South Dakota had won only nine games in six years prior to Salem's arrival in 1966, after a career as a third-string quarterback at the University of Minnesota. His first team's roster listed 29 players and he had practically no basic equipment. Salem bought a few barbells. Someone stole them. Still, by 1968, the team was 9-1.
Now there are plans for a $9 million Dakota Dome in Vermillion, S. Dak. that will seat 11,000 for indoor football. But for the most part the team still labors in a spare, pinched style. A ripped pair of football cleats can throw the coaches into a stew as they search for a replacement; shredded practice jerseys are meticulously taped back together; and the team had to endure a nine-hour bus ride on the trip to North Dakota.
Some coaches regard the Wishbone as last year's fad, like the Gatsby look or streaking, but Salem is sticking with it. The team lost its first five games after it was installed three years ago, but was 9-1 in 1972 and 8-3 last season and went to the College Division playoffs. This season a plethora of freshmen running backs fumbled 24 times in the first five games and the normally glib Salem, a man who wears a smile as naturally as the part in his hair, turned briefly dour. Then the ball handling improved, and with it his mood. So much so that the confident coach started six frosh against North Dakota.
Unlike George McGovern, Salem's team has had scant trouble getting votes in the polls. With a record of 6-1, South Dakota was ranked eighth in one, ninth in another before the North Dakota game. To stay there, and to remain undefeated in the conference, the Coyotes had to beat a team that had been its nemesis. In the last 14 games with North Dakota, South Dakota had won only twice.
In contrast to the cosmopolitan South Dakota squad, North Dakota's is mostly homegrown. One local product is Ron Gustafson. In 1973 he led the College Division in pass receptions with 67. This season Coach Jerry Olson shifted the emphasis to a running attack centered around Fullback Bill Deutsch, who gained 137 yards Saturday, and option Quarterback Brian Grover, but Gustafson still was second in conference scoring, thanks to three touchdowns in a game in which injuries forced him to play running back. He is rumored to be a certain top draft choice by the pros. "I'm not thinking about that," he says. "When you start looking ahead you get your head knocked off."
Besides having the hands of a juggler and the knack of catching a ball thrown into a crowded crosswalk, Gustafson also is adroit in the open field, the reason for the nickname of "Magic." He returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in a home game against North Dakota State the previous week.
Before Saturday's game both teams were leery of the weather. It can turn savage in North Dakota at this time of the year. Later it gets worse. When the two schools met in basketball last season, the temperature in Grand Forks was 42� below zero. But Saturday was a beautiful day, with a clear sky and a temperature around 55�. One fan found it so stifling that he took off his shirt.
During the first half South Dakota looked as if it still was suffering from the torpor induced by that bus ride. Gustafson scored twice for North Dakota and the visiting Coyotes were behind 12-10. South Dakota's poor performance was partially the result of injuries that forced Salem to start a third-string, walk-on freshman, Larry Harper, at one running back. Several other players were shifted to unfamiliar positions. Even the acrobatic Duncombe found himself in the backfield on occasion.
Wherever he played, Duncombe was devastating in the second half. He finished with 72 yards running, caught five passes for another 76 and added 106 yards on punt and kickoff returns. His performance certainly looked major league and helped prove that even in the area that grows them, nothing was small potatoes about the South Dakota-North Dakota game.