The lazy waters of the Red Cedar River that wind through the thickly wooded campus of Michigan State University at East Lansing sparkled in the light of a bright October moon. There wasn't a cloud in the sky to hide a single star. From the distance there came the sound of spirited band music and of thousands of young voices joyfully singing. It was an evening and a setting of sheer perfection, and Head Football Coach Duffy Daugherty, driving around and around the campus looking for a place to park, was sitting on top of the world.
Things could scarcely have been better for Duffy. The reigning Coach of the Year, the mastermind of the most complex multiple-offense apparatus in college football, Duffy appeared to be headed for another great season to round out a year that began with the Rose Bowl victory of last New Year's Day. Already this fall Michigan State had beaten Stanford and Michigan. Ahead lay easy victories over Indiana and Notre Dame and one week's tenure as No. 1 team of the nation.
Then there was to be Illinois and disaster. But Duffy could not know that this wondrous evening. And yet, as he drove along, speaking with characteristic candor, he was strangely prophetic.
"Once in a while," he said as he made and lost a race for a precious parking space, "an underdog will become inspired and upset a favorite. But most of the time the team that wins will be the team with the most good football players. There is no substitute for good football players. That's why we go out and recruit the best high school football players we can find. That's the real art of winning football games. There are no geniuses in coaching."
November 12, 1956
He suddenly pulled into a driveway behind a car already parked there. "The heck with it," he said. "I'll leave the keys and they can move me if they want to get out."
Slamming the car door behind him, Duffy walked across the grass toward the band shell where several thousand students were attending a pep rally. He moved through the crowd without anyone noticing him until he came to the bandstand and stood at the side of it waiting, hatless, his hands thrust in his trouser pockets. He grinned as he watched the cheerleaders on the stage leap and dance to the band music and the singing of the Michigan State Spartan Fight Song. Six of his senior players saw him and moved over next to him. Duffy beamed at them and told them how he would introduce them. "You say a few words, John," he said to John Matsko, the team captain. "You other fellows can just take a bow." Just as the Fight Song was concluded, the student master of ceremonies spotted Duffy and shouted into the microphone:
"And here's the man we've been waiting for—Coach Duffy Daugherty!"
Duffy hurried up the steps and across the stage, shook hands with the master of ceremonies and then turned to the crowd, squinting into the lights, raising a hand hesitantly in acknowledgment of the cheers, looking offstage modestly, then turning another way to wink at his players.
(As he stood there in the bright lights, not very tall, not very short, maybe a little beefier than he would like, Hugh Duffy Daugherty, age 41, had come a long way from Barnesboro, Pennsylvania where he was raised. Because his father had failed in business and refused to go through bankruptcy as a way out, Duffy had gone to work in a shirt factory at 16, in a coal mine at 18. But he had played football all the while, and when things were better with his father he was able to take advantage of an academic and athletic scholarship to Syracuse University, and so he may be thinking of himself when he says, as he does so often, that a lot of worthy kids wouldn't get a college education if it weren't for the recruiting he proudly defends. It was at Syracuse that Duffy won the friendship of an assistant coach named Clarence (Biggie) Munn, now athletic director of Michigan State and the man who picked Duffy for the job of head coach. Now, in his third season, Duffy was being hailed as a new breed of coach who could win and still maintain his sense of proportion and good humor in an overly serious, ulcer-prone profession.)
Up on the stage a grin brightened Duffy's map-of-Ireland face (he is as much Scotch as Irish) as he ran his fingers through his curly hair, and he let the cheers roar on. Finally he held up his hand.
"Well," said Duffy, "I hope we have another nice sunshiny day tomorrow." He waited a few seconds and added, "Like last Saturday."
The students laughed and cheered. It had, of course, rained cats and dogs at Ann Arbor while Michigan State was beating Michigan 9-0 the previous Saturday.
"Oh, yes," said Duffy, feigning mild surprise, "somebody did tell me it sprinkled a little. I guess I didn't notice."
A student in the band banged the big drum.
"Well," said Duffy, "It will certainly be wonderful to play on our home field for the first time this year. We're kind of a road team this year and of course the boys got a kick out of going to California, but they were saying this afternoon there's no thrill like playing before your own crowd, your own fellow students. They were saying today that there's no spirit like the Spartan spirit and they'll certainly be giving everything out there tomorrow."
