- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Let's face it, fans, college football suddenly is no longer a game of inches. Or even of yards. Or even of, say, 100 yards. Oh, no. Now it's a game of practical multiplication, with the added variants of 1 really being 11 while 2 is 1, 3 is 2 and so on up to 11 really being 10. Got that? Well, if that confuses you, just think what it does to the poor people at Alabama and Arkansas and California and a bunch of others. They all played the new game last Saturday, the extra game, the 11th game, and wound up with defeats—and buckets of fresh money—when normally they would have been home knocking heads and getting ready for their season openers.
All this strange making a profit out of a loss began last January when "...the NCAA voted to allow each team to play an 11th game for the extra money," said Bear Bryant, who voted for the change but privately admitted that his rebuilding program at Alabama needed an extra game just a shade less than he needed a 5'3" fat flanker. Bryant and Alabama dominated the 1960s, but the storied defenses had crumbled badly the last two years. So badly, in fact, that for the fourth game last season Bryant, in desperation, turned an All-America offensive guard and a very fine second-string fullback into two very confused starting linebackers. And when your big dam of concrete turns into a very small hill of sand you don't invite a flood in for an extra whack. Not at Alabama just for money you don't. At least not now, thought Bryant, who had just begun to pour fresh concrete.
Then his phone rang. It was John McKay of USC, a close friend. McKay wasn't calling Bryant the coach, he was calling Bryant the athletic director. "Hey," said McKay, "I just got the O.K. for an 11th game. How about against you?"
"I'll have to see if I can get permission," said the athletic director, ignoring the sighs of his coach. Permission was given, and the match was made for last Saturday night in Birmingham. For the invasion USC hoped to cut $175,000 out of the purse, enough to feed an entire herd of 250-pound tackles. Financially, football multiplication works well for all. Because of the bonus, which it is hardly desperate for, the USC football department will donate $50,000 a year to a minority-groups non-athletic scholarship fund.
Last week, two days before the game, Bryant sat in his office in Tuscaloosa and viewed the coming of USC from both of his angles. "I supported an 11th game for everybody not because I thought it would help us in the immediate future. I thought it would help teams that needed the extra money now. And," he added, barely grinning, "maybe somebody could get a team on their schedule that they could beat. But then this USC game came up and I thought it was too attractive to pass up. Especially when we want good trips."
So much for the athletic director. "But it might be a little early," said the coach. "Probably a year too early. But, darn, if you get down and want to get back up you've got to play some great teams and win. Still, I wish it was next year."
"Until USC came along," said Charley Thornton, the Alabama sports information director, "our opener was against Virginia Tech. We could beat them 60-0 and nobody would start pounding any drums for us to jump into the top 20. But if we beat USC...." All sports information directors are eternal optimists. If they weren't, they would be sportswriters. Or even coaches.
Saturday night a crowd of 72,175 turned out, glowing from the presence in its midst of Commander Richard Gordon, the Apollo 12 Moonnaut, Celeste Holm, the actress, and a lot of that fine old Southern beverage, bourbon. Most of the crowd shared Thornton's optimism. The feeling lasted only until McKay unleashed his seemingly endless supply of running backs and then it crumbled with Alabama's promising but young defense. The Trojans walked over them 42-21. Said Scoop Hudgins of the Southeastern Conference office: "Don't those guys ever fall down?"
They do and they did, but not until they had run for 485 yards, a lot of the yards coming after the runners had been hit once—and not a small number after they had been hit twice. They picked up more yards while falling than Alabama did rushing (32) the whole night. Six Trojans carried the ball, and each of them gained 53 yards or more. And for the night the best of them all was Sam Cunningham, a 6'3", 212-pound sophomore reserve (well, he was a reserve), who ran 12 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Out of 70 running plays USC managed to get past Alabama's defensive line 61% of the time. "Stop those runners and they can be beat," observed one of the state's sportswriters. Which is a little like saying, if a victim can stop the bullets he's got the firing squad whipped. USC's Jimmy Jones put the ball in the air just enough to keep Alabama's secondary honest, completing five of 15 for 68 yards and coming close enough on his misses to keep it scared.
When it was over Alabama's band stayed on to play Raindrops Keep Fall-in' on My Head. And Bryant went back to pouring his concrete with a consolation: he had helped a lot of underprivileged kids, none of them running backs, go through school at USC.