Ah, said the Villanovans, as they stormed Detroit last weekend with their little band of blue-chip runners to take on Kansas' musclemen and everybody else in the NCAA track and field championships. Ah, who needs beef and biceps? We've got speed to burn. We have Marty Liquori in the mile, and Larry James in the 440 and two relays, and if that doesn't add up to four wins and 24 points, what does? Now we just add some points in the half, and grab a few from the two-mile, and—what, we're out of people? Well, no matter, that should be enough, and so go ahead Kansas, put that shot all the way back to Lawrence and see what it gets you.
Which is just what Kansas did. Not quite to Lawrence but far enough to finish one-two-three in the shot Friday night, and what it got was 13 points, and yon can't start any fatter than that. But no one was shocked. The defending champions opened the same way last year. Now, as then, they got a first from Karl Salb (an NCAA record 67'2�"), a second from Steve Wilhelm and a third from Doug Knop. "Our guys were really raging and growling out there like angry lions," said Bob Timmons, the little Kansas coach "I'm glad some official didn't say anything to them. I don't know what they might have done to him." Timmons was bubbling. But he had good reason. Bill Penny had finished fourth in the 35-pound weight throw, and had given Kansas an unexpected two points. "Early in the week we figured all the maximums," Timmons said. "We figured Villanova for 30 points, us for 29. Now...."
"Who ever heard of a weightman from the Big Eight?" muttered Jack Pyrah, Jumbo Elliott's assistant at Villanova.
And then, down 15-0, Villanova's runners went to work. James blazed the 440 in 48.3, winning the event for the third straight year, and the first six points went up for the Wildcats. "And, man, it's a beautiful thing, seeing those six points go up," said James. "You know, you run the whole indoor season just for yourself. You can almost take it or leave it. But when the coach writes six points next to your name you know he and all the other guys are counting on you. I dig that. And we're going to win this thing, too."
Except for the rare exceptions, like the NCAAs, track is a loner's sport. A man wins or loses for himself. "And then you get here and everything is different," said Dick Buerkle, Villanova's gritty little two-miler. "I'd rather finish second in my race and have the team win than win the race and have the team lose. In every distance race there always comes a point when you really start paining and you have to decide whether you're going to ease up or break through and do as well as you can. With someone like Liquori, who's done it often, it's natural. He knows he has it in him to break through. But it wasn't until recently that I knew I could really put out when that time came. And, see, it's easy to quit on yourself. But when you're part of a team there's more pressure. You can quit on yourself but you can't quit on all the other guys. They know you can do it. And they know if you don't you've quit on them."
Six points home, and now it was Andy O'Reilly's turn in the 880. Villanova figured to score, but then so did Kansas with its freshman star, Brian McElroy. "Andy's so high he's about four stories off the floor," said Elliott. "I just want him to finish in front of McElroy." O'Reilly finished second to Wisconsin's Mark Winzinried. Four more points. McElroy finished last. Villanova couldn't believe it; Kansas was stunned.
"It's just great, just great," said Elliott. "I gave him the Texas eye."
"Who, coach? O'Reilly or McElroy?"
"Both, both," said Elliott, laughing and rubbing his hands together.
Timmons looked like he had been shot in the stomach. "I should have known," he said. "I guess it was youth. Monday he came to me and said he needed a lot of speed work. And I let him. I let him. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Speed work. I didn't want to hurt him psychologically. And all it did was tie him up."