Saturday's football spectacles, when all is said and done, are the creation of a single personality: The Coach. His prestige was never greater than it is today. Between the opening of this season and the close of the last, there was a scramble among large universities to land the best coaching names. Alabama lured Bear Bryant away from Texas A&M, which promptly sought Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State, Forest Evashevski of Iowa, Frank Leahy, once of Notre Dame, and the late Red Sanders of UCLA before settling for Jim Myers of Iowa State. Dan Devine moved from Arizona State to Missouri, and Jack Curtice went from Utah to Stanford. There was a rumor—the year before—that Indiana had been willing to go to the drastic extreme of de-emphasizing basketball to get Jim Tatum of North Carolina.
The coach is paid well, works hard, lives high, operates under a code of ethics that enables him to see himself as a public benefactor. Meet him now in a fictional, but factual, dialogue that takes some dramatic license—but not very much—with the adventures of a big-time coach.
The Campus of Greeley University was an architectural hodgepodge, reflecting the tastes of dozens of administrations, building committees and alumni donors through the years. Here there was a touch of Princeton, there a pillared facade reminiscent of the Old South and here again a nakedly modern creation of glass and brick that was quite plainly the result of someone's enthusiasm for California.
In the fall, thanks to Greeley's fine old trees, the total effect was not unpleasant, and the campus was at its best this particular October morning with the air crisp and clear and the leaves fluttering down in the sunshine to soften the harsh outlines of the newer buildings. As students hurried along the meandering pathways on their way to class, the brightly colored sweaters of the girls blended with the falling leaves to create the effect of a tapestry so artfully woven that no single element of it stood out.
October 12, 1958
But then something happened that would have caught and held any great eye looking down upon the campus. An old Cadillac pulled into the parking space adjoining the ivy-covered gymnasium building. The door swung open, and a giant of a man with a great shock of thick white hair struggled out from behind the wheel and raised himself up to his full height of 6 feet 4 inches. He reached into the car and drew out a ten-gallon hat and put it on. Slamming the door, he leaned over to finger his string bow tie before his image in the glass. Reaching down, he half tucked in the cuffs of his trousers at the top of his high-heeled cowboy boots. Then he strode along the pathway to the gymnasium entrance, dominating the scene as if it had been designed for no other purpose than to heighten his entrance.
But the students, chattering as they hurried along, seemed not to notice him at all, even though the big-man bowed and muttered as if in acknowledgment of their greetings. It was a habit from a day (not very many years ago) when his stage was the teeming campus of the state university with its 25,000 students—a day when everybody hailed him for the great and celebrated man he was: Coach of the Year, Terror of Big-time Football—Horace Jasper (Boogey Man) Blenheim.
Coach Blenheim (there was some dispute about whether Grantland Rice or Bill Corum had first called him "Boogey Man" in making the point that his opponents often behaved like frightened children) had resigned as big-time coach at State four years ago. He announced that he had received a flattering offer to coach de-emphasized (no scholarship) football at Greeley and wished to wind up his career (he was 64 now) in its low-pressure atmosphere.
There had been rumors that Coach Blenheim was about to be fired after a disastrous season at State, but his sportswriter friends had agreed not to give the reports publicity.
Coach Blenheim entered the gymnasium and walked past a sign which read, "Athletic Director Upstairs," and descended a flight of steps to a door which was lettered: "Football Department. H. J. Blenheim, Head Coach." He opened the door and reached for a light switch (the windows of the basement office were set below ground level and didn't get the sun until the afternoon) and as the lights went on, a thick-necked young man seated in the chair beside a battered roll-top desk jumped to his feet.
"Yes?" said Coach Blenheim.
"Sir," exclaimed the young man, reaching a hamlike hand to scratch his crew-cut blond head in a nervous gesture that strained the buttons of his tight-fitting sports shirt, "the door was open and I took the liberty of waiting in here."
"That's all right," said Coach Blenheim, walking to the desk and tossing his ten-gallon hat on the littered top. "What can I do for you, son?"
