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Replay of the 12th-man theme
Pat Putnam
July 07, 1969
Coach Pepper Rodgers had an extra man on the field again, but this time it was an official, as his West team beat the East in Atlanta
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July 07, 1969

Replay Of The 12th-man Theme

Coach Pepper Rodgers had an extra man on the field again, but this time it was an official, as his West team beat the East in Atlanta

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If last Saturday night's Coaches All-America game in Atlanta had ended any other way, it would have been downright unnatural. First, Henry Kieronski, the promoter, wandered in too late from Long Island to do any promoting. Then O.J. Simpson said he couldn't play because he hadn't signed his pro contract, so people like Leroy Keyes, Ron Sellers and Ted Kwalick began saying the same thing, and suddenly there was a bunch of All-Americas named Waddey Harvey, Harold McLinton and Mike Schnitker coming in for the game.

Then there was the heat—96� at the 8:30 p.m. kickoff. And the feud. Oh, boy, the feud! The game is run by three separate parties: Kieronski, the American Football Coaches Association and the Atlanta Braves, who pay the expenses and hope they get something back from the live gate. You need a roster to tell who isn't talking to whom, and everybody is running around trying to break Kieronski's contract, which he carries in his inside coat pocket and will whip out at the drop of an unkind word.

Now you take all this, add Joe Paterno and Pepper Rodgers as rival head coaches, and you know there has to be more than just 60 minutes of grunting and a final totting up of the points.

The last time Joe and Pepper played was in the Orange Bowl, Rodgers with his tough Kansans, Paterno with his unbeaten Penn Staters, and before it was over Pepper had added five and six and come up with a 12-man defense which Penn State scored against to win in the last few seconds.

And that's the pattern they brought to Atlanta. The first day Rodgers, suddenly shy a linebacker, was driving through the city with his daughter Terri, who had tuned the car radio to WAOK, a black rock 'n' roll station.

"Turn it down," said Rodgers. "You're driving me crazy."

Just then, John Merkerson, a disc jockey, said, "It sure is a shame that the coaches game didn't invite Harold McLinton, a fine linebacker from Southern University. Six feet three, 245 pounds, fast and an Atlanta boy."

Minutes later Rodgers was on a phone to McLinton. Now Rodgers coaches the West and McLinton's college is in Baton Rouge, which doesn't make you think of cowboys and Indians. But Rodgers' geography stood up, mainly because Paterno said to hell with it.

Then Rodgers found himself short of receivers. Off he skipped to a Falcon rookie training base where he latched onto Jim Mitchell from Prairie View A&M. "We're each supposed to have 30 players," Paterno said, "but the way Pepper counts you can never be sure."

"If I could count," said Pepper, "I'd still be getting $125 for a speaking engagement. Ever since the Orange Bowl I've been getting $500."

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