SI Vault
Robert Creamer
November 05, 1962
The daring coach of Northwestern built a new offense around the passing genius of a sophomore named Tommy Myers. Big casino: Northwestern is No. 1 in the U.S.
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November 05, 1962

Ara Parseghian's Gamble

The daring coach of Northwestern built a new offense around the passing genius of a sophomore named Tommy Myers. Big casino: Northwestern is No. 1 in the U.S.

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Paul Flatley, Northwestern's superb flanker back who is Myers' favorite receiver this year—he caught six passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame—said, "Even though he's a sophomore, Tommy runs that team. If someone comes back to the huddle talking when he's not supposed to, Tom will say, 'All right, let's be quiet there. We're in the huddle.' I don't mean you can't say anything in the huddle. If, for instance, I see from the defense that I have to alter my pattern in going out for a pass I'll tell Tom and he'll adjust to it. The thing about Tom is he can adjust even if I don't have a chance to tell him. During a play he'll see that I have to change the pattern and he'll change with me and know right where I'll be and he lays that pass there."

Flatley is a senior, a good-looking boy with poise and intelligence, a pre-law student (and a nominee for the Big Ten's all-academic team) who would like to play pro football in order to earn money for law school. He played halfback and fullback for Northwestern as a sophomore and junior, and while a capable man in both positions never appeared to be much more than an average player. This year, down range from Myers, he has developed into one of the finest pass catchers in the country, with deft moves and amazingly sure hands. He never carries the ball from scrimmage but he is the prime target—and sometimes the only target—on most of Myers' passes. Last year, season long, Paul caught six I passes for 75 yards and one touchdown. This year in five games he has caught 35 passes for 494 yards and five touchdowns.

"Tom is an exceptional passer," Flatley says. "His passes are quick but they're easy to catch. Some quarterbacks throw ' a hard pass right at you, and sometimes they're hard to hold on to. Tommy's passes get to you just as fast but they're tipped up or tipped down, and they're easy to grab. They never wobble. And he's so consistent. When you're running, out and cutting, you can concentrate ' on beating the defensive back; you don't ; have that worry in the back of your mind that you're going to have to stop or make a dive for the ball or lunge for it. The ball is right there. He usually throws it to me right at eye-level, the best place to catch it."

Two Myers-to-Flatley passes against Notre Dame were collectors' items. In the second period with the ball at Northwestern's 33, third down and seven to go, Flatley went out to the right flank, feinted toward the sideline and came straight back across the field. The ball, two defenders and Flatley converged at the same point, the ball somewhat higher than its companions. Flatley, who has great leaping ability, sent body and arm aloft, hooked a hand around the ball and fell to the ground with a 10-yard gain and the first down. "Flatley makes Myers a great passer," said a Notre Dame man in the press box. But in the third period, with Northwestern on Notre Dame's seven, Flatley went down from the right flank into the end zone, hooked around the Notre Dame secondary and sort of poked himself through a hole at the precise moment when Myers' pass shot down the middle into his arms for a touchdown. The Notre Dame man clutched his head. "Which one is better?" he cried.

Myers says, "Those catches that Flatley makes are unbelievable. Those guys—Flatley and the others—make me look special. If they drop one, it's an easy one. They catch all the tough ones. The 65-yard pass Willie Stinson scored on against Minnesota, that wasn't a good pass at all. I really missed him. He just made a great catch and a great run."

But Paul Shoults, while agreeing that Flatley and the others have helped Myers with some remarkable catches this year, insists, "Tommy is good. I can't think of a better passer in the Big Ten in the seven years I've been here. He has confidence in what he can do. One time in that Ohio State game we had first down and eight to go for a touchdown. We ran the ball once for no gain and then Tommy threw three straight passes. The first two were incomplete. But he hit on the last one for a touchdown." Lou Juillerat says that in one high school game all four of Troy's touchdowns came on fourth-down plays and all four were passes from Myers. "He knows what he's doing and he sticks with it. The three remarkable things about Tommy in high school were his determination, his poise and the softness of his passes. He made excellent receivers out of ordinary ones. He threw the easiest pass to catch I ever saw."

Northwestern coaches say there was nothing they could show Myers about passing. "We can work on his strategy and his fakes and his footwork and we can develop a line that gives him good protection when he drops back to pass, but we couldn't show him anything about throwing a ball. He had good training."

"At Troy in the off season," Juillerat recalled, "we used to give each quarterback a piece of canvas and we told them to take it home and draw a bull's-eye on it and throw a football at it 100 times a day—a training ball, which is heavier than a regular ball. Some of the boys didn't bother but Tommy wore out four canvases one winter."

Northwestern doesn't exactly keep Tommy Myers carefully packed around with cotton, but they do take good care of him. Parseghian uses him only on offense and he takes him out of the game—as he did last Saturday—whenever Northwestern gains a commanding lead. It is wise for Ara to do this. Across the street from Dyche Stadium in Evanston, Ill., Northwestern's home field, is a small office with a large sign that says, "Bob Voigts Realty." Bob Voigts coached Northwestern from 1947 through 1954 and got his club to the Rose Bowl one year. But his last three teams lost 19 out of 27 games, and now Bob sells real estate. It's not a bad life, but standing on the sidelines watching Tommy Myers throw touchdown passes sure beats it for excitement.

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