"Sir," said the young man, "my name is Bob Wyczk."
"Wyczk?" repeated Blenheim.
"My father played for you, sir," the young man said. "First in Texas and then, his last year of eligibility, at State."
"Wait a minute here," said Blenheim slowly. "Wyczk, you say? Boy, you couldn't be the son of Wally Wyczk—Wildcat Wally Wyczk?"
The young man nodded eagerly.
"Wally Wyczk!" said Blenheim. "Just about the best tackle I ever had. Would have made All-America that last year if he hadn't broken his—what did the ol' Wildcat break?"
"His leg, sir," said the young man.
"Oh, yes," said Coach Blenheim. "I remember our docs fixed him up good as new. It was always a comfort to me to know that my boys got the finest where medical, dental and surgical care were concerned. Tell me, Bob, what line of endeavor did ol' Wally follow?"
"Sir," the young man began, "Dad is—"
"Let's drop that 'sir' right now," interrupted Blenheim. "Makes me feel old. Call me Boogey, son."
"O.K., Boogey," young Wyczk laughed nervously. "I was going to say Dad went on the police force, and he was up for lieutenant when the Democrats got in and shook up the department. Today, Dad is chief of house detectives for one of the largest hotel chains in the Northwest."
"Is that a fact?" said Blenheim, sitting down at the desk. "Stayed right in police work, did he? Good, I always like to see a boy follow through on a college major." He motioned to the chair. "Sit down, Bob."
Bob Wyczk sat down, glancing in fleeting wonder at the cement floor and the walls which were bare except for a few framed team photographs that hung over the desk.
The coach studied the young man. "Bob Wyczk," he said. "I can recall the day you were born. It was unusual for us to have married men on the team in those days. We were playing Pitt, I believe. It was all I could do to keep your Daddy from going to the hospital. Shucks, there was nothing he could do."
Bob Wyczk nodded.
The coach looked him up and down.
"Guard or tackle?"
"I made our conference All-Star in Utah, Coach."
"You got any eligibility left?"
"Oh, no, sir, I graduated last June."
The coach's eyes narrowed. "How come the ol' Wildcat didn't send you to me?"
Bob stared at his hands.
"Well, sir," he said, "I didn't get out of high school until the year you quit the big time and came here to Greeley. You don't give scholarships here, do you? I mean, isn't this what they call de-emphasized?"
The old coach closed his eyes and nodded. He said wearily: "What did you want to see me about, son?"
Bob Wyczk leaned forward. "Boogey, sir," he said, "I've just been appointed football coach at my old high school back in Utah. I majored in physical education, and I intend to make coaching my career. Dad said the best way for me to get off on the right foot was to come here and ask for your advice."
Coach Blenheim took a long, deep breath. "Well," he said, exhaling, "so you want to be a coach, eh, boy? What kind of coach? The nice, clean-cut refined young man like Terry Brennan at Notre Dame, Dan Devine at Missouri, Pete Elliott at California? The aloof, austere, dignified type—like Leahy, Crisler, Blaik? An old smoothie like Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma? Or rough and tough like Forest Evashevski at Iowa, Bear Bryant at Alabama, Jim Tatum at North Carolina, Woody Hayes at Ohio State? Or do you want to spread a few laughs like Duffy Daugherty at Michigan State or ol' Cactus Jack Curtice at Stanford? What's your pleasure, boy?"
Bob Wyczk flushed. "I guess, Boogey, I'd like to be like you. Dad said you were the greatest leader and the greatest builder of character that football has ever seen."
Coach Blenheim snorted. "That was nice of the ol' Wildcat, but, son, if you're mainly interested in building character maybe you'd better get into YMCA or church work." He shook his head and reached out a hand to touch the young man's shoulder. "No," he said, "forget I said that. It's an old man's cynicism. You'll build character, son, in spite of yourself."
He stood up. "Let's see, where will I begin?"
