The eyes of the
nation were not exactly fastened upon the Battle of Appalachia—Kentucky vs.
West Virginia—but the game possessed certain elements of charm, among them the
Black Irishman who fails to excite pro football scouts yet manages to spellbind
them. They say that Dicky Lyons, Kentucky tailback, is neither good-sized (6
feet, 195 pounds) nor a hayburner. On the other hand, Dicky does commit
interesting acts of violence.
In the midst of a
game last year he decked one of his teammates, a 225-pound offensive tackle,
for missing a block. In a sprint drill he caught sight of a teammate passing
him, whereupon he grabbed the no-good overachiever, flung him out of the race
and went on to beat the field.
In a preseason
scrimmage he bristled while his coach ordered reruns of a play because an end
repeatedly failed to execute his block. Between plays Dicky marched up to the
end and dropped him with a forearm to the jaw. On the next rerun the end
blocked his man. Again in practice, Raynard Makin, a burly sophomore fullback,
took his time assuming a ready stance. Suddenly he pitched forward on his face,
Dicky having stepped up and planted a knee in his rump. "It's just kind of
silly when you got 10 guys doin' the right thing and only one guy who is
messin' up," Dicky explains.
Two Saturdays ago
he raced into the Georgia end zone and trapped a pass on one bounce. Convinced
that had he dived for the ball he would have caught it—that he had messed up—he
raged at himself. When the referee returned the ball to the line of scrimmage,
Dicky booted it into, roughly, the 20th row. "You gotta get excited to play
football," he says. "If a guy can't get mad he doesn't have any
business out there."
Aware as they are
of these personality quirks, how come pro scouts can't keep their minds off
Dicky Lyons? There are a lot of reasons. He not only leads the Southeastern
Conference in scoring, with 66 points, but he blocks, catches passes, runs back
punts and kickoffs (he's only 13 yards short of running them back for more
yardage than any man in NCAA history) and charges downfield under his own
team's punts to flatten the enemy. When injuries or talent shortages have so
dictated, Kentucky has employed Dicky as a punter, fullback and quarterback.
And on one occasion, when a field-goal specialist was injured, Dicky stepped
into the breach and booted a 33-yarder. "He doesn't have the talent we're
looking for," a pro scout says, "and he needs football discipline,
because he'll try to return a kick from the end zone and he'll run all over the
field losing big yardage to gain one yard. But I suppose he'll go in the third
round of the draft. How can you resist him?"
Yet for all
Dicky's winning do-or-die, his team is a loser. Indeed, only four days before
the West Virginia game, Kentucky Coach Charlie Bradshaw announced his
resignation, effective the end of the season. His Wildcats had beaten two
nationally ranked teams, Missouri and Oregon State, but had been done in by
four conference opponents. Reduced to fighting for the championship of
Appalachia, the Wildcats assembled for a meeting on Saturday morning in
Morgantown. "We just decided to give everything for the coach," Dicky
said. "The reason he resigned was he thought he wasn't helpin' the team,
but he was wrong. We let him down. Now we want to play good enough to get those
people in Kentucky to ask him back."
resolve, Dicky's gang rolled up an early 14-0 lead. Quarterback Dave Bair,
whose passes this season have been intercepted almost half as often as they
have been completed, fired a crisp 22-yard touchdown pass. Safety Dave Hunter,
a 9.6 sprinter, intercepted a pass in his end zone and, before you could say
"Turkey Hughes," rambled 101 yards to equal a Kentucky record set 44
years ago—by good old Turkey Hughes, of course. With two Kentucky touchdowns on
the board, one could not help wondering if West Virginia's young coach,
35-year-old Jim Carlen, was headed down the same bleak trail that Charlie
Bradshaw had traveled. One can picture Carlen's pudgy face turning
Bradshaw-grim in the years to come, and his hair Bradshaw-gray.
football headmasters of Appalachia, both men doggedly have fought to upgrade
high school football programs in their states, knowing their futures had to
depend upon homegrown talent. (Would an O. J. Simpson yearn to flee California
for the mountain country?) The state of Kentucky dotes on basketball, and her
few choice football players had taken to emigrating. Bradshaw slowed the
exodus. "We turned the corner," he said. But with only one winning
season in seven, he knew he had turned it too late.
Back in the
hollows and forks of West Virginia, where education funds run thin, high
schools make do with one-man coaching staffs. Carlen, a tall, pumpkin-faced
Tennessean hired off the Georgia Tech staff three seasons ago, tore through the
state, bawling out the citizenry, who masochistically liked what they heard and
lined up to pay $25 a plate to help subsidize football scholarships and take
Carlen's players off a training-table diet of white beans and potatoes. Facing
more ambitious schedules, Carlen means to make the Mountaineers a major
independent. Toward that end, he swiftly obliterated the public's concept of a
Mountaineer football player.
school English teacher," says Carlen's splendid spindly sophomore
quarterback, Mike Sherwood, "was here when Coach Carlen took over. She told
me that before he arrived, you could always tell a West Virginia football
player when one walked down the street. She said he'd be sort of—well—sloppy.
And people would have to get out of his way." Coeds, the story goes, walked
great distances to avoid Boreman Hall, which housed freshman football players.
Oldtimers at the university insist such claims are gross exaggerations, adding
that so far as they know, it is also untrue that the players chewed Mail Pouch
during workouts and drank redeye before retiring.