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Well, that's not quite it either. Schnellenberger is also "commercial," which is one reason he's a visible $250,000-a-year man who can afford not to accept jobs like Kentucky's triple-your-salary offer two years ago and the pro bids that keep coming his way. His most prominent paying hype is for automobile tires, and he is, to say the least, an inspirational—and memorable—pitchman. One day in his dentist's office a patient swallowed a filling and was choking to death. Schnellenberger heard the commotion, rushed in from the waiting room and, from behind, locked his arms under the man's diaphragm and jerked him into the air. The man coughed up the filling. When he saw who his savior was, he gasped, "Hey, I bought some of your tires!"
It's altogether fitting that Miami should be in this, the 50th Orange Bowl game, because it played in the first—vs. Bucknell—in 1935. However, the last time the Hurricanes got invited was in 1950, the year they first crashed into the "big time" by upsetting Purdue, which the week before had snapped a 39-game Notre Dame unbeaten streak. Perhaps a third of the city—then much less populous, of course—crowded Miami airport to welcome the team home from Purdue.
Getting that old-time religion, an estimated 7,000 Hurricane fans jammed the school's baseball field on Nov. 19 just to see Miami receive its Orange Bowl invitation. Schnellenberger got the Metro Rail, not yet officially in operation, to run a trainload of fans to the nearby station. A jazz band played and a 17-motorcycle escort ushered in the motorcade carrying players, coaches, Foote and a knot of Orange Bowl Committee reps, all beaming. Never one to let an estimate stand in the way of a better estimate, Schnellenberger said afterward, "It was terrific—10,000 people yelling and stomping. Bob Devaney [the Nebraska athletic director and former coach] was there. He said he never saw anything like it."
What Miami football has never seen is anything like Schnellenberger. Coach Bobby Bowden of Florida State says, "He's the best thing Miami has," a coach everybody would like to have. Bowden marvels at the promotional �lan that this basically shy whopper of a man has demonstrated in bringing the Hurricanes to full force. For not only does Schnellenberger have what Bryant called "one of the keenest coaching minds" he ever knew, but he also has the heart and soul of a born p.r. man. Day in, day out, Schnellenberger promotes Miami football to beat the band, as well as the Irish, the Seminoles and the Gators.
Shortly after the Hurricanes got their bid, Schnellenberger was being driven across campus by a secretary to kick off a lottery for the 1,200 Orange Bowl tickets Miami students were originally allotted. The drawing wasn't ballyhooed, partly in fear of a riot. "That's my low-key ticket manager's way of promoting," growled Schnellenberger. "I'd have had the band and the cheerleaders."
Schnellenberger pointed out that the students were threatening to sue for more tickets and that the student body president was "up in arms." When his companion commiserated with him, Schnellenberger said, "Oh, no, that's not bad. That's great! Can you imagine having to sue to get a ticket to one of our games?" He said he could remember when they couldn't give 'em away.
Schnellenberger was born with a wooden spoon in his mouth in St. Meinrad, Ind. 49 years ago. When he was two his German-born father, Leslie, a stonemason, moved the family to Louisville. Leslie borrowed the money to buy a tractor-trailer rig and went on the road as a wildcat hauler. Schnellenberger's mother, Rosena, who's also German, worked as a waitress and in a munitions factory and ran the family—soon to include two more boys and a girl—with a firm hand. "I don't remember her kissing me until I was 40," says Schnellenberger. "But I do remember her tapping me with the belt. She didn't have to do it often. I learn fast." Once, he says, when he missed a curfew, she called the cops.
Schnellenberger, very loosely, means quick (schnell) villager (berger). At Louisville Flaget High he was all-state as an end in football and as a forward in basketball, but he says speed wasn't a factor in his success: "I was the reason they invented the term 'he can catch it in a crowd.' I caught a lot of balls in crowds. I couldn't get out of them."
Andy Gustafson, the Miami coach at the time, invited Schnellenberger down for a tryout in 1952. "Tryouts were legal then," says Schnellenberger. "We scrimmaged for two-and-a-half hours, the most hellacious scrimmage you ever saw." Gustafson offered a scholarship and Schnellenberger accepted. A week later, in Louisville, The Bear dropped by—with the governor of Kentucky, Lawrence Wetherby. Schnellenberger said he was flattered, "but I'm going to Miami." His mother told Howard she was proud that he had held to his convictions. A week later Bryant was back, this time with John Floersh, the archbishop of Louisville. Leslie and Rosena, says Howard, were "practically devout" Catholics. Rosena said Kentucky sounded like a great place to go to school.
Bryant had gone to Texas A&M, and Blanton Collier was the coach by the time Schnellenberger made All-America in 1955 as a Kentucky senior. But "every athlete has a plateau," he says, "and mine as a player was the college level. If I could have run faster, I'd still be playing. I loved to play."