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The insinuations seemed plain enough: Kentucky players were fixing games. ("Point shaving" in this case was a euphemism; the team was losing, not cutting its margin of victory.) Kentucky had outplayed most of the teams it lost to, including Penn State, Kansas and Auburn, but had pulled defeats out of the fire with extravagant mistakes and misadventures. There was an implied narcotics connection, though ill-defined, together with the hot-off-the-blotter kid-nap-murder and its familiar cast of characters. Collins was somehow involved. Gray, too. It was Collins, of course, who wore fine clothes and drove a big car. He also had an off-campus apartment, sipped drinks at an artsy off-campus discotheque called The Library (whose co-owner made no bones about betting on Kentucky games) and squired many fine-looking young ladies. He appeared to favor blondes. He was on intimate terms with Lexington horse people and others who liked to bet on football, which, Bear Bryant, a former Kentucky coach, once said, excludes about nobody in the state. He was also a friend of Stephens and Bishop. The latter had stayed in Collins' off-campus apartment and left clothes there the night of the kidnapping.
Despite their neat construction, none of these intimations stands up. If the Kentucky team were dumping games, there would be evidence of a betting coup, either locally or nationally. There is none. Bookmakers in Lexington and oddsmakers in Las Vegas report there were no irregularities in the betting line. And they would be the first to holler. Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder, the Las Vegas oddsmaker, said there wasn't "a whisper" in Vegas. Snyder was indignant over the charge, being a close friend of John Y. Brown Jr., the Kentucky Fried Chicken millionaire who is an active Kentucky alumnus and known to be an active bettor.
No Kentucky games were taken off the board. No abnormal amounts of money were bet on Kentucky's opponents. On the contrary, says one Louisville gambler, Kentucky was favored in seven of its 11 games and the spread over LSU actually went up, from two to three points, before kickoff. The same before the Tulane game: up from nine to 11 points. During the season Kentucky beat the spread only twice. Despite talk of "arrangements," and the team's curious inconsistencies, the bookies said it was "wild" the way the Kentucky faithful kept laying their money on the team.
Examination of Kentucky game films and play-by-play statistics shows no suspicious patterns in the team's breakdowns. Curci himself went back over the films and found only what he already knew: a depressing series of "two-minute disasters" in the form of penalties, errors and numbing twists of fortune were the gremlins in Kentucky's hard-earned defeats, not any player or group of players. They were misfortunes hardly new to Kentucky football, which had been an exercise in futility since Bryant left in 1953. Curci, hailed as savior when his second Wildcat team went 6-5 and set attendance records last year, had warned Kentucky fans that with a tougher schedule "we could be better and not have a better record. We have not learned how to win."
The ways Kentucky found to lose were extraordinary. Each week new goats stepped forward. Pass interference by Ray Carr and a personal foul by Tony Gray on successive plays abetted Kansas' drive to its winning touchdown in a 14-10 game (the betting line was Kentucky by 13). It must be said that Carr is also from Thomas Jefferson High in Louisville, but the fumble that set up the drive was credited to a tight end from Corbin, Ky. Against LSU, a freshman quarterback from Chicago had two passes intercepted. In two attempts. He also fumbled once. The fumble and an interception set up LSU's two touchdowns. Against Penn State (a 13-point favorite), Kentucky was trailing 7-0 in the second quarter when another quarterback (from Camden, N.J.) was intercepted at the State two-yard line. An official caught Kentucky holding on the play and gave Penn State the ball plus 15 yards. The final score was 10-3. In the three-point loss to LSU, Curci ordered a time-out just as the LSU placekicker was in the act of attempting a 40-yard field goal. The kick was wide, but officials duly noted the time-out and gave the kicker a second chance. This time he made it, with three seconds to go in the half. "We were just trying to make him think about it," said Curci. "He thought about it real good." Meanwhile, the Kentucky field-goal kicker, John Pierce of Cynthiana, who set team records last year, went through a four-game period in which he missed 11 of 14.
Kentucky's most painful, most obvious flaw was that it lacked good quarterbacking. Without a passer ( Curci tried four), Kentucky's offense was more grind than glide. Opponents went into goal-line defenses at midfield and the Wildcats had to slug it out week after week.
It is in this perspective that the performance of Alfred (Sonny) Collins must be considered. As the cutting edge of the Kentucky attack, Collins was a marked man. Defenses tightened up, daring Kentucky to pass, and played strong on the corners to force Collins inside ("I spent half my time trying to find ways to get Sonny outside," said Curci). The racehorse became a plow horse. At 6 feet, 186 pounds, with a 28-inch waist and sprinter's legs—long, ropy calves and heavily muscled thighs and buttocks—Collins is not Larry Csonka, Curci pointed out, but he was being asked every Saturday to get those toughest of yards.
Against Auburn, Collins carried 32 times for 109 yards; his longest run was 11 yards. Against Penn State, he carried 32 times for 140 yards; he was 21 for 192 against LSU, 27 for 133 against Kansas. In discussing the fumble in the Auburn game, Curci said it should be added that Collins carried 15 times without fumbling on Kentucky's drives to its three field goals. Furthermore, a film review of the fumble shows Collins was dealt a wicked blow from the side that forced the ball loose. When it is mentioned that Collins inexplicably took himself out of the Kansas game with five minutes to play in the first half and Kentucky on the Kansas seven-yard line (the drive immediately petered out), Curci notes that "Sonny had carried seven of the 11 plays prior to that. He was tired. I tell my backs, 'Don't be a hero. If you're tired, get the hell out of there.' "
But a hero is exactly what Curci considered Collins to be—"a super runner, a super kid"—and a fumbler only in a very relative sense. "For one thing, he's got bad eyes, myopia, but even without that it is not unusual for a great back to fumble. He sees a crack and reacts so quickly he sometimes goes without the ball. I had Chuck Foreman at Miami and he was the same way. As many times as they get the ball and get hit, you have to figure they'll drop it now and then." Collins fumbled four times in 248 carries (while covering 1,150 yards, his second 1,000-yard season), but only the one against Auburn could truly be called crucial.