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In the peculiarly martial argot of big-time American college football, the University of Michigan's starting left halfback, No. 44, is, to sum up the opinion of his coaches, "a good operational man." Considerably more about No. 44 is implied here than may be read or, for that matter, than might have been found in a report made on him by the scouting staff of the University of Indiana a week or so before Indiana unexpectedly beat Michigan 13 to 9 at Ann Arbor. "Has had more playing time than any other back," said the estimate of No. 44. "Good safety man. Uses his speed to flow well versus passes. Good speed on offense, but not a power runner." All of this is useful, of course, but incomplete. The fact is that aside from the minimum physical equipment any football player must have, what makes No. 44 a good operational man is that, like many of his contemporaries, he is an idealist, a conformist, a realist, an authentic amateur in a world of subsidized football and a reproach to cynics.
No. 44 is a senior, a premedical student of regular if somewhat undifferentiated features and pleasingly malleable ways, who will be 22 years old next month. He is five feet, ten inches tall and generally weighs about 168 pounds. (He has lost as many as ten pounds in a game.) His name is John Daniel Cline and he comes from Brockport, N.Y. where his father, who was once an outstanding college football player and track man, is the eastern supervisor of management training for the General Motors Institute, and before that coached football and track and was director of athletics at the high school in Midland, Mich. "I was brought up to love competition," No. 44 said one night not long ago in his slow, deliberate fashion. He rarely attempts to verbalize his mystique. Most often when he does, it comes out in the form of stereotypes and popular rationalizations.
FAMILY FULL OF HALFBACKS
"Dad would have been disappointed if I hadn't played football," No. 44 went on, "but he never pushed me or Earl." (No. 44's younger brother, Earl, is a halfback at Hamilton College and went there because he felt he was too light to play at a big university.) He remembered that when he was three his father bought him a complete football uniform and remembered that one day, when his father opened the door of the house, No. 44 had tackled him, hit his head against his father's knee and fractured his skull. "Dad played halfback at Central Michigan," No. 44 continued, "and he was an All-America in track, a high-jumper and decathlon man. He qualified for the high jump in the Olympics in 1928, but he popped a muscle in his leg and they told him he'd never jump again. On the day the Olympics were held in Amsterdam he was jumping at the Cadillac Athletic Club in Michigan. He jumped 6 feet 4? inches, and that's just what Bob King jumped at Amsterdam. Dad taped a piece of broomstick to his leg to hold the muscle in place."
The extent of No. 44's dedication may be gauged at two points in time, three years apart. In the spring of 1951, on his application blank for entrance into Michigan, he wrote in a required autobiographical note: "I have heard nothing but good things about the U. of M. and have been a rabid football fan for many years. If I attend the U. of M. it will be a prophecy fulfilled, for when Tom Harmon was 'All American' halfback at Michigan he autographed a picture for me which said, 'To Danny, Class of '51, U. of M. Squad. Sincerely, Tom Harmon.' " (Cline has never met Harmon but his aunt, a plump, pleasant woman who teaches high school in Gary, Ind., once had Harmon as a student and got him to autograph the photograph for her nephew.)
On the basis of past performance, No. 44's play in the Indiana game was slightly substandard. He carried the ball 13 times for a net gain of 33 yards. He passed eight times for a net gain of 10 yards. Two of his passes were completed, and two were intercepted. None materially affected the outcome of the game. He also caught two passes for a total gain of 22 yards. He played 50 minutes and 40 seconds, which is about average for him. A week later, against Illinois, he gained 70 yards on the ground and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass that won the game. In last Saturday's game with Michigan State, he did another good afternoon's work?not startlingly spectacular but generally competent. He played all but about seven minutes of the game, and was taken out only when the game was in the bag and he wasn't needed any longer. He carried the ball a few times, and averaged 4.3 yards a carry. As safety man, he returned some kicks. He defended his zone adequately. He tried six passes. Only two were completed?sometimes his fault, sometimes the fault of the receiver?but one of them, a bullet pass to Lou Baldacci near the 5-yard line which Baldacci ran for a touchdown, was the real turning point of the game. Now comes Ohio State, which has turned out to be the most menacing rival of Michigan's season. No. 44, like his colleagues, will be "up" for the game. There's work to be done, and he'll be in there doing it.
A couple of hours after the Indiana debacle, in which his lips had been bloodied and his face scratched, the bridge of his nose battered and several ribs in his left side bruised, No. 44 was dressing for the evening, painfully and awkwardly, in the disorderly yet somehow monastic two-room suite he shares in the Sigma Chi fraternity house, with a big, fourth-string center named Bowman. He picked up his varsity jacket and then decided against it. "I don't think I'll wear it," he said to Bowman. "There's no use being seen around campus in that tonight." Bowman, who has never played in a game and who has been used simply to scrimmage against the varsity ever since he was a sophomore, gulped manfully, turned away and said, in a low voice, "That's the way it goes, Danny."
The University of Michigan is a representative member of the Big Ten Conference and, in the minds of its 150,000 alumni, as much consecrated to football as to scholarship. It has a stadium that seats 97,239 people, cost well over a million dollars to put up (when it was built in 1927 to seat 79,000 people, the original cost was $950,000; currently, the press box alone is being remodeled at a cost of $30,000), and is the largest college-owned structure of its kind in the world. It is used no more than half a dozen times a year, and then only for football. (No. 44 once remarked, in a casual conversation, that he found the stadium more awesome?even a little frightening?empty than he did when it was full of customers.)
Although he is not familiar with the exact figures, and doesn't know, for example, that it costs $124.95 to equip him and up to $11,000 to feed the squad for a month-long preschool training period, No. 44 is neither unaware that he is part of a large-scale enterprise nor resentful of the fact, and in this is typical of his kind. He has been called, among other things, a "player's player," a "good, solid guy on the right side of things," a "man who gives 150% of himself," and an "everyday player?in every way?not just a Saturday player." His opinions are respected, as one football player put it, not so much because of what he says as the affirmative way in which he says it. Thus, he has won the Fielding H. Yost Honor Award, established in the name of the coach who probably did most to make Michigan a big-time football institution, which is given on the basis of moral character and good citizenship, physical ability, scholastic achievement and the capacity for leadership and success. This year, he was also elected to Michigamua, a senior honor society which taps only 25 men a year.
"You realize the importance of football to a school like this," No. 44 said in his characteristically candid, persuasive way. "It pays for every other sport. You can see the?I'm searching for a word?that it seems reasonable that a football player should get some financial aid for the money that football does make for the university. But at Michigan you couldn't possibly consider yourself an employe like you could at some other schools where they go in for football in a big way. Here you get money to enable you to go to school; you don't get money for going to school. I figure it's a privilege to go to Michigan and also to play football for Michigan." He added, a trifle self-consciously, "After four years of college, you've got the rest of your life to live. You can always be respected for having gone to Michigan."