When Duffy Daugherty sneezes in East Lansing, according to the legend, Tommy Prothro at UCLA, Paul Dietzel in South Carolina, Jim Owens in Washington and Ben Schwartzwalder in Syracuse say Gesundheit. Pure reflex. Ara Parseghian, diagraming a devilishly clever play in South Bend, breaks his chalk, and Bear Bryant, down in Alabama, cringes. Reflex. Among the fraternal order of college football coaches, there are no secrets.
And so last month the brothers from all over the U.S. checked through Canadian customs at Toronto, dutifully answering the questions, "Nature of visit?" with rousing good humor: "Business." The coaches could have said with greater accuracy that it was a safari they were on, the bring-'em-back-alive kind but, as Canadian customs officials are not finicky about such things, business it was.
Some business. It is a known fact that a coach will walk into a collapsing mine shaft on the chance he may come out with something big and mean and fast and capable of passing a college-board exam. And what does Canada have to offer? That kind of talent. It is the roughest, most unpolished kind, but it is there and it is there in abundance.
Until very recently the voice north of the border was still and small. It is not yet a full gale shout but the word is out, and coaches, air-travel cards at the ready, have begun to swoop down on such places as Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto to mingle with tough young Canadians who want nothing more than to attend classes and play football for American universities. By unofficial count, there were 150 Canadians playing football in the U.S. last season, and there could conceivably be 100 more each year who would look good in anybody's jersey.
It is no coincidence that the locations mentioned are the home towns of Canadian professional teams. The great migration south, in fact, stems from rules that stipulate that Canadian football should be a game for Canadians by Canadians—mostly—and thus the rule: of the 32 players on each CFL team, no more than 14 may be foreigners. The rest must be Canadian born and bred.
The rule is great for national pride but rotten for good professional football. Players freshly graduated from Canadian high schools are obviously not ready for the rigors of the professional game, and since Canadian colleges would as soon import a crate full of scorpions as give an athletic scholarship, CFL teams are in constant danger of being manned by players who will look as out of place as miniskirts at a coronation.
The solution was so obvious it was overlooked for decades: send the best prospects south for four years, then bring them back to Canada bigger, better, and wiser. The problem was convincing American recruiters that there were any Canadians worth giving scholarships to. There was also the risk that should a boy turn into a rip-roaring stud capable of demolishing entire backfields in a single pass rush, the American pros might snap him up. Or perhaps he would decide that four years of football was great fun and then, armed with a degree, say thank you very much and go into business on his own.
"We're aware of all that," said Bob Moir, director of player development for the Toronto Argonauts, "but what the hell. We hope that some of them will return and, if they do, they will, of course, be obligated to play for the team that sponsored them in the first place."
Sponsor may not be just the right word. The players get nothing from the pro teams but the use of some tired uniforms and some very intensive coaching for a few days while the American recruiters ooh and ah on the sidelines.
"We won't even advise them which college to attend," said the circumspect Moir, who is only too aware that should the NCAA smell hanky-panky, it would pounce on this reverse underground railroad immediately. The Canadian teams, he said, are scrupulously aboveboard about it all.