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A Melding of Men All Suited to a T
Ron Fimrite
September 05, 1977
Clark Shaughnessy was a dour theoretician, Frankie Albert an unrestrained quarterback and Stanford a team of losers, but combined they forever changed the game of football
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September 05, 1977

A Melding Of Men All Suited To A T

Clark Shaughnessy was a dour theoretician, Frankie Albert an unrestrained quarterback and Stanford a team of losers, but combined they forever changed the game of football

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"Don't forget Frank did all this before anybody had done it," says Vucinich. "All that spinning, faking and handing the ball off quickly. Kids learn that stuff today in grammar school. Frank learned it all in one spring, and no one's ever been better at it. If we hadn't had an Albert, we probably wouldn't have used the T, and the game would be entirely different from what it is today."

After the USF game, Shaughnessy discarded his single wing playbook. In one day he had transformed the game's most popular formation into an anachronism.

"I don't think anybody really believed us until the seventh or eighth game," says Albert, turning the pages of a scrapbook entitled Stanford . He is trim and jaunty at 57, though the still-handsome Peck's Bad Boy face is lined with the years and scarred from too much football, and the once black hair is gray. He speaks crisply, as if still barking signals, but always with a trace of amusement. Frankie Albert has had mostly good times.

Though he does not dwell on the past, he happily relives it. He pulls out a copy of Collier's, which has him on the cover riding the shoulders of joyous coeds. The face in the picture betrays not a hint of embarrassment.

Investments, including one with his old pro team, the 49ers, have made him a man of comparative means, with time to enjoy his family, his tennis and the company of old friends. He and his wife of 35 years, Marty, live in a lavishly appointed condominium scarcely a mile from the Stanford campus.

"We just kept winning," Albert says, looking with wonder at the succession of headlines heralding victory. " Shaughnessy was like a fortune-teller. He'd tell us this or that would work and it always did. He'd invent new plays in the middle of a game and, heck, no one had more plays than we already had. Hardly anyone has now. The guy was always thinking. We all respected him. Years later, I'd never smoke in his presence. He had that kind of power over us."

They were called the "Wow Boys," an invention of publicity men, the nickname derived from the "Vow Boys" as much as from the team's capacity to astonish. But not every win was as easy as the first that year. They were behind in several games, winning, as often as not, in the closing minutes with some act of trickery. Word of the new formation spread quickly through the coaching fraternity, and desperate measures were taken to cope with it. The coaches of two future opponents, Shaw of Santa Clara and Tex Oliver of Oregon, watched the USF game with mounting alarm from the Kezar press box. "I saw so much that I can't go to sleep now," said Oliver. "That stuff requires defense."

At a time when defenses tended to be static, Stanford faced 10 separate setups in 10 games, including the Rose Bowl. Among these was a 4-3, devised by Oregon State's Lon Stiner, that would become the standard pro football defense of the 1960s and '70s. The Wow Boys beat it 28-14.

Stanford's offense was so versatile that new stars emerged each week. Kmetovic or Gallarneau might win the day with long runs or pass receptions, or Standlee might dominate with his power thrusts. But Albert was the pilot of the machine and his daring and generalship kept every opponent off balance. And for all of his cerebral skills, he was a splendid athlete in the bargain. Against Oregon State he averaged 52.6 yards on eight punts. In the team's one poorly played game, his point-after-touchdown kick defeated stubborn Santa Clara 7-6. He called all the plays, did the punting and place-kicking, returned punts and was the team's best defensive back. He also added another play to the Stanford repertoire when, spotting a massed defense, he elected not to give the ball to Fullback Vucinich on a fourth-quarter play in a game against Washington, but kept it himself and ran alone away from the blocking flow for 14 yards. Vucinich, who had expected to receive the handoff, was as baffled by the maneuver as was Washington. It was Albert's first "bootleg," a device he would employ to great advantage with the 49ers.

In the Rose Bowl game, Nebraska scored the first time it had the ball. Albert trotted over to Shaughnessy, who was staring gloomily, and said, "Don't worry, Coach, we haven't had the ball yet." Stanford won 21-13, Gallarneau scoring twice, on an 11-yard run and a 40-yard pass from Albert, and Kmetovic on a 39-yard punt return. Stanford gained a total of 347 yards to Nebraska's 128. The T had established itself against a tough intersectional opponent that had had a month to prepare for it.

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