There was a good and sound reason for Mike's polite diffidence, reason reflected in the quotes reproduced above. These quotes were all inspired by McKeever's field behavior in the USC-California game a week earlier—behavior that left the air charged with accusations and thin apologies, left one football player, California's Steve Bates, flat on his back, sipping liquid food through his wired-together teeth, and left a host of sports fans filled with something very close to righteous indignation.
Unfortunately for USC, Mike McKeever's injury of Bates, unintentional though it may have been, was but one of many occasions where his bony elbows have caught the chin of an opponent and the eye of an official. Mike, who, along with his identical twin, Marlin, an end, has been touted as USC's spearhead in a crusade to regain lost glory, was ejected from last year's game with Cal for elbowing Quarterback Joe Kapp. He was thrown out of the USC-Stanford game on Oct. 24 for striking Doug Pursell, a center, and from this year's Cal game for twice using his elbows against Quarterback Pete Olson. This seemingly calculated mayhem, according to USC's way of thinking, is all a part of the game-after all, USC wasn't even penalized for the Bates incident. But it is a game its opponents at California will not soon forget.
The truth, as always, lay tragically obscured last week between the smoking indignation of the two camps. Football is undeniably and unquestionably a rough game that requires tough players. But in recent years football on the West Coast has been gnawed from within by a king-sized inferiority complex. Westerners have been reminded repeatedly that their style of play has become too dainty to equal the rigors of the modern game elsewhere. USC, for special reasons of past renown, has responded perhaps more vigorously than the rest of the state to the pressures of this ulcerated sectional pride and has conceivably overcompensated. Mike and Marlin McKeever, the twin holy terrors of Los Angeles' Mount Carmel High School (both were schoolboy All-Americas), were recruited by USC Coach Don Clark to lead the school back to glory.
The press built up the brother act with enthusiasm. Galahad and Lancelot were coming to the Trojans' rescue. USC was dubbed "The University of Southern McKeever." Said Marlin McKeever, before brother Mike's lethal elbows earned their undistinguished reputation: "We get sheer pleasure out of football—out of knocking people down.... It's just plain fun." Mike McKeever, 19 and in his junior year, could be pardoned for youthful exuberance, for thinking special measures, a special dimension of violence, was expected of him. But somewhere, somehow, he seems to have gotten the idea that a code of behavior even he might frown on off the football field is O.K. on it, and nobody on USC's coaching staff apparently has bothered to correct this notion.
Intimidation, of course, is an integral part of modern football tactics, as important in its way as an adequate passing attack. To get an opponent to flinch (as many must at the mere mention of the University of Southern McKeever) is to establish an incalculable advantage over him in football. If intimidation becomes deliberate jawbreaking, however, football has ceased to be a game. When a boy misconstrues aggressiveness as modified manslaughter, the game is better off without him. Mike McKeever seems unclear on the point, possibly because Don Clark, a genuinely fine coach, has never taken the time to drive the point home. Mike McKeever may have reformed by now, but it is high time all football coaches took their bully boys aside and said, in effect, "Lay those elbows down, Mike."