SI Vault
Edited by Robert W. Creamer
January 17, 1972
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January 17, 1972


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Prisoners at New York State's Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora were the victims of backlash after the disaster at Attica. Their tackle-football program, a major part of their autumn recreational activities, was ended almost before the season had begun because of orders to confiscate their protective equipment. Superintendent J. Edwin LaVallee said, "If you remember, the rioters at Attica wore helmets and pads." The inmates, who field two three-team leagues, protested that they were being punished for what happened at Attica. They were told that "security always takes precedence over any program," but the superintendent added that football would be back and the equipment available again next season.

Meanwhile, the sports-minded inmates are turning to winter sports, which are big at Dannemora. For instance, there is a functioning bobsled run at Clinton Prison. The one-fifth-of-a-mile-long chute ( Lake Placid's famous Mt. Van Hoevenberg run, used in the 1932 Olympics, is a mile long) is maintained by the prisoners, who use their free time to fill and carry 2,000 bags of snow to the site. The prison also has a 10-meter ski jump, which requires about 1,000 bags of snow. The ski jump is big enough to let the inmates soar 60 or 70 feet but not—according to the guards' well-worn old joke—big enough to let them fly over the wall.

When Pete Rozelle said on national TV that there had not been a genuine franchise switch in the NFL since the old Dallas Texans became the Baltimore Colts in 1953, a handful of resentful pro football fans in Chicago raised their heads angrily. Where, they wondered, have their Cardinals been playing since 1960?


People who have been wondering what happened to Big Ten football over the past several years may have noticed that the final AP poll ranked Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado one-two-three. All are Big Eight schools. The AP poll began in 1936 and the UPI poll in 1950, but only once before have even two teams from the same conference ranked one-two. That was in 1960 when the UPI put Minnesota and Iowa, both from the Big Ten, first and second.

The remarkable concentration of talent in the Big Eight had its genesis nearly a quarter of a century ago when, under Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma became a national power in football. It absolutely dominated the Big Eight ( Oklahoma and the Seven Dwarfs, the conference was sometimes called), winning 12 straight championships between 1948 and 1959, after tying for the title in 1947. The other Big Eight teams eventually reacted and brought in sharp, talented young coaches themselves: Dan Devine at Missouri, Bob Devaney at Nebraska, Eddie Crowder at Colorado. Devine, Devaney and Chuck Fairbanks, who took over at Oklahoma in 1967, all had been assistant coaches at Michigan State under Biggie Munn or Duffy Daugherty. Crowder had played for Wilkinson at Oklahoma and had coached for him and for Earl Blaik. This strain of football excellence crossed with a kind of Tennessee toughness introduced by Vince Gibson at Kansas State and Johnny Majors at Iowa State.

Just as this superior coaching appeared in the Big Eight, the Big Ten began to tighten its scholastic requirements, and borderline prospects drifted away, most often to the Big Eight. Other recruiting advantages stimulated the flow of talent. The Big Ten banned redshirting; the Big Eight did not. The Big Ten let only one team a year go to a bowl game, and the same team could not go two seasons in a row; the Big Eight had no such restrictions. The Big Eight gave more scholarships and let its coaches visit high school prospects while they were still competing. And the conference had a distinct recruiting advantage over the powerful Southeastern and Southwest Conferences, too, in its earlier acceptance of black players, who are relatively few and far between in those conferences while comprising a key element of Big Eight strength.

Big Eight supremacy seems founded on a simple, powerful formula: top coaches and top prospects. The bowls and the polls bear it out.

Remember "Fight fiercely, Harvard"? Followers of the Houston Rockets are topping that apocryphal Ivy League cheer with one of their own. At every home game a group of about 15 youthful fans chants, "Harass them, harass them, make them relinquish the ball."


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