Pat Haden, a Rhodes scholar who played quarterback on USC's national championship teams in 1972 (consensus) and '74 (UPI) before playing pro ball, says, "Athletics and academics should mix. Why not? It's simply a matter of organizing one's time. Players say they're so busy with football that they don't have time to study. That's not true."
The problem is that a lot of colleges have lost their way in attempting to sort out the academic-athletic conflict. Increasingly they talk of their academics, while continuing to accept young men whose intellectual curiosity extends no further than knowing their time in the 40—on grass and artificial turf. Says Humphries, "I do wish universities would try to improve their academics, putting more emphasis on them and less on football. An athlete should come to school with some priorities in mind. He should make education the first priority. Then he should have alternate career goals outside of sport. Then he should enjoy the college experience. Then he should play football. Now, if you figure you'll use football to get a good education, it will be a positive experience. Conversely, if you figure you'll do everything in football and not worry about education, it will not be a positive experience. In college football, anytime you see a guy flunk out, it's a stigma."
Coaches exacerbate the problem. While they publicly stand foursquare behind the idea that their players should excel in the classroom, in truth they have their fingers crossed behind their backs. That's because coaches must win or be fired. Thus, how much can they really be expected to worry about a tight end's progress in European history?
Despite his sometimes outrageous behavior on the sidelines, Schembechler sympathizes with the athletic-academic dilemma as much as any big-time coach. Over the last four years it was virtually impossible to visit with him for more than several minutes before he started riffling through the papers on his desk, looking for a copy of Humphries' record to display. Once he peered down at it, shook his head and said, "I can't even pronounce the names of the classes he's taking." Then there's the time Humphries had to miss practice because of a lab. He walked up to Schembechler and said, "Bo, you're not going to like what I have to tell you, but there's nothing we can do about it." Schembechler tells that story on himself and gets great joy out of it.
Says Mike Wilson, a graduating defensive tackle and Humphries' roommate at Michigan, "School can take away from your concentration on the football field. To try to combine the two is a heckuva problem." George Hoey, Michigan's academic counselor for the jocks, says, "I don't know if athletics and academics are compatible, but Stefan has made them so. It also seems as if he has sailed through. He does it the perfect way, with long-range planning and short-term goals. What sets him apart is that there are a lot of guys with a vast amount of ability on the field who do O.K. in the classroom. What Stefan is saying to them is that O.K. isn't nearly good enough."
How often does a guy like Humphries come along?
"Never. It just doesn't happen," says Hoey.
Humphries is so special his mind has been celebrated at Michigan as much as his body. In one team meeting Schembechler used the word legitimize and then stopped. "Now, Stefan, is legitimize a proven word?" asked Bo. Yes, advised Humphries. Once, while adding numbers on the board, Schembechler turned to Humphries and said, "Is that right, Stefan?" No, advised Humphries.
Yet, in the world of football, brains can be a minus. "I've heard the fact that I want to go to medical school is a detrimental force with the pros," says Humphries. It is. The Bears, for example, checked carefully to make sure football was in Humphries' future. "He told us he wanted to play," says Tobin. "But with these guys with real, real high IQs, there's always a little concern about whether they will."
Go back to draft day. The Seattle Sea-hawks had sent scout Ralph Goldston to hover over Humphries because they thought they might pick him in the second round, and they wanted to make sure those bad guys from the USFL didn't show up with money hanging out of their pockets. Goldston engaged Humphries in conversation: "You want to be a lawyer or doctor or something?"