SI Vault
John Underwood
September 10, 1973
Winner of the annual Wabash-DePauw battle gets to keep an old locomotive bell, assuming it is not stolen first. Last year it went to...
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September 10, 1973

Bell Of The Ball Game

Winner of the annual Wabash-DePauw battle gets to keep an old locomotive bell, assuming it is not stolen first. Last year it went to...

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When Tommy Mont coached at the University of Maryland he experienced all the thrilling things that attend a college football coach when he is up to the noose line of his neck in the big time. Mont knew important people; he had his picture taken with Queen Elizabeth. He knew large enthusiastic crowds. He knew huge, pressing budgets and cutthroat recruiting, and blue-chip athletes whose talented hands itched to lay hold of professional contracts. He knew glad hands as well, and eager-beaver alumni and friends who were faithful when he won.

Mont had succeeded the late Jim Tatum, a Maryland legend. As head coach Mont proved to be a man of intelligence and wry good humor, virtues that could not save him when his Maryland teams began to lose. Which they did, too soon. Barely had he put his ear to the ground to catch the rumblings when he was out on it.

It was my impression that Mont had quit coaching after that, but in fact he had gone—presumably under cover of night—to Greencastle, Ind. to become head coach, and eventually athletic director, at DePauw University, where a man could lose in peace. At DePauw the crowds are small, and television coverage nonexistent. A few lines in The Indianapolis Star on Sunday morning is the apogee of exposure for a DePauw team. The white-chip athletes who come to play there do not drive complimentary convertibles, and the alumni are not spoiled by offers to go to the Orange Bowl.

Neither do offers from professional teams turn the heads of DePauw players. Mont had a punter who signed with Denver but did not stick. The punter was distinguished by his sandals and shoulder-length hair (DePauw is a conservative Methodist school, which only recently was willing to concede that a bottle of beer on campus might not evoke God's wrath), and used to debate the length of his punts with team publicist Pat Aikman, trying to get 39-yarders stretched to 41.

Coaching at Maryland did not, as it may have seemed, make an old man of Mont. He is one of those large gray men with droopy eyelids who look as if they were born old and who can often be seen in the shadow of a scoreboard, looking up despairingly at the figures there.

At DePauw he was granted a golden twilight. If his losing seasons—since 1959—outnumbered the winners by almost 2 to 1, he was respected for his virtues and was much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. He told his audiences that DePauw football had everything Notre Dame football has except parking problems. He placed the picture of Queen Elizabeth on his desk and settled down. In time he was even given tenure, which would have been unheard-of at Maryland or any of those schools where football is too important to chance a coach's complacency.

Prim, proper little Greencastle—pop. 8,852—is not a town with an unlimited capacity for excitement, but what it gets it appreciates. John Dillinger robbed a bank there 40 years ago and townspeople are not over talking about it. A breathtakingly incongruous German World War II buzz bomb is on permanent display in the town square.

Mont, in turn, brought to DePauw football (in lieu of unremitting victories) a certain flair that could be appreciated. In the key game with archrival Wabash in 1960, DePauw scored a last-minute touchdown to cut Wabash's lead to 13-12. Mont had said if it ever came to this—a decision to go for one extra point to tie, or two to win—he would leave it to the fans. True to his word, at that turgid moment Mont turned to the stands and spread out his hands like a tent preacher. (In the press box, an assistant coach named Ted Katula, thinking Mont was signaling him to make the decision, dived for the floor.)

The crowd shouted "Go!"

DePauw went, and won 14-13.

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