Duffy went on, paying tribute to Indiana and citing a few statistics to prove that the Hoosiers were better than the scores would indicate. Then one by one he introduced the six seniors, winding up with Captain Matsko, who said a few words.
As Duffy made his way back to his car, shaking hands along the way, he said out of the corner of his mouth: "Wasn't Matsko wonderful the way he talked up? He couldn't have done that a couple of years ago. It's great to see a boy acquire the confidence that comes with success."
Duffy had a few other engagements this evening. He made a speech at the dinner for the press and visiting coaches and ad-libbed his regular 15-minute radio program, which is sponsored by a Lansing automobile dealer. For the radio show (he also has two weekly sponsored television programs), he enlisted the help of Indiana Coach Bernie Crimmins and Keith Molesworth, executive vice-president of the Baltimore Colts, who was in town scouting potential professional talent.
After interviewing Crimmins and Molesworth, Duffy had a little time on the air to fill and so he said to Crimmins:
"Bernie, I understand my sponsors placed a new car at your disposal while you're in town. How do you like it?"
"Duffy," said Bernie Crimmins, snapping at the cue, "it's a beauty. In fact, I've just about decided that I'll get one like it when I get home."
"That's fine," said Duffy, "I drive one myself and I think they're great." He grinned at Crimmins and went on: "Say, Bernie, I didn't intend this to be a commercial. The announcer does that. I was just curious, that's all."
"Sure, Duff," said Crimmins, winking an eye.
Duffy wasn't through for the night. An hour or so later he was up on another stage in a ballroom of the Hotel Olds in Lansing, looking out through a pall of smoke at a gathering of Michigan State alumni. Duffy seized the opportunity to pay tribute to his coaching staff—to Bob Devaney, Lou Agase, Burt Smith, Bill Yeoman, Sonny Grandelius, Doug Weaver and John Polonchek.
"They do all the work," said Duffy. "I just kind of walk around."
Next day the weather was bright and sunny, a little warm for football players but perfect for spectators. A record crowd of 58,858 filled Macklin Stadium and the turf was just right to bring out the best in the marching bands. It was Homecoming Day for Michigan State and, for the edification of the old grads, Duffy used 50 players to roll up a 53-6 victory over his good friend Bernie Crimmins.
Afterward in the locker room Duffy sat on a trunk and munched the apple that is a postgame tradition with him.
"Gee," he said, "I don't like to see the score go that high. But there was nothing I could do about it."
Confirming Duffy's helplessness, Bob Popp, a fifth-string quarterback who had sent Blanche Martin over with a touchdown late in the game, made a great tackle and intercepted a pass, called out from a little distance away.
"Hey, Coach! I guess you know who your quarterback is now!"
Duffy threw back his head.
"I guess I'll have plenty of time to rest up," yelled Popp, "before the Kansas State game, Coach?"
Duffy laughed again. Kansas State is the last opponent on the Michigan State schedule.
Duffy had nothing to do over the weekend but make a speech at an alumni dinner, entertain some visiting relatives, ad-lib a half-hour television program over Station WJIM-TV in Lansing, hold a couple of staff meetings and examine minutely the motion pictures of the Indiana game.
He appeared to be thoroughly refreshed by all this when he showed up for a football writers' luncheon at Kellogg Center, the student-staffed hotel on the campus, at noon Monday. In a spirited discussion with Edgar Hayes, sports editor of the Detroit Times, he defended recruitings and expressed strong opposition to the idea (which Hayes liked) of making a high school athlete sign a "letter of intent" once he has chosen his college. "A boy should have the right to make up his mind without pressure from anybody," said Duffy. As for his brand of recruiting, he said, "all we do is bring a boy down here to look things over. We don't try to sell a boy. If he likes the school and needs help, then we sit down with him and try to figure things out." The solution is usually a books-room-tuition proposition with some kind of on-campus work thrown in. The same kind of deal, Duffy said, that is given to some members of the marching band. Edgar Hayes remained unconvinced, but Duffy's good humor was restored as usual before the waiters brought on the dessert. He loves to needle sportswriters gently by speaking in the clichés of the sports pages. When somebody raised the question of what constituted a "traditional rival," Duffy said with a straight face:
"Well, I think the rivalry of Michigan and Michigan State bids fair to develop into a competition that will one day capture the imagination of football fandom."
