It would seem that Bryant would be almost as gleeful over his passing game, what with last year's record-setting combination. Quarterback Scott Hunter and Split End George Ranager, back in Tuscaloosa. Hunter broke or tied seven passing records last season and already stands behind only Steve Sloan and Harry Gilmer—and ahead of Joe Namath—in career total offense at Alabama. Yet Bryant, who has handled a few quarterbacks of note in his time, frowns a little when he talks about Hunter.
"He's a great passer, but that's just part of it," says Bryant. "He couldn't get it over the goal line consistently last year. We'll have to just wait and see. You just can't go out and throw and expect to win." Then, ominously, he adds: "We have some depth at quarterback this season."
Senior Guard Alvin Samples, who Bryant says "has been a solid citizen for two years," should become "a great lineman," the team's offensive anchor. But the defense, with 11 lettermen gone, is a little suspect, with the exception of senior Safety Tommy Wade. "He has what it takes," says Bryant. "He'll play anywhere and he'll really hitcha."
One afternoon before practice, The Bear was sitting in his office, dragging on a Coke, mourning the low, low state of Alabama football. "My recruiting hasn't been what it should be," he said. "We haven't got as many players as we should have. I hope we have more next year." He paused. "A year ago I thought we'd have a terrific football team, but some people I thought would be great aren't even here and some who are here aren't great. No, I don't think we belong in the Top 20, and you know what? If I were the president of this school and Alabama wasn't in the Top 20, I'd fire the coach."
The Katzenjammer Kids are back for their third and final show, a bit older, sure, perhaps even a bit wiser, but certainly no less rambunctious. You remember them! They were the Cardiac Kids in 1967, when they won about eight million games in the last two minutes, tied for the Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl—all in one fun-filled melodramatic episode. And then last season, starting the same way, winning their opener against Baylor when Quarterback Harry Gonso scored with 18 seconds remaining. It seemed just like old times, and after the game there was the wisecracking Gonso, listening as a reporter asked, "Who called that last play, Harry, you or Coach Pont?" then answering, just loudly enough for Pont to feel the needle, "Why Coach Pont, of course. Don't you know? He's coach of the year."
The rest of the season wasn't quite as funny, as Indiana's bag of miracles emptied fast. The team lost once by three points and once by five—story endings unheard of the year before. Yet Pont, forever an optimist, ended the season with a promise. "Save your money," he told everyone in Bloomington. "Indiana is going back to Pasadena next year."
Next year is here, and nothing has changed Pont's mind. "We have no basic problems that are going to give me restless nights," he says. "The only thing we worry about are injuries to key people." The most important key is Gonso, the brash and cocky quarterback who is the hub of the option-power-sweep series that is Indiana's offense. Local sportswriters have gotten to calling Gonso "The Franchise," and even Pont will admit that "we always tell our line to keep him clean. I'm afraid if we lost Harry...." Pont's voice then trails off like a man having a bad dream.
Not that Gonso would ever think of causing his coach a sleepless night. Muses Halfback John Isenbarger: "Harry? Hell, he's cocky as they come. He'll just get out there and win by intimidating the other team." Gonso laughs. "I don't care how many times I'm hit. Or how hard I'm hit. I can't be scared." Such derring-do has netted Gonso a few minor concussions, which he has always managed to hide from the coaches, and enough floating bone chips and torn tendons in his right ankle to get him a deferment from the service. It also has made him, in only two seasons, Indiana's alltime total offense leader—which must impress Woody Hayes, who once rejected Gonso as too small for his Buckeyes. ("Aren't you happy you didn't go to Ohio State?" someone once asked Gonso. "You'd be playing behind Rex Kern." Gonso snapped back: "I think Kern would make a good halfback.")
Gonso, of course, wasn't alone in creating the miracles that transformed Indiana into something more than the Big Ten's ugly duckling. There was also Isenbarger, the team's leading rusher the past two seasons, and Jade Butcher, a superb flanker and Gonso's favorite target. "With those boys," Pont says, "even though time is short and we may be behind, I think we have an advantage."