Bob Wyczk took a ball-point pen and a small notebook from his shirt pocket. "I thought I might ask about formations. What kind of offense would you suggest I use? I mean, sir, do you think the T or the single wing or the split-T—"
Coach Blenheim waved both hands at him. "Put away the notebook, boy. Forget about formations. It doesn't make much difference if you get the right boys." He turned as the office door opened. A short, chunky young man, his arms loaded with books, looked in.
"Oh, excuse me, sir," said the boy. "You're busy."
Coach Blenheim hurried forward and put an arm around the boy's shoulders. "No, no, no," he said. "Just visiting. Come in, come in, Edgar, and shake hands with the son of one of my old players. Ever hear of Wildcat Wally Wyczk?"
The student blinked and said, "No, sir, I don't think so."
"Well, this is his son, Bob—a big star in Utah."
"Glad to know you, sir," said the student, shifting an armload of books to put out his hand. He turned to the coach. "Sir, I just wanted to see you for a minute."
"Sit down, sit down, boy," said the coach heartily. "Take a load off your feet. We're just shooting the breeze here."
The student shook his head. "I've got a class, sir. All I wanted to say, sir, is that my faculty adviser thinks it would be better if I gave up football. Varsity football, that is."
Coach Blenheim stared at him.
"My adviser, Professor Gillon, thinks I can't do justice to my studies if I play on the varsity. But he thinks that football is a wonderful game, sir."
Coach Blenheim said, "He does?"
"Oh, yes, sir," said the boy. "He thinks a certain amount of it is a good thing. He suggests I play on my fraternity team. He says I can get as much fun out of that."
Coach Blenheim swallowed and nodded. "Oh, I'm sure you can."
"So I won't be out for practice any more, Coach." The boy put out his hand. "But I sure do thank you for the privilege of playing under such a famous coach, sir."
"Don't mention it," said Blenheim.
"I wonder if I could keep my jersey as a souvenir, sir?"
Blenheim closed his eyes and his lips moved as if in prayer.
Bob Wyczk looked at him anxiously. Suddenly the old coach opened his eyes and said mildly:
"I'm afraid not, Edgar. That might be interpreted as a gift—after the fact, legally speaking. You know we don't do that kind of thing at Greeley. This is no football factory."
The student flushed and exclaimed, "Sorry, sir!" He turned and ran into the door, spilling his books. The coach reached down and helped him pick them up.
"Here you are, Edgar," he said. "Good luck to you. Now study hard and try not to miss any of your fraternity meetings."
"Thank you, sir," said the boy, backing out of the door.
Coach Blenheim closed the door, turned back to his visitor. "That," he said, matter of factly, "was my first-string quarterback."
Bob Wyczk stared at him. "Can a player do that?" he said incredulously. "Can a player just walk in and quit like that?"
"What's to stop him?" said Blenheim. "I've got no hold on him. He gets no favors from me. His old man pays his tuition and gives him an allowance." He walked to his desk and sat down.
Bob Wyczk followed him. "Is that the way it works, sir?"
That's the way it works," said Blenheim. "Everything's de-emphasized." He glanced around in distaste. "Look at this so-called office, not even a rug on the floor. The head football coach—buried away in the cellar!"
"I can't understand it," said Bob Wyczk. "I read in the paper where Carl Snavely is very happy with the de-emphasized football they have at Washington University in St. Louis."
Blenheim snorted: "Hah! I just wonder if ol' Carl is happy with the football or that car-washing business he's got on the side." He frowned. "I shouldn't say that. I just don't know." He chuckled. "Snavely! The ol' Gray Fox! Boy, there was a big-timer for you! Toughest man in the business. Great recruiter, great money raiser, great strategist," he sighed. "Lordy, I wonder how the ol' Fox is making out with the fraternities and the faculty advisers."
He suddenly jumped to his feet and began pacing up and down. After a moment, he whirled and pointed a ringer at young Bob Wyczk.
