It had been a slow 1:52 half mile but Villanova's Dave Patrick acted as if he had just run three seconds faster, beaten Jim Ryun by 30 yards and broken his own indoor world record. He rushed into the tunnel alongside the track at Detroit's Cobo Arena and threw an arm around teammate Frank Murphy, who had finished second. "We did it!" he shouted. "We did our job, Frank." The time? "I didn't even hear it," Patrick said. "I guess it was pretty slow. But that doesn't matter—not this weekend."
All that mattered to the Villanova captain was who won and who placed in each event of the NCAA indoor championships. Southern California, with stars like Bob Seagren and Lennox Miller and great overall depth, was the defending champion and favored as the meet began. But Villanova had one record-breaker of its own, three strong relay teams and a belief that every athlete on the squad could help to pull off an upset.
"We all think of one another in everything we do during the year," said Patrick. "So naturally we point for this big chance to accomplish something together. You will see a lot of our guys rise to the occasion." After the half mile Friday night, no one was higher than Patrick. He and Murphy had picked up 10 points under the 6-4-3-2-1 scoring system, and Villanova had a wide early lead over USC. "We're so psyched up now its unreal," he said. "Just think, we're way ahead, and the Mighty Burner still has another race to run."
The Mighty Burner is Larry James, a shy and soft-spoken sophomore who makes it clear that he did not earn his nickname because of a fiery temperament. The other members of his mile-relay team gave it to him. "It was a natural," said Hal Nichter. "It came to us one night after he burned up some poor guy with one of those amazing anchor legs of his." James is embarrassed by the nickname but, from Dave Patrick on down, all the Villanova trackmen eagerly await each of his races.
Last weekend he came through for them, beyond all expectations. On Friday he opened Villanova's scoring (six big points) with a 47-second-flat quarter-mile victory, fastest ever run on an 11-lap track. On Saturday he helped to add a final six points to Villanova's winning total of 35 1/3 with a 46.6 anchor leg in the mile relay. In a meet that boasted names like Patrick, Ryun, who won both the mile and two mile, Bob Beamon, who set an indoor world record in the long jump, Gerry Lindgren, Paul Wilson and Bob Seagren, James was easily the outstanding individual and the key man on the winning team.
As James lined up for the 440-yard final, he glanced at Tom Randolph of Western Michigan, who had run the fastest time in the trial heats. "I wanted to be sure to get the lead from him right away," Larry said. "I have trouble if I can't take charge in a race, because I don't have a strong kick. If he had taken the lead, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make it up. I've been pressing for this race all winter, and I sure didn't want to make any mistakes."
He had had no reason to worry. He burst into a clear lead on the first turn and widened it during the rest of the race. As he finished, there were cheers from the crowd and from his teammates, and then excited shouts from people with stopwatches. Somebody said that James's time was 46.9, but someone else insisted that that must be a mistake; it had to be 47.9, because the indoor world record, after all, was only 47.8.
"It couldn't be 46.9," said one athlete. "That's impossible."
"If he ran 47 or better," said Ben Olison of Kansas, "I'm sure glad I wasn't chasing him."
"If he ran 47 or better," said Earl McCullouch of USC, "somebody shrunk the track."