Duffy was in high spirits that afternoon when the squad reported for practice. There had been no serious injuries in the Indiana game. Clarence Peaks, an apparent cinch for All-America halfback, was at top form. Pat Burke, the guard, hadn't hurt his leg at all but merely suffered a charley horse. It even appeared that Dave Kaiser might be ready to see action against Notre Dame—if his replacement, Jim Hinesly, would let him. And Walt Kowalczyk, as Duffy put it, was "limping much better."
Just as he had told the alumni, all Duffy seemed to do was walk around from group to group, watching Burt Smith work with the offensive linemen, Sonny Grandelius with the backs, and Bob Devaney and Lou Agase and Bill Yeoman at their respective chores. Now and then Duffy would make some comments. Once, watching his first-stringers run a play, he called out with a trace of irritation that the backs were executing such and such a play all wrong. The quarterback replied softly that it wasn't to be such and such. He had called so and so.
Looking crestfallen for an instant, Duffy recovered almost at once. "Can't you take a joke?" he said.
He went on down the field and watched another team working against the freshmen. He listened in the huddle. "Here's a play," he sang out, "that will go all the way!"
It was a pass play, and a freshman promptly intercepted it and ran in the clear toward the goal line.
"What did I tell you," cried Duffy. "It went all the way, didn't it? You'll notice I didn't say which way."
Duffy was giving his customary deceptive performance. Seemingly indifferent, he was not missing a stroke, and he would be able, with his phenomenal memory, to re-create the entire practice session in the staff and squad meetings later on. Meanwhile, he was practicing the gospel he preaches: football should be fun. "Have some fun out there," he tells his players in the last squad meeting before every game.
Duffy wants, always, to send a team on the field that is eager to play, that cannot wait another minute to play a game of football. To this end, he never scrimmages his regulars after the season opens. He wants them to come up to Saturday afternoon hungry for combat.
Duffy's seven assistants are given complete authority in their specialties and, something rarer, freedom of speech. "Duffy," said one of them, "claims there are no geniuses in coaching. I don't know, but sometimes he almost acts like one. There'll be a problem, for instance. All of us will know all the elements of the problem, have all the facts necessary for a solution. But we'll sit there baffled until Duffy comes along, looks at the facts and sees the way out that we couldn't see. That's why, whenever things look bad, we always say, 'Duffy will think of something.' "
"I'll tell you something," said another assistant. "Before a game I get sick to my stomach. And Duffy? He can take a nap. But he's not perfect. He's the world's worst loser at gin rummy."
(Sometimes Duffy's relaxed attitude is the despair of his staff. Nothing is top secret with him. Before the last Rose Bowl game several thousand spectators showed up in time for what would normally be a secret practice session. Duffy not only welcomed them but carefully explained some of Michigan State's best plays. "Why not?" he said. "Nobody knows when we will run them.")
Duffy looked across the field and saw his wife, Frances, walk in with their two children, Danny, 9, and Dree, 3. Mrs. Daugherty explained that she brings the children to practice so they can see something of their father during the football season. Duffy roughhoused with Danny and mussed Dree's blonde hair. Somebody recalled the time, during a preseason scrimmage session, when Duffy was urging his warriors on to bruising, bloodletting combat. The family arrived and Duffy walked away from the carnage to take Dree's hand in his and then suddenly cry out in horror: "Francie! Dree has a splinter!"
Without ever appearing to have anything particular to do, Duffy was on the go all week. One evening he made a trip to Detroit to address the Michigan State Alumni Club there. One evening he enlisted the help of three of his players to do another of his television programs. He spent some part of every day in his office. One afternoon he found time to get a haircut.
One evening Duffy went on a hayride. It had long been planned by the wives of the assistant coaches, and its base was the Rowe Ranch outside Lansing. Duffy was delighted to go, and so were Biggie Munn and Mrs. Munn. With friends of the coaches, there was a party of about 50 to fill the two wagons. There was a jolting ride over the back country roads, with Duffy joining in the singing of every barbershop ballad Doug Weaver, the freshman coach, could think of to lead with his harmonica. Biggie Munn did a hillbilly solo and then cried, "How about Que Sera, Sera?" Everybody knew that one, and then Doug Weaver did the recitative part of On Top of Old Smoky.
