I became fascinated with line play. I'd close my eyes and try to imagine what it felt like to be hit by Gordy King, a 6'6", 265-pound offensive tackle, although I probably didn't even come close. I marveled at the sixth sense of defensive backs. They always seemed to float to the ball.
My grades arrived in the mail while I was home in Wisconsin during spring break. Theory and Technique of Football: A plus. "Well," my mother said, now resigned to the fact that if I was going to be on her team I'd be wearing jeans and a faded jersey, not nylons and high heels, "at least it will bring up your grade-point."
But it wasn't until the 1980 football season, four years later, when I was assigned to cover the University of Wisconsin football team for The Milwaukee Sentinel, that the class really paid off. After the Badgers lost 35-0 to UCLA, I pointed out in my story that the Wisconsin defensive players had jumped on the Bruins' backs, tackling above the waist. "You can't stop anybody unless you aim at their center of gravity," I wrote. "That's one of the basics."
And when the Badgers lost to Indiana 24-0, I figured out why the Hoosiers had eaten Wisconsin alive. "The Badgers' offensive line gave away the plays," I wrote. "On pass plays, the UW linemen sat back on their heels and dropped their rear ends to enable them to stand up and protect the quarterback more quickly. On running plays, the offensive linemen leaned forward to enable them to fire out right away." The Indiana defense agreed with me and, after viewing the films, the Badger coaches did too.
"My daughter the football coach," my mother started saying. I think she was actually beginning to like the idea.
But my biggest satisfaction came the next week when Bill Dudley, Wisconsin's offensive coordinator, cornered me in a hotel lobby the night before the 1-4 Badgers were to play Michigan State. The coaches had discovered I'd taken the football class after I'd asked them some questions about the blocking in the offensive line. They didn't expect questions like that from most sports-writers, much less a young woman. Dudley had a desperate look on his face. The Badgers badly needed a stronger attack.
"Listen," he said, "I heard you took a football class from Walsh at Stanford. Last year we took a trip to the West Coast to learn more about passing offenses. We went to a number of schools that shared their strategies with us. The only school that wouldn't let us look at its films was Stanford. Let me see the notes from your class. C'mon. Tell me everything you know about Walsh's offense. How does he do it?"
I laughed. And for the next three hours, he tried to wheedle information about Stanford's complex passing offense out of me. We talked X's and O's. We kicked around football trivia—"Let me tell you a great Woody Hayes story," Dudley said. And, "You want to know the inside scoop on Gerry Faust and Moeller High in Cincinnati?" And we exchanged thoughts on the psychology of coaching.
I never showed him my notes or divulged the specifics of the Stanford play-book, but the experience made me glad I hadn't chosen the path of a young lady and instead had enrolled in Theory and Technique of Football. It has turned out to be one of the best and most useful classes I ever took at Stanford.