"Son," he cried, "you should have seen my setup at State!" He flung out both arms. "I had a private office four times this big. It had all wood paneling and a fireplace and a wall-to-wall rug on the floor. I had a desk, pure mahogany, that was so big I could lie down on top of it and take a nap. I had cross ventilation, boy, not that I needed it with my air conditioning, and a picture window that gave me a view of the whole campus."
He took a deep breath and rushed on:
"Down in front, parked right smack at the entrance to the building, was my Cadillac. That car was replaced every other year by an alumni committee which conducted the fund-raising just beautifully. Every student was permitted to contribute toward the Cadillac, but no boy or girl was allowed to give more than half a dollar. Now this made it possible for more of our kids to feel that they had a part in the gift to their coach. As I said in accepting the car one year, the manner of raising the fund was a lesson in practical democracy.
"Big time, boy, everything was big time. Why, I had eight full-time assistant coaches. These boys did the actual blood-and-guts work on the practice field, but they did a lot more than that. I hand-picked those lads. I could send any one of them out to scout a game, make a speech, sweettalk the parents of a likely prospect, narrate a movie film of a game or dance with the wife of the dean of men."
He pointed across the room. "Filling one whole wall in our conference room was a map of the U.S. We had that map divided into eight sections. Now, each assistant was responsible for a particular section. All the newspaper clippings from our clipping service concerning his section were routed to him. He was responsible for knowing every prospect and every high school coach in his section. Get the idea? Every assistant had to keep up a correspondence with the high school coaches in his territory and see that each coach was invited to State for a visit some time during the year."
Blenheim walked back to the desk and leaned over it to look at one of the framed photographs. He pointed:
"There was my staff the last year. They were corkers and most of 'em have gone on to bigger and better things. It's not surprising to me, because a good head coach has got to make every one of his assistants good enough to take over his job. That's the ironic thing about it. Can you tell me who Biggie Munn's assistants were when he first moved to Michigan State?"
Bob Wyczk put up a hand, "I think—"
Blenheim waved him down. "I'll tell you," he said. "Two of them were Duff Daugherty and Forest Evashevski. Both of those boys went to the Rose Bowl as head coaches and won."
"There seems to be unlimited opportunity," blurted Bob Wyczk.
Blenheim ignored him. "Yes sir, a head coach is on the hot seat all the time unless he's got tenure as a professor. Of course, a few of 'em are smart. Like ol' Biggie Munn there, he moved up to athletic director, and I understand he's got an office you could park a Mack truck in." He rubbed his chin ruefully. "Trouble with me was, I didn't move fast enough. I didn't fight for tenure, and I didn't keep my eye on the old calendar." He took off his hat and ran a hand through his white hair. "I didn't realize I was beginning to slow down. I couldn't keep pace with the younger crowd at the end, I couldn't stand the late hours and the constant flying around the country. So I woke up one morning and found myself out—and down." He looked around. "Down in a cellar." His face saddened. "I hardly ever get a visitor, unless it's some kid coming to tell me his girl friend is complaining of neglect and so he'll have to give up football."
"Boogey," said Bob Wyczk, "there must be some middle ground between this and—"
Blenheim had brightened. "Man alive," he cried, "you should have seen me in action at State! Not only eight assistants coming in and out, but there was my secretary—a red-haired girl I hired because she reminded me of somebody I used to know—and a receptionist and file clerks. There were three publicity men who had to toe the mark with me and another fellow who did nothing but write my scripts for my TV and radio shows and keep his ears open for new jokes I could work into my talks."
He thrust his thumbs in his belt and chuckled in satisfaction. "People had to wait in line to see me. No telling who would show up. Might be the team doctor on a certain matter. Or the trainer and his assistants. Or the equipment man and his assistants. Or the business manager—he was like the traveling secretary of a baseball club—wanting my O.K. on a plane charter or hotel booking. Then there was the ticket manager and the advertising agency men with maybe a commercial to be integrated into my radio or TV program. I was always cooperative with the ad agency boys. I held the same sponsor, a topflight laundry, for five years straight. It was a very nice, a very profitable little sideline."
