In the peculiarlymartial argot of big-time American college football, the University ofMichigan's starting left halfback, No. 44, is, to sum up the opinion of hiscoaches, "a good operational man." Considerably more about No. 44 isimplied here than may be read or, for that matter, than might have been foundin a report made on him by the scouting staff of the University of Indiana aweek or so before Indiana unexpectedly beat Michigan 13 to 9 at Ann Arbor."Has had more playing time than any other back," said the estimate ofNo. 44. "Good safety man. Uses his speed to flow well versus passes. Goodspeed on offense, but not a power runner." All of this is useful, ofcourse, but incomplete. The fact is that aside from the minimum physicalequipment any football player must have, what makes No. 44 a good operationalman is that, like many of his contemporaries, he is an idealist, a conformist,a realist, an authentic amateur in a world of subsidized football and areproach to cynics.
This is an article from the Nov. 22, 1954 issue
No. 44 is asenior, a premedical student of regular if somewhat undifferentiated featuresand pleasingly malleable ways, who will be 22 years old next month. He is fivefeet, ten inches tall and generally weighs about 168 pounds. (He has lost asmany as ten pounds in a game.) His name is John Daniel Cline and he comes fromBrockport, N.Y. where his father, who was once an outstanding college footballplayer and track man, is the eastern supervisor of management training for theGeneral Motors Institute, and before that coached football and track and wasdirector of athletics at the high school in Midland, Mich. "I was broughtup to love competition," No. 44 said one night not long ago in his slow,deliberate fashion. He rarely attempts to verbalize his mystique. Most oftenwhen he does, it comes out in the form of stereotypes and popularrationalizations.
FAMILY FULL OFHALFBACKS
"Dad wouldhave been disappointed if I hadn't played football," No. 44 went on,"but he never pushed me or Earl." (No. 44's younger brother, Earl, is ahalfback at Hamilton College and went there because he felt he was too light toplay at a big university.) He remembered that when he was three his fatherbought him a complete football uniform and remembered that one day, when hisfather opened the door of the house, No. 44 had tackled him, hit his headagainst his father's knee and fractured his skull. "Dad played halfback atCentral Michigan," No. 44 continued, "and he was an All-America intrack, a high-jumper and decathlon man. He qualified for the high jump in theOlympics in 1928, but he popped a muscle in his leg and they told him he'dnever jump again. On the day the Olympics were held in Amsterdam he was jumpingat the Cadillac Athletic Club in Michigan. He jumped 6 feet 4‚Öú inches, andthat's just what Bob King jumped at Amsterdam. Dad taped a piece of broomstickto his leg to hold the muscle in place."
The extent of No.44's dedication may be gauged at two points in time, three years apart. In thespring of 1951, on his application blank for entrance into Michigan, he wrotein a required autobiographical note: "I have heard nothing but good thingsabout the U. of M. and have been a rabid football fan for many years. If Iattend the U. of M. it will be a prophecy fulfilled, for when Tom Harmon was'All American' halfback at Michigan he autographed a picture for me which said,'To Danny, Class of '51, U. of M. Squad. Sincerely, Tom Harmon.' " (Clinehas never met Harmon but his aunt, a plump, pleasant woman who teaches highschool in Gary, Ind., once had Harmon as a student and got him to autograph thephotograph for her nephew.)
On the basis ofpast performance, No. 44's play in the Indiana game was slightly substandard.He carried the ball 13 times for a net gain of 33 yards. He passed eight timesfor a net gain of 10 yards. Two of his passes were completed, and two wereintercepted. None materially affected the outcome of the game. He also caughttwo passes for a total gain of 22 yards. He played 50 minutes and 40 seconds,which is about average for him. A week later, against Illinois, he gained 70yards on the ground and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass that won the game. Inlast Saturday's game with Michigan State, he did another good afternoon'swork—not startlingly spectacular but generally competent. He played all butabout seven minutes of the game, and was taken out only when the game was inthe bag and he wasn't needed any longer. He carried the ball a few times, andaveraged 4.3 yards a carry. As safety man, he returned some kicks. He defendedhis zone adequately. He tried six passes. Only two were completed—sometimes hisfault, sometimes the fault of the receiver—but one of them, a bullet pass toLou Baldacci near the 5-yard line which Baldacci ran for a touchdown, was thereal turning point of the game. Now comes Ohio State, which has turned out tobe the most menacing rival of Michigan's season. No. 44, like his colleagues,will be "up" for the game. There's work to be done, and he'll be inthere doing it.
