's fourth and one on the five-yard line.
"It is hardly an endorsement," said the lawyer, rallying slightly, "to say that colleges thrive on imperfection. How easy to please can you be when you are taken with fumbled passes and failing kicks? I can watch that in my side yard. My 10-year-old does it every day."
But you cannot go to a pro park and see the kind of team Notre Dame had last year, with that great balance, that splendid blend of passing and running, that defensive team that did not eat meat all week so it would have an appetite for Saturdays. The Southern California team of 1962 was such a team. It rushed for 189 yards a game, passed for 149 and won 11 straight. Balance and diversity. It had a sprint-out quarterback named Pete Beathard—he is now teaching some of that radical stuff to the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL—and an attack that moved. Coach Johnny McKay used the I formation, shifted to the V, used motion, flip-flopped his line, even had the temerity to use an end-around.
Which brings up two additional points. By and large, pro coaches are faceless. They are credited with being the great minds of football but, with the exception of Vince Lombardi, there has not been a real innovator, an iconoclast, in pro football since Paul Brown. Of the present group, there are the Svares and Shulas and Bones Taylors. Lou Saban coached one year in the Big Ten, at Northwestern, and did not win a game. Only Mike Holovak could be called a successful college coach: he won 49 and lost 29 in nine years at Boston College—and he has done well with little material on the Boston Patriots. Joe Kuharich is doing a fine job at Philadelphia, and he is a bright man, but he could not win in four years at Notre Dame. Blanton Collier, coach of the champion Browns, barely made it over .500 in eight years at Kentucky. I do not mean to discredit these men. I just say they do not measure up to the giants of college football—the original thinkers like Bryant, Wilkinson, Tatum, Dodd and Leahy. After years of studying the pro game Blaik once said, "I don't learn anything from the pros." Darrell Royal tried coaching in the pros one year, in Canada. He had a successful season, but when it was over he said he felt as though it had been a waste, "like, what good have I done? And what do I do now?"
My lawyer friend shook his head sadly. "What you are now going to tell me," he said, "is that the college game is better because it has tradition, because players listen to half-time talks, because it gets you right here when the band plays On,
Wisconsin! and when Alpha Tau Omega wins the prize for the best homecoming float. You are going to say that you like cheerleaders, card sections, crowded fraternity dances, leggy majorettes and cowbells."
Precisely, I said, but there is more to it than that. The game began with the colleges, and the history of it is wonderful. I like to hear again that story about KF-79, the secret play, beating mighty Stanford for Columbia in the Rose Bowl. I like to read about the bowlers, the toppers and the pneumatic headgear, or the time when the players parted their hair in the middle and wore it long to cushion the blows. I like the things they wrote about the Poes of Princeton: "Arthur Poe is back, smaller than ever." I like to think that Ted Coy of Yale really did say, "The hell with the signals. Give me the ball." And the nicknames. Those great nicknames. Germany Schultz, Mr. Inside, The Gipper, Choo Choo Justice, Pat (the Kangaroo) O'Day, Slinging Sammy, Whizzer White. The idea that someone would say, "Fight fiercely, Harvard," actually chokes me up. Once I heard a gray-haired old lady, a professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan, give a rousing speech to a pep rally on the quadrangle in front of the university library. She did it in a soft voice. The snow was coming down on her gray head. "Go, Blue," the little old lady professor said. It actually sent shivers up my spine.
The essence of college football is something the pros cannot duplicate. There is a spirit about it, a drawing together. People identify with a college team, and it is totally unlike that tenuous identification a pro fan may feel for two hours on a Sunday afternoon. College football is the alumni, the parents of the friend down the street, the girl sitting next to you in the library, the local restaurateur who rides around with "Beat 'Em Bucks" painted on the side of his station wagon.
It is a game of ancient rivalries that inspire genuine loathing, not for a weekend but for a lifetime. It is traditional games, whose meaning is deep—Army vs. Navy, Ohio State vs. Michigan, USC vs. Notre Dame, Clemson vs. South Carolina—no matter how bad the records may be, how low a team is in the standings. In Texas a rule of thumb is that you dress up for the college game and down for the pros, because the one is the heavy drama, the other fun but of no great consequence.
College football is Mormon schools, Quaker schools, Baptist, Catholic, neo-atheistic schools, poor-boy and rich-boy schools. It is a game for towns like Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colorado; South Bend, Indiana; Fayetteville, Arkansas—far away from the blackened cities and the skinned infields of baseball parks, up where you can see Mt. Rainier in the background, or look out over Lake Cayuga, or just get on top of a stadium, up there on the last row, and look out on a campus like Wittenberg, Colorado Western or Kansas State. The people in Busch Stadium on Sunday afternoon would never understand that.
"Rah rah," said my friend the lawyer.