ROAD NOT TAKEN In 1961 Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty, like Namath a native of western Pennsylvania, desperately wanted to sign the cocky passer from Beaver Falls--and Namath hoped to matriculate at East Lansing. But the MSU admissions office refused to waive a school rule that said a prospect had to have graduated in the top half of his class, which Namath hadn't done. With Namath piloting the Spartans' offense from 1962 through '64, Michigan State might have surpassed such rivals as Alabama, Southern Cal, Texas and Notre Dame for national supremacy.
ROAD TAKEN Though distraught, Daugherty commended Namath to his good friend Paul (Bear) Bryant, the coach at Alabama, where Namath enrolled.
NOW IT CAN BE TOLD Bryant returned the favor. During Namath's freshman season in Tuscaloosa, the Bear found himself in Roanoke, Va., at a high school football banquet, where he came across Charlie Thornhill, a black kid who was leaning toward attending Notre Dame. Segregation at Alabama kept Bryant from recruiting him, but he phoned Thornhill and said, "Charlie, this is Coach Bryant. You'll get a ticket in the mail to visit Michigan State. Coach Daugherty is a good man and you'll enjoy playing up there." Mad Dog Thornhill wound up doing so and would win All-- Big Ten honors in 1966. If he had suited up at linebacker for the Irish rather than the Spartans in the teams' epic 1966 encounter, one of sports' most controversial games might not have ended in a 10--10 tie.
LOST IN THE MIST Thornhill's high school nickname had been Big Dog, but when a Michigan State coach punched him in the chest during a practice, Thornhill snarled at him, "Don't you put your hands on me." The chastened assistant began calling him Mad Dog, and the nickname stuck.
New York Knicks president
ROAD NOT TAKEN During the summer of 1978 Auerbach, then president of the Boston Celtics, was to catch the shuttle to New York City and meet with Knicks owner Sonny Werblin, who had a contract ready for Auerbach's signature. On the way to Boston's Logan Airport, though, Auerbach's cab driver added his voice to the chorus of Bostonians who, though they knew Auerbach was miserable under meddlesome owner John Y. Brown, desperately wanted him to stay. What nearly drove Auerbach out of town were some awful decisions by Brown, such as sending three first-round picks to the Knicks for Bob McAdoo--without telling Auerbach. But by the time the taxi emerged from the Callahan Tunnel, Auerbach knew that his trip would be a formality and that he'd be turning Werblin down. "He really got on me, but in a nice way," Auerbach says of that persuasive hack.
ROAD TAKEN Five months after the McAdoo deal, Brown sold out to Harry Mangurian, and soon Auerbach was assembling the front line that carried the Celtics through the '80s. In 1979 he signed Larry Bird; the next year he drafted Kevin McHale and heisted Robert Parish from Golden State. And he regularly bedeviled the team he'd almost signed with: In 1983 he responded to New York's attempt to pick up McHale as a free agent by signing three Knicks to extravagant offer sheets, forcing New York's management to devote its resources to re-signing its players rather than pursuing McHale.
NOW IT CAN BE TOLD Auerbach turned Werblin down, but the Knicks' boss left the job offer on the table for three years. "He told me, 'If you change your mind, it's yours,'" says Auerbach.
LOST IN THE MIST Brown got McAdoo because the owner's fianc�e, former Miss America Phyllis George, had watched McAdoo go for big numbers at a Celtics- Knicks game and declared him to be a favorite of hers.