When the hay wagons got back to the ranch, there was a jukebox barn dance with the emphasis on jitterbugging. Duffy sat on a box and sipped a can of beer and laughed at the antics of Forddy Anderson, the basketball coach, who had found an old cap which he pulled down over his ears for a jitterbug solo. Then he passed the cap to Doug Weaver who also did a solo. Automatically an impromptu routine was born, and some of the coaches and their wives ran outside to escape it. But when the cap was passed to Duffy he got up and did a dance of his own invention. Everybody laughed and clapped hands until the music finished, and then a voice cried out: "You'd think we were playing the Little Sisters of the Poor on Saturday!"
Duffy wasn't forgetting that Saturday's opponent was Notre Dame, but somehow or other he couldn't stay serious for long about the Irish.
"You fellows have got to remember," he said solemnly at practice the day after the hay ride, "that you can never take Notre Dame for granted. One of these Saturdays they're going to be one of the best teams in the country, and I just hope it's not this Saturday. You've got to remember that you won't only be playing Hornung and Lewis, you'll be playing Rockne and George Gipp and the Four Horsemen."
He turned to Clarence Peaks and said, "Clarence, what would you do if Rockne tackled you Saturday?"
"I believe, Coach," said Peaks, "that I'd just leave the stadium."
Duffy ducked his head and walked away. Fred Stabley, the publicity director, and Nick Vista, his assistant, walked up to him and Stabley said, "Coach, the papers are rating us 14 to 21 points better than Notre Dame. Does that bother you?"
"No," said Duffy, "I don't mind being the favorite. The favorite wins most of the time."
On Wednesday, Duffy made a talk before the Downtown Coaches, an organization of Lansing businessmen. On Thursday he taped his radio show that would be broadcast while he was in South Bend. Friday he held a 20-minute practice session and called a squad meeting for that night.
At the squad meeting the films of the Notre Dame-Purdue game were shown, and the assistant coaches called out their comments and reran key plays. When the showing was over, Duffy walked up and sat on a table with his feet dangling.
"This team," he said quietly, "doesn't need any pep talk. You're good and you're going to win. One thing I want to mention—don't forget that Notre Dame cheering section. When you're in scoring position they'll set up that chant and you may not be able to hear the signals. If that happens, you ask the referee for an official time out until you can hear the signals clearly."
Then he told a story about a small-town preacher who had just finished his sermon when a very inebriated man jumped up and yelled, "Parson, that was a damn fine talk." The parson rebuked the man: "None of that strong language, brother." The man persisted, "That was a doozy, that was one hell of a sermon, Parson." The preacher raised his voice: "I will not tolerate that kind of language, brother, I'm warning you." The man whipped out a $100 bill and waved it. "Parson," he cried, "that was such a hell of a talk, I'm dropping this $100 bill in the collection basket." The preacher's eyes bulged as he exclaimed: "Hot damn!"
"That was Jim Hinesly's story," said Duffy, "and now try to get to bed early. Study a little but not too late. Good night."
Next day two chartered airliners carried Duffy and 38 players to Elkhart, Indiana, a town 15 miles from Notre Dame. Duffy was immediately deluged with speaking invitations, and he said he would accept as many as possible.
So, after having dinner with his players and sending them off to a movie, he showed up at the Notre Dame press dinner at the LaSalle Hotel in South Bend and chatted with Terry Brennan, telling him he had brought along the Irish shillelagh that has become a symbol of Notre Dame-Michigan State rivalry. It was presented to Duffy by the Homecoming Queen in 1954 as a good luck piece. When he lost that year to Notre Dame, he gave it to Brennan. Brennan returned it to East Lansing last year.
After a while, Duffy went upstairs to another banquet room and was introduced by Biggie Munn to the local members of the Michigan State alumni. Duffy delivered some of his best tested material and then excused himself with the explanation that he was due at a Knights of Columbus smoker in another part of town.
