Northwestern and Minnesota were tied 22-22 with four minutes left to play when Tom Myers drifted back into the pocket for another pass. But he was in trouble. The heavy Minnesota rush was collapsing Myers' protection. Worse, Northwestern's two primary receivers—one long, one intermediate—were well covered. "Although we call 75% of the plays," says Northwestern Coach Ara Parseghian, "Tom has certain options as to what to do, and, of course, as a play unfolds, he can improvise." Tom Myers improvised under the storm of Minnesota tacklers and suddenly created the play that made the Wildcats' season. Spotting Halfback Willie Stinson just beyond the line of scrimmage, he lobbed the ball. Stinson caught it and raced 65 yards for the touchdown that put his team ahead. Northwestern won 34-22. Expected to fold at least a month before the season's end, Northwestern survived with a 7-2 Big Ten season.
The play was Tom Myers. It was the sort of thing he did all season long in 1962 when, as a sophomore, he became the best drop-back passer in college football. In nine games the 6-foot, 183-pound Myers accomplished 116 completions out of 195 passes for 1,537 yards and 13 touchdowns. He placed No. 4 in the nation in passing and third in completion percentage (.595). In his first varsity game against South Carolina Myers hit 20 of 24 passes for 275 yards, connecting on 15 of them in a row for a national record.
"We knew he would be good," says Parseghian, "but we didn't know how good." This is the persiflage one expects from most present-day coaches who extend and withdraw encomiums with the speed of computer machines. But Myers threw 73 touchdown passes in high school and was good enough as a freshman to make Parseghian switch from a split T attack to a pro T, with potential pass receivers flooding all over the field. This year Parseghian will make even wider use of split ends and flankers to accommodate the far-throwing Myers.
"His accuracy is something you can't teach," Parseghian says. "It's a knack one has to have, namely that of throwing to the spot where the receivers will be. I'd say that anyone who watched Otto Graham would get the idea of how Myers can lead a receiver."
Ara Parseghian does not try to pretend that Myers is a complete football player. "He's a fine ball handler, but only an adequate runner. Of course, we don't want to run him much and risk injury. He's also one of the best tacklers on our team, but we don't use him on defense for the same obvious reason. He carries out orders to the letter, and he has a sort of magnetism about him in the huddle."
Tom Myers is surprised that he has achieved such fame as a college star. "My family and I always went to see the high school games in Troy, Ohio, but my older brother Mike was the football fan. I preferred watching the band and eating hot dogs," Myers says. "In fact, my mother made my brother a football outfit to wear to the games, and she made me a little band uniform."
Tommy gave up the band uniform in his freshman year of high school and has been passing ever since. But now that everything has fallen neatly into place for Myers, including the college scholarship he wanted so badly, he pauses to wonder about it. "Sometimes the pressure is so intense I don't know if it'll let up. But I look back and say to myself, 'This is what you wanted, and this is what you've got.' "
What two other teams in the sprawling Midwest have got are quarterbacks almost as good as Myers. Nebraska's Dennis Claridge, in fact, is more than the best passer in the Big Eight Conference. He is one of college football's authentic triple threats. Drafted after last fall by Green Bay, Claridge led Coach Bob Devaney's team to an 8-2 record in 1962, running for 370 yards, passing for 829 and averaging 36.9 on his punts. "Claridge," Nebraska Center Ron Michka says, "takes things in hand."
The 10 next-best quarterbacks should come from Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State and teams of similar repute. In most years they would, but before them in 1963 must come a junior at Miami of Ohio, Ernie Kellerman, New Coach Glenn (Bo) Schembechler thinks Keller-man is the best quarterback in the country. "He's a baby-faced kid, really looks like a sissy," says Schembechler. "But that's where an opponent will make his first mistake. Kellerman is real tough. He could make good in any league."