Red Grange, you think as you sit there in the stands and watch, stood still. Tom Harmon only trotted. Glenn Davis shuffled. Surely all of the epic open-field runners in college football's history were arthritic Step 'n Fetch its compared to Wondrous Warren McVea, who runs like a blinking light, like a Zip Code, like a...a...oh, where are you, Roget's Thesaurus, now that a man really needs you? See. There goes McVea again, cracking through the cavern of Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, darting and wriggling, streaking and spinning, doing this Z, then this V, then a long——and finally a 6. And what Houston's Warren McVea is doing, of course, is humiliating mighty Michigan State by the surrealistic score of 37-7, and thereby escorting the season's first Doom Saturday into being.
Every year there are a couple of Doom Saturdays when a huddleful of highly rated teams take it on the chin strap. But this one came unusually early as no fewer than five members of everybody's Top 10 went crashing to the turf like a collection of wobble-legged blocking backs. Michigan State was first, and then, by the clock, went Miami, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas. But nowhere was a giant so utterly wounded, shocked and beaten as Michigan State.
The Spartans were winners of 19 of their last 21 games. They were co-national champions of the previous two seasons. They were at home before more than 75,000 people—their second largest opening-game crowd. And they were playing the University of Houston. As any college sports follower knows, Houston plays golf, not football.
Houston had indeed looked silly on the Michigan State schedule, especially when the game was first considered. It had been arranged only out of friendship, because Houston Coach Bill Yeoman had been on Duffy Daugherty's staff and four years ago Duffy had given his old pal a chance to play in the big time. Sure, Bill. Bring your kids up for a game sometime. How about 1967? Who you got? Homero Blancas? Kermit Zarley? Rex Baxter? Terrific.
Unfortunately for the good-natured Duffy, what Houston showed up with last week was a gang of the speediest athletes this side of a bobsled run. Led by the 180-pound McVea, it looked as if everyone on Houston's team could run the hundred in 8.6. Not only did McVea squirt out of sight every time he got the ball, so did a split end named Kenny Hebert, who merely led the nation in scoring last year, a feat Yeoman bitingly says was one of the best-kept secrets of 1966. And so did a little 5'8" flanker named Don Bean, who comes out of the same high school in Beaumont, Texas as SMU's Jerry Levias and the Detroit Lions' Mel Farr. There were all sorts of other streaks on the Houston squad, like a fullback named Paul Gipson and a safety named Mike Simpson, who are described by Publicity Director Ted Nance as "only 9.5." No one in East Lansing would be surprised if Yeoman's splendid pair of offensive guards, Rich Stotter and Bill Pickens, aren't 9.5 men, too.
But speed alone only wins track meets. The Cougars had some other things going for them as well. For example, Yeoman had them totally unawed about being at East Lansing or playing before their biggest crowd ever. The Cougars' poise stood out like their red headgear. On Friday afternoon, when they arrived at the stadium for a workout, the Spartans were already there. Michigan State dressed first and poured into a tunnel just outside the Houston dressing room door. There, as they enjoy doing, the Spartans began a combination growl, chant, cleat stomp and clap, obviously designed to psych their visitors. It built louder and louder.
In the Houston locker room, Yeoman listened for a minute and then turned to his Cougars, who were slipping out of their scarlet traveling blazers. "You can holler in the tunnel," he said. "But you play football out on that field."
The Houston players whooped with amusement, and some of them began to joke about another aspect of the game that helped them stay calm. The contest, several of them said, was merely for the " Beaumont city championship." Curiously, there were eight natives of Beaumont on the two teams, four and four. Several of the Spartans and Cougars knew each other extremely well. McVea, for one, was very close to Tody Smith, the ponderous Michigan State sophomore who is the younger brother of Bubba Smith.
"I kind of got a grudge for this game," said McVea. "I spent all summer with Tody and some of these other guys who've come up here, and I've been hearing about what the Spartans are gonna do to us. Then I got a letter from Tody last week asking me if I was ready to come up for the killin'."
A little later, when Houston came out on the field to practice, the Spartans and Cougars greeted each other. There was an interlude of Hi Tody, Hi Jess, Hi Warren, Hi Don, Hi Baby, plus a lot of palm slapping and wrestling around.