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Tyrannosaurus Rex, a regulation-size and disconcertingly lively looking dinosaur, stands in the middle of the University of Wyoming campus, right where you would expect a statue of a cow. But if the 6,500 Cowboy students react with shocking indifference to their cretaceous wonder, visitors do not. After a while they get used to the fact that Wyoming is full of surprises.
Consider this year's football team. It was no more favored over Brigham Young University, an offensive marvel, winner of eight games and the defending champion of the Western Athletic Conference, than Notre Dame was over Michigan State. But what it did was tyrannosaurical. Playing a style of game that can best be described as crunch, the Cowboys scored almost at will. Their 47-14 win not only gave them the championship for 1966, it made them look suspiciously like the finest team ever to play in the Rocky Mountains.
And what were the residents of the Ivinson Home for aged ladies, which lies directly adjacent to the Cowboys' home, Memorial Stadium, doing? They were accepting victory with decorum. For six blissfully quiet days a week during the season the ladies take in the bracing air of 7,150-foot Laramie and calm themselves for the noise due on Saturday. Every Wyoming citizen who can get his hands on a ticket sings Ragtime Cowboy Joe (a light song) at the top of his lungs, cheers the rascal racing Joe's pony and stuffs his ears for the crack of the old French 75, the report of which has been known to start an avalanche. Rather than complain, the ladies smile wanly and, when the game is away from home, as it was last week, they miss watching their teacups hop up and down on porcelain saucers.
Even opposing coaches react most peculiarly to the situation at Laramie. Last year BYU's Tommy Hudspeth, who beat every team in the conference but Wyoming, got the full treatment. The Cowboys scored. Boom went the 75. Clippety-clop came the pony. Over all came the lusty chorus of Ragtime Cowboy Joe. It was when Wyoming had scored for the third time that Hudspeth caught himself reacting most uncharacteristically. "There I was," he said, "getting my brains beaten out and singing right along with the crowd, 'He's a high-falutin', rootin', tootin', son of a gun from old Wyoming. Ragtime Cowboy, talk about your cowboy, Ragtime Cowboy Jooooe.' "
But that was last year. This time around, the Cowboys met the defending WAC champions in Provo, Utah. Not only were they without Tyrannosaurus Rex, they had to face a quarterback named Virgil Carter, a young fellow who ran for such sheer joy and passed with such great accuracy that—forgetting names like Spurrier, Hanratty, Griese and Beban—he was about to set the record for more individual yards gained than anyone else who has ever played the game before. (Johnny Bright had 5,903 between 1949 and 1951 for Drake and Carter needed only 201 to top that going into the Wyoming game.)
Nor was that the end of Wyoming's troubles. This year BYU was ready to match the Cowboys tune for tune. Not long ago Hudspeth went to San Diego and came back with what most of his opponents insist was a regiment of Marines. Actually, there were only six of them, but they have gone at each game as if Mt. Suribachi were at stake. Appropriately, what the Cowboys heard last Saturday was 38,000 BYU fans singing the Marine Hymn. "It's enough to make you think we'd been drafted by the Viet Cong." noted one particularly startled Wyoming player.
The Marines, it seems almost superfluous to add, landed in the nick of time. As recently as the beginning of last season the Cougars were regarded with affection by those fortunate enough to have them on their schedule. Winning games was not the issue at BYU. The Cougars had to be sky-high to record a first down. So why did Tommy Hudspeth accept the job as head coach three years ago? Partly because he knew that the sign at the entrance to the campus, which states that ALL THE WORLD IS OUR CAMPUS, meant what it said. Any sturdy young Mormon boy—even a Marine from San Diego—was fair game for a recruiter. And partly because he was convinced by the administration's new attitude. Any doubts about that disappeared in the cloud of cement swirling over the big new stadium.
Hudspeth then got down to the serious business of weeding out the hangdog attitude of longtime losers. He did it dramatically by telling nearly half the squad they were not what he had in mind as players. One boy was cut right in the middle of a fainthearted wind sprint. What the young coach had left was a small, eager group willing to bleed from the eyes. At the core were his " Tripoli" boys. Five Marines were put on the offensive platoon, two (Max Newberry and Paul Ehrmann) to keep the world away from Carter, two (Casey Boyett and Phil Odle) to catch his passes and one (Perry Rodrique, with the oomph on "drique") to help as tailback in the backfield. It all worked so well that in the game with Texas Western, which BYU won 52-33, Boyett caught nine passes, three of them for touchdowns, and Odle caught 14, good for 242 yards. As for Carter in that game, BYU's publicity man, Dave Schulthess, casually answered inquiries about the quarterback's total yardage with "599."
"No, no," questioners said, "not the team totals—Carter's."
"That is Carter's," was the reply.