A couple of hoursafter the Indiana debacle, in which his lips had been bloodied and his facescratched, the bridge of his nose battered and several ribs in his left sidebruised, No. 44 was dressing for the evening, painfully and awkwardly, in thedisorderly yet somehow monastic two-room suite he shares in the Sigma Chifraternity house, with a big, fourth-string center named Bowman. He picked uphis varsity jacket and then decided against it. "I don't think I'll wearit," he said to Bowman. "There's no use being seen around campus inthat tonight." Bowman, who has never played in a game and who has been usedsimply to scrimmage against the varsity ever since he was a sophomore, gulpedmanfully, turned away and said, in a low voice, "That's the way it goes,Danny."
The University ofMichigan is a representative member of the Big Ten Conference and, in the mindsof its 150,000 alumni, as much consecrated to football as to scholarship. Ithas a stadium that seats 97,239 people, cost well over a million dollars to putup (when it was built in 1927 to seat 79,000 people, the original cost was$950,000; currently, the press box alone is being remodeled at a cost of$30,000), and is the largest college-owned structure of its kind in the world.It is used no more than half a dozen times a year, and then only for football.(No. 44 once remarked, in a casual conversation, that he found the stadium moreawesome—even a little frightening—empty than he did when it was full ofcustomers.)
Although he isnot familiar with the exact figures, and doesn't know, for example, that itcosts $124.95 to equip him and up to $11,000 to feed the squad for a month-longpreschool training period, No. 44 is neither unaware that he is part of alarge-scale enterprise nor resentful of the fact, and in this is typical of hiskind. He has been called, among other things, a "player's player," a"good, solid guy on the right side of things," a "man who gives150% of himself," and an "everyday player—in every way—not just aSaturday player." His opinions are respected, as one football player putit, not so much because of what he says as the affirmative way in which he saysit. Thus, he has won the Fielding H. Yost Honor Award, established in the nameof the coach who probably did most to make Michigan a big-time footballinstitution, which is given on the basis of moral character and goodcitizenship, physical ability, scholastic achievement and the capacity forleadership and success. This year, he was also elected to Michigamua, a seniorhonor society which taps only 25 men a year.
"You realizethe importance of football to a school like this," No. 44 said in hischaracteristically candid, persuasive way. "It pays for every other sport.You can see the—I'm searching for a word—that it seems reasonable that afootball player should get some financial aid for the money that football doesmake for the university. But at Michigan you couldn't possibly consideryourself an employe like you could at some other schools where they go in forfootball in a big way. Here you get money to enable you to go to school; youdon't get money for going to school. I figure it's a privilege to go toMichigan and also to play football for Michigan." He added, a trifleself-consciously, "After four years of college, you've got the rest of yourlife to live. You can always be respected for having gone to Michigan."
At present No. 44is living on a $900 Elmer J. Gedeon Memorial Scholarship, the terms of whichroughly parallel those of the Yost award (which pays him nothing). He saved$350 last summer out in South Dakota where he worked in a playground and alsoplayed baseball in an amateur league made up mostly of college players likehimself.
He is the 1955captain of Michigan's baseball team and has been scouted by a number of majorleague organizations. There is a Michigan alumnus who is "interested"in No. 44 and who recently invested some money in stocks for him, which broughtNo. 44 $240. His parents send him money now and then, but there was a time—inhis freshman year—when he waited on table for his meals.
"Michigancertainly doesn't overpay," he observed matter-of-factly. "Financiallyspeaking, it was the worst offer. I could have been making money going to otherschools." There never was any question in his mind that he would playfootball in college and that football would pay for his education—there were abrother and sister his parents intended to send to college, too, and thatentailed a financial burden No. 44 fully appreciated. At the end of his junioryear at Brockport High School (where he was a letter man in four sports, to saynothing of being a sectional champion in skiing), No. 44 deliberatelytransferred to Aquinas Institute in nearby Rochester which, in the footballbusiness, has the reputation of being a sort of Eastern farm for the bigcolleges and maintains a stadium seating 25,000 people, for a showcase.