There was a capacity crowd of about 2,000 Knights at the smoker in a high school auditorium.
On the stage, squinting into the footlights, Duffy began by paying tribute to Knute Rockne, the Notre Dame spirit, and Terry Brennan. Then he said, as he had been telling audiences all week, "I'd settle right now for a one-point victory." The Knights gave him a big hand.
Duffy shifted his feet and looked up at the ceiling rather wistfully.
"You know," he said, "when we're young, we all have our dreams, our ambitions. I remember when I was 18, back in my home town of Barnesboro, Pa., I went to work in a coal mine. One of the first things I did was strike up a wonderful friendship with a boy named Fred. Fred and I used to sit and talk while we were waiting for the motor-man to bring back the empty cars. We'd talk about our dreams and our ambitions. I told Fred that my dream was to get a college education. I didn't know how I was ever going to do it or where or when, but that was what I wanted most of all in life. I asked Fred what he wanted. Fred didn't hesitate a minute. He said his ambition was to have a tailor-made suit, the best tailor-made suit in the whole town of Barnesboro. Fred talked through his nose, but he didn't say anything about having his adenoids out. What he wanted most of all was a tailor-made suit."
Duffy had his audience a little mystified, but in the palm of his hand. You could have heard a beer bottle drop.
"A couple of years ago," said Duffy, "I went back to Barnesboro. I got a wonderful welcome home. They put on a Duffy Daugherty night and gave me a dinner. But what I wanted to find out more than anything else was what had happened to Fred. I had realized my dream of going to college. But what about Fred—did he ever get his tailor-made suit?"
Duffy looked like he might be on the verge of tears.
"Yes," he said, "Fred had realized his dream. After years of backbreaking labor in the mines, he had saved up $300 and taken it to Adam Adamosky, the town tailor. 'Adam,' he said, 'I want you to make me the best tailor-made suit in town.' "
As Duffy told it, Adam advised Fred he couldn't have come in at a better time. He had the best bolt of cloth ever to be shipped into Cambria County. He would make Fred a tailor-made suit beyond his heart's desire.
There were fittings and more fittings, but at last the suit was ready. Fred put it on and swaggered down Main Street. At the corner of Main and Philadelphia, he ran into Miles Ranck, the editor of the Barnesboro Star. Ranck told Fred the suit looked fine, but there was one thing wrong with it. The left sleeve was a little short.
Talking through his nose, Duffy impersonated Fred rushing back to Adam Adamosky. Adam explained that the short sleeve was a natural consequence of using such exquisite material. All Fred had to do was keep pulling at the sleeve with his hand as he walked along and in a week the suit would be the finest in western Pennsylvania.
Duffy became Fred swinging proudly along Main Street, tugging at his left sleeve. He meets other friends. They tell him the suit is fine except for the fact that one of the lapels sticks up.
Back to Adam Adamosky and a new prescription. Fred is merely to hold his chin on the lapel and in a week's time the suit will be the suit of his dreams.
Duffy is Fred swinging along Main Street, tugging at his sleeve, holding his chin on his lapel. More friends and more compliments—except for one small criticism. The trousers are too full in the seat.
Again Adam has the answer. In a moment Duffy is Fred on Main Street, swinging across the stage, tugging at his left sleeve, holding his chin on his lapel and clutching the seat of his pants. He passes two strangers.
"What's the matter with that poor fellow?" says one. "I don't know," says the other, "but that's certainly a nice looking suit."
Duffy waved shortly to the Knights and left them howling with laughter as he slipped out a side door where a car was waiting to take him back to Elkhart.
At noon the next day, the two big buses parked outside the Hotel Elkhart seemed to be loaded and ready to go. The 38 players had taken their seats and so had the newspapermen and Biggie Munn and Dean of Students Tom King. The squad cars and motorcycles of the Indiana state police escort had swung into line and waited for a signal from Business Manager Lyman Frimodig who stood with one foot on the step of the lead bus and slowly raised his arm for the gesture that would start the caravan rolling toward Notre Dame's stadium, 15 miles away. Suddenly, as his eyes swept the buses in a final check, Business Manager Frimodig dropped his arm and yelled: "Hold everything! Where's Duffy?"