He smacked his lips, relishing the memories.
"Then the phone would be ringing every minute, the athletic director calling about next year's schedule or an allotment of complimentary tickets. Maybe the president of the university asking me to address his lodge, or one of my professor pals tipping me that one of our boys needed tutoring. High school coaches—I gave orders they were to be put right through—calling to ask advice on strategy or something or tip me off to a prospect. Then, lo and behold, the film man might walk in for special instructions. Boy, film was a big operation with us at State. We made three films of every game, a big wide-angle film to show all 22 men in action. That was for our study and to exchange with teams on our schedule. Then we made a closeup film. That was the one I would narrate on the TV. Then we made one in color to show at the various alumni busts and smokers and at other promotional affairs. Now from our black and white footage, boy, we'd make up still another film of highlights, showing all our best offensive and defensive action. We'd shoot that out to high school coaches to show before their teams. It always made a terrific hit."
He paused and thought, then pointed to the wall opposite. "On that same map," he said, "we'd have red and blue pins stuck at various points. That would show the location of alumni—real and synthetic—that we could count on for fast action in getting a boy and his parents to our campus for a visit. The red pins indicated those contacts owning private airplanes, the blue pins were for those who had high-powered cars or could ante up the price of a rail or plane ticket. As I say, some of these alumni were synthetic. In other words, they had never attended State or any college. But they had adopted our team and took a great pride in it. I issued them special cards admitting them to all secret practice sessions. I remember one of these fellows, Tony LaPresta his name was—he was known as 'The Pizza King' of his city. Never saw a fellow so touched when I handed him his secret-practice card. He almost bust out crying. All he could do was to keep saying over and over again, 'Only in America could it happen.' "
Blenheim sat down at the desk. He looked up at the framed photographs. "It's a fast pace, Bob Wyzck," he said, "and a man can't keep it up forever. It's for the younger fellows—Hayes, Bryant, Daugherty, Brennan, Tatum—"
Bob Wyczk broke in: "I notice you wear a ten-gallon hat like Jim Tatum, Boogey!"
Blenheim turned on him. "What do you mean," he barked, "like Jim Tatum! I was wearing a ten-gallon hat when Tatum had holes in his stockings! I originated that trademark, boy!"
"Excuse me," said Bob Wyczk.
"Forget it, son. As I say, I've slowed down, but in my prime I was the best recruiter in the business. I could call no less than 1,000 high school coaches by their first names. I never forgot a name. I could make one speech that would bring tears to your eyes, and I could turn around and make another one that would make you laugh yourself sick. I had material for every occasion."
Bob Wyczk leaned forward and said, "Dad said you used to work some wonderful philosophy into your talks. He said he figured you were the best-read man he ever met."
Blenheim stared at him, then threw back his head and laughed. He leaned over and pulled out a desk drawer and after rummaging in it, he drew out a slender, worn book bound in imitation leather. "Son," he said, "I'm going to let you in on a little secret of mine. Since you're just starting out, I'm going to make you a present of the most valuable little book you'll ever own. This book here, boy, is known as Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book. It's out of print—and there are hardly any calls for it any more."
"I don't believe I've ever heard of it, Boogey, sir."
"Of course you haven't. This book was a big seller back in the '20s, but nobody remembers it today. What it is, son, is little bits of philosophy and inspiration collected by this fellow Elbert Hubbard in a lifetime of reading. This is the cream, the pick of everything he thought worth saving. Do you get the idea? Here's a man's lifetime of reading in one package. It's been invaluable to me."
He leafed through the volume. "Look here," he said, "I'll show you how it works. I'll open it anywhere." He opened the book flat on the desk and scanned the pages. "Here we go," he said. "Suppose I'm addressing a Rotary luncheon. I get to talking about desire. I say there's nothing can stop a man with the determination to succeed. Then I throw this at them." He pointed to the book and raised up his head, projecting his voice as if addressing a crowd. "If memory serves," he said, "I believe it was the immortal Victor Hugo who wrote, 'People do not lack strength; they lack will.' "
"Did you find that in the book?" Bob Wyczk asked in awe.
