To appreciate how Coach Lee Corso of Louisville became the proud owner of a long-haired, beaded, barefoot punter and how that punter, hair and all, went on to become a tennis star and a cheerleader and a lot of other things, such as a shotputter and a fraternity man living at the Lambda Chi house, one must first try to appreciate Lee Corso. And to do that, one must put aside some of the conceptions he may be harboring about college coaches. How austere they are. How hidebound. How gray and rabbet-browed from worrying over whether to punt on third down or run off-tackle.
Imagine, instead, Lee Corso: young and curly-haired, standing on the sidelines waving a towel at rival Coach Spook Murphy as Memphis State runs up the score on Louisville's 1969 team, Corso's first as a head coach. The score is 42-12...49-12...56-12, etc. and Murphy still has his foot hard on the throttle, running back and forth over the body.
Corso is actually on the field, waving the towel and yelling, "Hey, Coach Murphy! We surrender! Hey!" And Spook Murphy is intently paying him no mind. (Spook is not out for blood, you understand. He just wants to go to a bowl game.) Finally, an official comes over and says to Corso, "Coach, I'm going to have to penalize you 15 yards if you don't get off the field."
"Sir, the score is 63 to 19," says Corso. "How is 15 yards going to hurt us?"
Memphis State, racing the clock, frantically ordering time-outs, scores again to make it 69-19 and Corso, with a flourish, throws the towel onto the field. In the long history of college football no coach has been known to do that. "I surrender!" yells Corso.
But he is not crying. He is not even angry. He's—laughing. ("What do I care if they want to make fools of themselves running up the score on my substitutes. What's the difference? You lose 69-19 or 20-19, you still lose.")
Four days later, after stopping off home to change clothes, the Louisville team is on its way to Tulsa for the Thanksgiving Day season finale. On the team bus, ululating over its restraining leash and ponderously ruffling its feathers, is a large white turkey with a bright red L painted on its side. The turkey is another Corso opuscule, such as Italian Night at the training table, when the players get spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread and all the spumoni they can eat. On a checkered tablecloth. By the light of wine-bottle candles.
Corso's inspiration has rebounded from the fiasco in Memphis.
"I'd been thinking before the season, 'What can I promote to tie in with Thanksgiving?' You got to have a gimmick in this got-to-have-a-gimmick world. In a flash it came to me. Thanksgiving! Turkey!" The turkey is made a regular at squad meetings and in coaching staff meetings. Corso suggests to Tulsa that it trot out a turkey of its own, painted blue and gold with a T on the side, for a confrontation at mid-field at the coin toss, but Tulsa turns a conservative ear.
Corso, unfazed, announces that the winner of the toss will get the option: receive the football or the turkey. The turkey, putting up a terrible squawk, resists going out for the toss, but it is kept there on the sideline waiting the disposition of its fate. Tulsa wins the toss—and, conservative to the end, elects to take the football.