Duffy was in the hotel lobby, down on his hands and knees, talking earnestly to a Bedlington terrier with the woebegone look of a shorn lamb. Duffy looked up at the girl who held the dog's leash.
"What's his name?" he asked.
"Baa-Baa," said the girl.
"Baa-Baa," said Duffy to the Bedlington, "I said, 'Give me your left paw.' That's your right paw."
The dog sadly lifted the left paw.
Frimodig hurried into the lobby.
"All set and ready to go, Duff," he said.
Duffy looked up at him.
"I used to be a dog trainer," he said. "Watch this."
He made a hoop with his arms.
"Jump!" he said.
The Bedlington offered his right paw.
"You see, Frim?" said Duffy, "the first requisite for a dog trainer is that he has to know more than the dog."
He patted the dog's head.
"And that," he said to the dog's owner, "is why I gave up dog training."
He picked up the symbolic Irish shillelagh from the floor, tucked it under his arm and sauntered out to the waiting buses. Frimodig waved to the police cars and they pulled away, sirens screaming.
The shillelagh was still tucked under Duffy's arm a couple of hours later as he stood with his bench to watch the kickoff. He wore a conservative business suit and a necktie. The Notre Dame stadium was filled to overflowing and Duffy's luck had even brought the sun out to dry a sodden field.
The Notre Dame crowd was in good voice and within minutes of the kickoff they had something to yell about.
Terry Brennan's sophomore line was hitting harder than anyone believed they could. Hornung was being Hornung and soon (it was reported later) he was telling his comrades in the huddle: "This team can be had."
Duffy Daugherty, the man in the business suit, began to undergo a transformation. He pulled out a pair of sun-glasses and put them on, the better to follow the play in the bright sunshine.
In a minute he turned and tossed his shillelagh to a player on the bench. With Bob Devaney, the ends coach, at his heels he moved with the play up and down the sidelines.
Hornung got in the clear and was stopped after a run. Duffy tore off the coat of his business suit and hurled it blindly toward the bench. He crouched with Devaney on the sidelines and suddenly jumped up and hurried to the telephone table and talked to Bill Yeoman and Sonny Grandelius high in the press box.
He fingered a half dozen substitutes and knelt with them, talking fast and watching the field at the same time. He jumped up and clawed his necktie away from his collar. He was up, he was down, he was here, he was there. He bore no resemblance to the storyteller of the night before. Now he was Duffy the tactician with a thousand stratagems racing through his mind like cards in a Univac machine.
For all of it, he was tied 7-7 at the half.
The Notre Dame crowd was going crazy. It looked like this might be the day everybody talked about, the day when they would win one for the Gipper and for Rock and for all the other shades of a great football tradition.
But, as one of his assistants confidently expected, Duffy thought of something. The Spartans came back in the second half to make it a runaway 47-14 victory. Just before the final whistle, Duffy called for his shillelagh, put on the coat of his business suit, straightened his tie and was ready at the end to walk out and meet his good friend, Terry Brennan, and walk off the field arm in arm with him.
Duffy stood against a concrete post in the dressing room a little later and faced a crowd of newspapermen. He munched the traditional apple.
"What did you do between halves, Duff," asked a reporter. "I'm not asking you to give away any secrets, but what did you do?"
Duffy took a bite of apple.
"We haven't got any secrets," he said. "We haven't got any magic formula. Between halves we made certain adjustments in our defenses, that's all. But the reason we won is because we've got more good football players than Terry has this year. As I keep saying, you got to have good football players to win. We go out and recruit the best players we can find."
He finished the apple and somebody handed him another.
"We recruit the best players we can find," repeated Duffy with a sly grin. "And then we coach the hell out of them."
The reporters scribbled on their note paper.
"No," said Duffy. "Don't put it down that way. My mother doesn't like me to swear. Say we coach them very hard, or something like that."
"Sounds better," said a reporter, "the way you said it the first time, Duff."
Duffy looked at the apple and said grudgingly:
"O.K., but I hope my mother doesn't see it."
One week later the news of the Illinois upset victory over Michigan State could not be kept from anybody, not even from Duffy's mother. But she should know this:
In the dressing room after the game, somebody handed Duffy the usual apple—and he ate it like a man.