"Certainly," said Blenheim with satisfaction. "Look, I'll do it again." He flipped a few pages. "Here we go. I'm addressing the Monday Quarterbacks or the Downtown Coaches. I've told a couple of jokes and they've gone over big. Now I have to make some mention of last Saturday's game. Suppose we got beat. All right, I say something about the team having learned a lot from the defeat and then I come out with this." He glanced at the page and raised his voice, "Was it not Abraham Lincoln who said, 'I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday'?"
Bob Wyczk leaned over and picked up the book.
"That's terrific, sir," he said.
"It's yours, son," said Blenheim.
"Oh, I couldn't take it, Boogey!"
"It's little enough to do," said Blenheim, "for the son of the best tackle who ever played for me. Besides I'm an old man at the end of the trail. I'm rarely invited to make a speech."
"I don't know how to thank you, sir," said Bob Wyczk. "Of course, sir, I wasn't thinking so much in terms of making speeches. I sure was hoping you'd tell me something about what kind of offense I should use. The T or the split-T or the single wing or the—"
Coach Blenheim exploded:
"Speeches are more important than formations, boy! You're missing the point of all this, son. You don't build a football team in the spring and fall. You build it from December to March when you're out on that circuit, making the speeches, shaking the hands, telling the jokes, slapping the backs! That's where your team is born. That's where you hear about the prospects."
He jumped up and walked across the room and back.
"Lordy," he said, "we had some times in the old days. There was this friend of mine, this dentist. Doc Fletcher. I threw him all the team's bridgework and I tell you his dentures were the most natural-looking you ever saw. Many times a boy's appearance was actually improved over what it was with his own teeth."
Doc Fletcher was a genius in many ways. He made a fine appearance with his gray hair and gold-rimmed eyeglasses. I used to take him along sometimes when I went to talk to parents. For such occasions, the Doc used to wear a black suit and a black felt hat and a neat black bow tie. When I introduced him as Doctor, why sometimes the parents would assume he was a reverend—especially after the Doc had tossed out a Biblical quotation or two." Blenheim held up his hands.
"Now, mind you, boy," he said, "there was no deception. I never said he was a reverend. If the parents got that impression, why the matter was out of my hands. Doc was a wonder. If he saw that the folks were a little vague on the Good Book, he would make up a quotation that sounded authentic and fit the case exactly. I recall we got one boy away from Southern Methodist that way."
The old coach scowled.
"Finally, though, the Doc went too far. I had to give him his quietus. It happened when we were battling Notre Dame for an all-state halfback we wanted very bad. Notre Dame had all but landed him when the Doc took it upon himself to go see the family. He came back with the boy signed. I didn't find out until later that Doc had turned his collar around and introduced himself to the parents as Father Fletcher. He proved to those good people that Notre Dame was overrated."
"Golly," said Bob Wyczk, "I didn't know that big-time coaching was so complicated."
"Complicated?" said Blenheim. "Why, boy, I've just touched the highlights. It's a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year job. No end of detail. Why, son, one time I had to call in the chef who puts on the buffet luncheons in the press box. Seems one of the finicky old sports editors complained that he'd got ptomaine from our lobster salad."
"I was going to ask you about press relations," said Bob Wyczk. "The sports editor at home is a very good friend of mine."
"Son," said Blenheim, "it's nice to have friends among the press. But remember this—if you're winning, they can't hurt you and if you're losing they can't help you."
Blenheim raised a hand "I do not say, Bob Wyczk," he said, "that the scribes cannot be helpful in little ways." He leaned over and started rummaging through the papers on the desk. "I'll show you what I mean." He turned and grinned. "I still subscribe to a modified clipping service just to keep in touch with the Big Show."
