One of the youngest unestablished impermanent floating all-star games in football finally found a home last week in Atlanta, and it seemed at the same time that the new Atlanta Falcons of the National Merged American Solidarity Football Happiness League found a first-rate quarterback as well.
The quarterback is Randy Johnson, a thin, quick-armed Texan who makes a habit of scattering passing records all over the South in all-star games. On Saturday night in Atlanta's stadium-in-the-round Johnson stuck passes into a variety of jerseys and led his West teammates to an easy 24-7 victory over the best from the East.
Though he was the only small-college player in the game—he played for Texas A&I on the remote coastal prairie of his home state—Johnson looked as if he deserved as high a salary as any of the young millionaires on the field. He completed 24 passes for a Coaches All-America Game record, erasing a mark set by George Mira, and accounted for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Throwing to everybody but the West head coach ( UCLA's Tommy Prothro) and even running for one touchdown, Randy kept the East constantly off-balance, moving his team almost at will. When the game was over he was voted the outstanding player by nearly as large a majority as Roosevelt had over Landon. It was the third time Johnson had won such an award. He was also the most valuable player in both the Blue-Gray and Senior Bowl attractions in December and January. And now, before Atlanta Coach Norb Hecker can get him to camp in North Carolina, Johnson must take his arm to Chicago for the College All Star Game in August to see if he can make it a grand slam.
"This is really something," said Johnson after he had destroyed the East. "The crowds keep getting bigger. I played before 15,000 at Texas A&I. Then it rose to 20,000 in the Blue-Gray and 35,000 in the Senior Bowl. This was almost 40,000. I just hope everybody can keep catching the ball."
They couldn't very well miss in Atlanta, since he kept putting it under their chins. People like Arkansas' Bobby Crockett and Jim Lindsey, Nebraska's Freeman White and Tony Jeter and Texas Tech's Donny Anderson had only to turn around all night long and there was the football.
"The East cooperated pretty good," Randy said in his soft, polite voice. "They rushed their ends and allowed me to do what I like best—drop straight back. We'd planned all week to do a lot of roll-out stuff, but I didn't have to."
He said, "I asked Mr. Prothro if I could adjust right at first, and our coaches [ Arkansas' Frank Broyles and Nebraska's Bob Devaney were the assistants] smiled and said, 'Have fun.' "
When Prothro took his first look at the West stars, who as a whole were higher-priced rookies than those from the East—the last batch of big-money rookies, it should be added—he said, half seriously, "With boys like these, we ought to win by 25 points." He didn't miss by much.
At workouts it was difficult to tell what anyone was worth. The weather was hot and sticky in Atlanta, and the practices were brief. The players worked in shorts and mesh shirts, took frequent breaks to sample the wine of the South, Coca-Cola, and to chat with onlookers. Donny Anderson, the colorful and sometimes controversial $600,000 Green Bay rookie from Texas Tech, won the award for chatting, mostly with young ladies.
"Look at that," said a pro scout one afternoon at Georgia Tech's Rose Bowl field, where the squads exercised. "I've heard so much about that kid, but he just slouches around."