SI Vault
September 15, 1969
As college football begins a new century, it may well have said goodby forever to the fullback constantly running up the backs of his guards and tackles. It may have also bid farewell to the quick kick, field position, clawing defense—to every conservative element that once helped distinguish the game by regions and made it different from the pitch-and-catch style of the professionals. It started happening early in the 1960s, it happened in 1968 as never before and this year it should be even more so. For better or worse the collegiate game is now played the same way over the entire country. No more can one look at the Big Ten and say, there are the brutes who control the ball, or glance at the Deep South and say, there is what defense is all about, or probe the Southwest to see if the forward pass is alive and well at, for example, Baylor. Everybody throws the ball, everybody catches it and everybody runs with such alarming success that scoreboards have taken on the appearance of a light show for hippies.
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September 15, 1969

Wave Goodby To Defense

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And there are other goodies: a fairly big, fast offensive line, hopefully capable of overcoming a short measure of inexperience, and a defense that will be tough if Peterson doesn't have to go to his bench too often.

"This is a good squad, strong and fast," said Peterson. "I'm just afraid we might not have enough players. No competition. We're spending as much time firing them up as we are getting them in shape. Complacency will kill you."

To offset such a handicap, Peterson has scheduled what he calls "my fits." Every second or third day of practice, when things appear to be going too smoothly, he will charge out onto the practice field, order his players to run laps and then charge after them shouting what a bunch of misbegotten, lousy, unathletic, lazy, fat schoolgirls they are. Among other things.

"Except," he says, grinning, "I'm really not in good enough shape to throw a strong fit. I hurt my knee last year and it's slowed me down. I've got to get back in real good condition. Throwing fits is just like playing football—you've got to be able to go at top speed."


Like all avid chess players, Pepper Rodgers enjoys the element of surprise. He has been known to do a somersault on impulse anywhere at all, on football fields, at sorority houses—anywhere. Last year he concluded his final TV show with an enthusiastic rendition of Jingle Bells. "When I came home from the studio, all my wife could say was, 'How could you.' " The biggest surprise of all, and the most famous, was his unintentional 12-man defense against Penn State in the final seconds of the Orange Bowl.

Rodgers enjoyed telling the story of that misfortune at banquets last winter: "When I first came to Kansas in 1967, we lost our first two games. A few weeks later we lost to Ohio University. No matter what I did after that, people asked me how I managed to lose to Ohio University. Well, I got pretty sick of it. So there I was in the Orange Bowl last year with 15 seconds left and I ask myself what can I do to make people forget the Ohio University game? 'Abernathy,' I said, 'get in there.' "

Rodgers' surprise this year is likely to be his Kansas Jayhawks. No team in the Big Eight suffered more from graduation losses. He has had to replace 13 starters, seven of whom were drafted by the pros, but he does not seem concerned. When Rodgers is told that this season's Jayhawks will be unable to match Missouri and Oklahoma, he smiles and says, "I think we will be all right."

A major reason for Rodgers' optimism is his fullback. John Riggins, voted the Big Eight's Sophomore of the Year last season, runs with power and speed. "John can do everything," says Rodgers. "Block, return punts, even tackle if he has to. I've been playing and coaching since 1951, and he is the best I've ever seen." But, despite such praise, the excitement in Lawrence this fall revolves around the new tailback, a junior college transfer named Ron Jessie.

Already the stories describing Jessie's talent as a ballcarrier have spread to the enemy camps in Columbia and Norman. The first two times he was handed the football in spring practice, he ran through the starting defense for touchdowns. Jessie is one of several athletes borrowed by Rodgers from the Kansas track team. His events are the high hurdles and the long jump and he did 25'2½" in the NCAA indoors last winter. Jessie's only drawback is his preference for relaxation. When it came time for him to run the hurdles in the Southern Illinois dual meet, he was nowhere in sight. A teammate eventually discovered him sleeping under the bleachers. "He is a great prospect," says Rodgers, a coach who has never had trouble motivating his charges, "and I am determined that he will be a great football player."

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