He drew a handful of clippings out of the litter and held them up to the light. "Yes," he said, selecting one. "Here's a good example from the Chicago Tribune, Sept. 6, 1958. Story says, 'Oppressive heat failed to deter Coach Woody Hayes from putting the Ohio State football squad thru two lengthy practices Friday. Temperatures and the humidity were in the 90s.' Get the idea, son? The scribe has placed the emphasis on the coach. The heat didn't bother him. Probably, off the record, ol' Woody was sitting in the shade fanning himself."
He took up another clipping and read: "'Coach Murray Warmath found his already critical halfback situation at Minnesota further aggravated Friday.' " He turned to Bob Wyczk: "One boy had a sprained knee, another a shoulder separation. But do you see my point? As the scribe sees it, it's the coach who has had the tough luck." He turned the clipping over. "That was another Chicago Tribune item. Splendid newspaper."
He selected another clipping. "What have we here?" he said. "New York Mirror, Sept. 22, 1958. Item says, 'Who was the 6-foot-4, 235-pound center Terry Brennan "stole" from Jim Tatum of North Carolina?' " He threw the clipping to the floor. "I won't read that kind of stuff," he said. "I'd bar that scribe from practice. They have no business prying into the personal affairs of the coaches. They ought to know that kind of irresponsible reporting makes for bad public relations!"
Another thing I wanted to ask A about," said Bob Wyczk, "was the half time. When I was a kid, Dad took me to see Pat O'Brien in the Knute Rockne picture, and I don't mind telling you, Boogey, Dad and I both bawled when Mr. Rockne asked the team to go out and win one for the Gipper. Could you tell me about some of your half-time talks—I mean of the inspirational kind?"
Blenheim stared at him incredulously. "Where have you been, boy?"
Wyczk swallowed and blushed. "In Utah, sir."
"Well, son, you've got a lot to learn," said Blenheim, shaking his head. "There's no time for the Gipper in modern football. Why, golly, what do you think your assistants have been doing all during the first half? Two of 'em have been planted up in the press box, talking to the bench on the phone and dictating to a graduate student at a typewriter, setting down what every play of ours did, what every play of the opposition did. They race down to the dressing room at half time, loaded with statistics, and slap them on the blackboard so's I can get up there and tell the boys precisely what's working for us, what's not working for us, what alterations we'll make in our defense for the second half, what plays we'll run, what we'll discard. Holy mackerel, boy, if I started talking a lot of mush like Pat O'Brien in the movies, we'd never get our work done. Son, you'd better wise up. Big-time football is a scientific operation."
Coach Blenheim fell back in his chair. He was silent for a long time and then he said quietly, "You married, Bob Wyczk?"
Bob Wyczk shook his head.
"Be sure you get the right girl, son," said the old coach. "Be sure she knows what she's getting into. She can be a great help to you in entertaining, serving beer and cheese snacks to visiting coaches in your rumpus room, mothering some of the boys who get homesick, the like of that. But, above all, she's got to be understanding. If she starts riding you for staying out until all hours—on legitimate staff meetings, understand—you're headed for trouble. But I advise you to marry, son. The authorities like for a coach to be married. Some places, it's a must."
"But, sir," said Bob Wyczk, "you never married, did you?"
Coach Blenheim got up and walked over to the window and stooped down to look up at the sky. There was silence for a moment and then the coach straightened up and walked back to the desk, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. Finally, speaking very low, he said:
"There was a romance in my life, son. I haven't told anybody about it all through the years. Oh, maybe I've dropped a word or so to Doc Fletcher over a beer, but otherwise this little chapter in my life has been locked in here." He put a hand over his heart.
"This was many years ago," Blenheim went on. "I was 34 years of age, she was a year younger. I met her as a result of a hot tip from one of our bird dog alumni. He called me long distance to report that he had found a prospect in this town back in the Blue Ridge Mountains country who was the greatest natural football player he had ever seen. I had great confidence in this bird dog and so I decided to investigate personally."