He playedfootball there for a semester, returning in the spring to Brockport to get hisdiploma. He was approached by, among others, Indiana, Cornell, Rochester,Villanova, Yale and Brown, No. 44 said "One place," he said,"offered me room, board, tuition, books, three trips home by plane everyyear and spending money. They came after me even after I'd enteredMichigan." He also received a Congressional appointment to the NavalAcademy, but turned it down because there was no certainty that he could pursuea medical education there. At Brockport, he was graduated third,scholastically, in his class. At Michigan he has maintained an average thatfluctuates between a high C and a B. His instructors—this year he is taking 15hours of philosophy, speech, zoology, anthropology and geography—regard him asalert and intelligent. "I couldn't make it any stronger than that," hisphilosophy instructor said not long ago. "He's not just a lunk—he followswhat's going on. At crucial times—when I've asked questions—he's had an answer.I'll put it this way: he's no Einstein, but neither am I."
Apart fromfootball practice, which takes place every afternoon until about 6 o'clock, No.44's academic week varies little from that of any other student enrolled in theuniversity. He attracts no unusual attention in the classroom. He must do hisstudying at night, and generally goes to the library to do it. Recently, whenhe has returned late to his fraternity house, he has taken to rousing thesleeping brothers by reading items off a bulletin board at the top of hisvoice. The brothers are tolerant of this behavior: they don't think he'scrazy—just blowing off steam, releasing the tension that builds up betweengames. He neither smokes nor drinks (Ann Arbor is dry) and he seldom has datesduring the week, though he may take in an occasional movie.
So it is footballthat dominates No. 44's life and it is even, quite literally, the stuff hisdreams are made of. On the Wednesday night before the Indiana game he composedhimself for sleep before 10:30, as usual, and as usual at that time of week,began to dream about football. This time he dreamed that Michigan had kickedoff. The ball described a low arc, hit an Indiana man and dropped dead. No. 44picked up the ball. He remembers lateraling it to a tackle named Art Walker,and then the dream trailed off into something else he is unable to recall. Hissleeping fantasies are of a type psychiatrists call "examinationdreams," that is uncomplicated dreams of passing some forthcoming test.They are never, as No. 44 put it, "dreams of glory," but ratherdefensive ones, "dreams of trying to stop the other team, of capitalizingon their mistakes." If he is carrying the ball it is always in short linebucks, if he is passing it is usually for short gains over center. "I guessit's because the coaches try to impress us with the rock and sock of powerfootball," he has explained. "Single wing is power football. It's thefundamentals and rules we've learned that come out in the mind, like tacklinghard, being sharp, knowing the rules, charging for that extra yard like theywant us to."
Consciously, No.44 sees in football a good many analogies to his daily life. "You get asort of enjoyment in doing your part," he said, "in accomplishing anobjective as part of a team. It seems like there are more obstacles to overcomethan in any other game. You can't do it all on your own and you've got to cometo realize that. You take it and you dish it out. Other games, you get mad, butyou can't do anything about it. You can't make that contact, you can't get yourshoulder in there. This releases—well, I guess you'd call it innertensions."
At the time No.44 said all this he was getting ready to call on his girl, a pretty blondenamed Jan Garrett, who is a sophomore and waits on table and has even servedNo. 44 at training table. Her picture stands on a shelf in his bedroom, and thesight of it apparently stirred some other thoughts in his mind. "Youknow," he said, "I felt awful lost as a freshman. This way, you're notjust another student. People meet you on campus and you've got something totalk about with them. When you go to a school like this, when you walk down astreet or into a store, a lot of people know you. You get a kick out of thatand you want to do well for that reason. Another thing: I won't forget thefirst touchdown I made. It was last year's Ohio State game. It was anoff-tackle play and I went over standing up. I got kind of a glow and warm allover, like when you hear the band play 'Hail to the Victors.' It's never thesame after that. After that, it's like practice."