SI Vault
James Murray
January 09, 1956
Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and Mississippi won their bowl games but Michigan State's apple-eating Irishman won a war of nerves which led to an assistant coach's sin
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January 09, 1956

The Blarney In Pasadena

Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and Mississippi won their bowl games but Michigan State's apple-eating Irishman won a war of nerves which led to an assistant coach's sin

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A rose bowl game, like a first-class war, is one which begins long before the opposing sides take the field against each other. This year's Rose Bowl game, for instance, began not in the center of the Arroyo Seco at 2 p.m. on January 2 but in early December at a football awards banquet in New York. The two rival coaches, Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State and Red Sanders of UCLA, were sitting near each other, separated by Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson.

"Duffy," asked Sanders, "since we get the choice of the ball this year what kind of football would you like to use?" Wilkinson, overhearing, put in with a grin: "It's not going to make much difference to Duffy; he's not going to get to use it much anyway." Whereupon, Daugherty answered: "We're not going to need it much."

It was this quip which not only touched off the pregame war of nerves but also put the West Coast on notice that in Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty a new type of visiting coach had hit the Rose Bowl. Accustomed to dour, cloak-and-dagger characters who behaved in Pasadena as though they were abroad in a jungle full of Mau-Maus, West Coasters did not know at first what to make of Daugherty. He not only permitted hostile (i.e., California) newspapermen in to his practice sessions—an unheard-of breach of security to the likes of Fritz Crisler of Michigan and Woody Hayes of Ohio State—but he even waved the public in and not only ran off his whole repertory of plays but even took the microphone in hand personally to explain them to the crowd.

This was a little like telling a man you were coining to rob his house and at what hour and by what entry, and it soon occurred to the West Coast chauvinists that Daugherty's tactics were a lot more unnerving than keeping the Coasters standing outside the practice field counting the flying teeth. Could, the Coast wondered, Michigan State be that good?

Daugherty not only gave in good-naturedly when dozens of invitations for everything from Disneyland to Witching-Hour Awards banquets were accepted by his team, he also held twice-daily press conferences that were studies in runaway optimism and he actually played a round of golf three days before the game, an almost supreme gesture of contempt as football preparations go. "Daugherty almost acts as though he considered this just a game," one observer marveled.

Daugherty's attitude not only began to affect Sanders, it began to infect his own press. The Toledo Blade's Grove Patterson laid his ears all the way back on his head and snarled: "I am a football fan...and my blood pressure is already on the way up in contemplation when those soft Californians, trained on orange juice and pomegranates, will for the first quarter labor under the false delusion that they can beat the corn-fed, husky, rugged, cold-weather boys from East Lansing. California teams do fairly well in the first half but then they sag because they don't have what it takes. This is a soft country and it produces soft men."

These were fighting words worthy of a midseason Harvey Knox, but even Harvey had succumbed to the Daugherty brainwash and, with his famous football son Ronnie limping pitifully through UCLA practices, Harvey took to television on the eve of the game to confide dejectedly he expected Daugherty and Michigan State to triumph.

Most surprising of all was that Sanders himself began finally to run scared. Where the Michigan State Spartans whirled through a social schedule that would do credit to Elsa Maxwell, Sanders took to posting desperate notices on the blackboard like "Remember—between now and January 2—SLEEP is most important!"

Where Daugherty scarcely mentioned the fact that his first-string tackle and second-string halfback were out of the game, Sanders took to agonizing hourly over whether Ronnie Knox would or would not be ready for play. And where Daugherty grinned at the fire-eating trumpetings of the Toledo Blade and allied sports experts, Sanders even took occasion for the first time to muzzle Harvey Knox in a closed-door conference. It was, perhaps, the most depressing note of all for UCLAns.

All in all Daugherty had played his propaganda cards with the deftness of an expert in the water-drop treatment so that by game time Sanders was all but shaking the bars and screaming to be let alone.

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