The lazy waters of the Red Cedar River that wind through the thickly wooded campus of Michigan State University at East Lansing sparkled in the light of a bright October moon. There wasn't a cloud in the sky to hide a single star. From the distance there came the sound of spirited band music and of thousands of young voices joyfully singing. It was an evening and a setting of sheer perfection, and Head Football Coach Duffy Daugherty, driving around and around the campus looking for a place to park, was sitting on top of the world.
Things could scarcely have been better for Duffy. The reigning Coach of the Year, the mastermind of the most complex multiple-offense apparatus in college football, Duffy appeared to be headed for another great season to round out a year that began with the Rose Bowl victory of last New Year's Day. Already this fall Michigan State had beaten Stanford and Michigan. Ahead lay easy victories over Indiana and Notre Dame and one week's tenure as No. 1 team of the nation.
Then there was to be Illinois and disaster. But Duffy could not know that this wondrous evening. And yet, as he drove along, speaking with characteristic candor, he was strangely prophetic.
"Once in a while," he said as he made and lost a race for a precious parking space, "an underdog will become inspired and upset a favorite. But most of the time the team that wins will be the team with the most good football players. There is no substitute for good football players. That's why we go out and recruit the best high school football players we can find. That's the real art of winning football games. There are no geniuses in coaching."
He suddenly pulled into a driveway behind a car already parked there. "The heck with it," he said. "I'll leave the keys and they can move me if they want to get out."
Slamming the car door behind him, Duffy walked across the grass toward the band shell where several thousand students were attending a pep rally. He moved through the crowd without anyone noticing him until he came to the bandstand and stood at the side of it waiting, hatless, his hands thrust in his trouser pockets. He grinned as he watched the cheerleaders on the stage leap and dance to the band music and the singing of the Michigan State Spartan Fight Song. Six of his senior players saw him and moved over next to him. Duffy beamed at them and told them how he would introduce them. "You say a few words, John," he said to John Matsko, the team captain. "You other fellows can just take a bow." Just as the Fight Song was concluded, the student master of ceremonies spotted Duffy and shouted into the microphone:
"And here's the man we've been waiting for—Coach Duffy Daugherty!"
Duffy hurried up the steps and across the stage, shook hands with the master of ceremonies and then turned to the crowd, squinting into the lights, raising a hand hesitantly in acknowledgment of the cheers, looking offstage modestly, then turning another way to wink at his players.
(As he stood there in the bright lights, not very tall, not very short, maybe a little beefier than he would like, Hugh Duffy Daugherty, age 41, had come a long way from Barnesboro, Pennsylvania where he was raised. Because his father had failed in business and refused to go through bankruptcy as a way out, Duffy had gone to work in a shirt factory at 16, in a coal mine at 18. But he had played football all the while, and when things were better with his father he was able to take advantage of an academic and athletic scholarship to Syracuse University, and so he may be thinking of himself when he says, as he does so often, that a lot of worthy kids wouldn't get a college education if it weren't for the recruiting he proudly defends. It was at Syracuse that Duffy won the friendship of an assistant coach named Clarence (Biggie) Munn, now athletic director of Michigan State and the man who picked Duffy for the job of head coach. Now, in his third season, Duffy was being hailed as a new breed of coach who could win and still maintain his sense of proportion and good humor in an overly serious, ulcer-prone profession.)
Up on the stage a grin brightened Duffy's map-of- Ireland face (he is as much Scotch as Irish) as he ran his fingers through his curly hair, and he let the cheers roar on. Finally he held up his hand.