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When Northwestern's tiny No. 46 skitters across the television screens of some 30 million viewers Saturday afternoon, they will see the most exciting runner in football today, pro or college. The spectators may wonder if Northwestern has been reduced to raiding Singer's midgets tent for talent, in desperate reply to the new Big Ten recruiting rules. But Bob McKeiver, who stands 5 feet 4� inches and weighs 158 pounds, runs with all the reckless abandon and dancing water-bug elusiveness of a Buddy Young, although not with quite Buddy's speed. "He's not a little man," says Northwestern Coach Ara Parseghian. "He's a big man who happens to be short."
Stripped, McKeiver bears out Parseghian's description. He has thick, flat slabs of muscle on chest and shoulders and his arms are round and bulgy with more muscle. His legs are extraordinarily powerful, with the swelling, square calf muscles of a driving runner.
But it is not his strength which makes McKeiver so spectacular. He has, in the ultimate degree, the ability to stop and start and change direction in a step without loss of speed or balance. Time and again last season, the hefty mite scurried about among Northwestern foes like a rabbit in a pack of great Dane puppies, turning back on his trail and giving ground and slipping out of impossible traps to finally come up with a long gain.
This is his senior year with the Wildcats. He was a bright, particular star at Evanston High School, a couple of long punts from the Northwestern campus, and never considered going anywhere else. As a sophomore, he had both ankles fractured and played only briefly. He spent two years in service after that, and when he returned to Northwestern, Parseghian was just beginning a rebuilding program which brought the Wildcats a long way back toward Big Ten respectability in one season.
"We didn't know too much about McKeiver," Parseghian says now. "We knew about the injuries and we knew he had been a much-publicized high school player. We put him down at the bottom—on the third or fourth string—and let him prove himself. He did that very quickly. One of his great assets is that he can do everything well—punt, kick off, kick field goals and extra points, catch passes and block fairly well. His size helps him as a runner, actually. He's a small target for a tackier and he has the sense of 'now turn, now go' that all great runners have and only the good Lord gives you."
McKeiver is quiet and serious and with none of the aggressiveness some small men carry to counteract their size. His face in repose is solemn and he smiles seldom. He worries because football takes up so much of his time that he has little chance to read, and he tries to make up for this by thumbing through three dictionaries he keeps in his room. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons he drives around alone in his car (a battered 1952 Chrysler) and listens to symphonies on the car radio. He played basketball and competed in track in high school (9.9 100-yard dash), and between seasons he likes to fool around in the gym with a pickup basketball team. He was a great high school player but he has not tried to play for Northwestern. He has no hobbies outside of sports; a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, he goes to fraternity dances and likes dancing, but he is very serious about a career in public relations and studies conscientiously. He is majoring in speech and has had a C plus average so far; he hopes to work for a big corporation in its public relations department eventually, but as of now this is a rather vague ambition, not directed at any specific company or field. He has been drafted by the Cleveland Browns and he intends to give pro football a try next season.
"My size doesn't bother me any," he said. "I don't find it any handicap, even on pass defense. [Parseghian maintains McKeiver's tremendous ability to jump makes him the equivalent of a 5-foot-10 defense halfback.] The only time I notice it is when I have to tackle a big guy head on and give away 60 or 70 pounds. Usually I try to pin those guys on the sideline and use a block instead of a tackle on 'em. Maybe I can make it in the pros just on my kicking, anyway. I'll give it a try."
LONG DAY FOR WILDCATS
McKeiver, in common with the rest of the small Northwestern squad, has a deep respect and affection for Parseghian. "He works us real hard," he said. "We're up at 6:30 and we've been working mornings and afternoons and having meetings at night. But he knows what he is doing."
Parseghian, a young, handsome and personable coach who came to Northwestern last year after five winning seasons at Miami of Ohio (won 39, lost 6, tied 1), had first to overcome a defeatist complex on the Northwestern squad which had been engendered by two seasons without a Big Ten conference win.