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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."
With this 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.
As college 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.
"My high 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.