He turned to Bob Wyzck and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Son, this boy was the equal of Red Grange. I could hardly believe my eyes. He was a coach's dream—he could do everything. Not too bright, but I didn't worry about that. There was no nonsense about such things in those days."
Blenheim shook his head.
"But the boy wouldn't even listen to me. He said I'd have to talk to his mother. He directed me to a diner where she worked as waitress. Before approaching her, I made inquiries around town and found out that she had been married at age 15 to an encyclopedia salesman whom she had since had declared legally dead."
Blenheim sat down and clasped his hands behind his head.
"She was a redhead. Big blue eyes. I can't describe her exactly, but she'd remind you of Moonbeam McSwine in the Li'l Abner cartoon strip. Of course, I have reference to her build. Unlike Moonbeam, this girl was neat as a pin. And she was smart. She knew something about her son's potentialities as a football player. She seemed quite unimpressed when I outlined an offer calling for free books and tuition, clothes, laundry, spending money, phonograph records, so on and so forth. No dice. I upped my ante and told her she could have her pick of any late-model used car at the local dealer's. No interest."
The old coach crossed his legs and bent over in a pretense of examining the high heels on his cowboy boots.
"Still," he said, "we got along fine. I used to walk her home evenings and soon I was calling her Flobelle and I asked her to call me Coach. One night I said, 'Fiobelle, let me take you out of all this. A girl like you shouldn't be working in a truck drivers' hangout. You come back to school with the boy and I'll get you a job waiting table in the coffee shop of the best hotel in town. And, furthermore, I'll guarantee that boy of yours will always have everything he needs.' "
The coach shuddered. "I'll never forget her words in reply to that proposition. She looked at me, son, with those baby-blue eyes and she whispered in that low, husky voice of hers. 'Coach,' she said, 'what that boy needs is a daddy.' "
Bob Wyczk took out a handkerchief and mopped his brow and moved forward to the edge of his chair. "Golly," he exclaimed, "what did you do then, sir?"
"Why," said the coach, "it set me back on my heels. I needed time to think things over. I made some excuse and hurried back to my hotel. But when I got to the entrance, I saw something that made me whirl right around and dash back to Flobelle's house!"
"What was it, sir?" cried Bob Wyczk.
"A car with an Indiana license," said the coach. "A Studebaker!"
"Studebakers are made in South Bend!" exclaimed Bob Wyczk. "Was Notre Dame after the boy?"
The coach shook his head. "Could have been Purdue or Indiana," he said. "I didn't wait to find out. I popped the question to Flobelle that very night. She accepted me and after she had signed what amounted to a letter of intent, I took her into my arms."
The coach buried his head in his hands. "Lordy," he groaned, "what a woman!"
Bob Wyczk jumped to his feet. "What about the marriage, sir? Did—did something happen to Flobelle?"
The coach shook his head. "Some things, son," he said slowly, "are just not fated to be. That's my only explanation. The wedding never took place. I was forced to call the whole thing off."
"What happened, sir?"
"What happened?" said Blenheim, his eyes filling. "Why, that fool kid of hers went squirrel-hunting next day and blew off three toes with his shotgun. His college football career was over before it began."
The coach brushed a hand across his eyes and got up and hitched up his pants. He bent down to arrange his trouser cuffs over his boots. He straightened up and picked up his ten-gallon hat and said, "Come on, Bob Wyczk, let's get out of here. I need air."
Young Bob Wyczk followed the old coach out of the basement office, up the flight of stairs and out onto the campus. They walked along the path in silence, students hurrying by them, Blenheim bowing and muttering, "Hello, hello, there," although nobody spoke to him or even seemed to notice him—until an extremely thin boy in sweat shirt and chinos called out shrilly: "You gonna beat Wesleyan, Coach?" Coach Blenheim waved a hand and called back, "No predictions, boy! But they'll know they've been in a ball game!"
The path led them away from the mainstream of students and soon they were alone. Hands thrust in his trouser pockets, Bob Wyczk walked with his head down, frowning, kicking at the leaves. Blenheim held his head high, taking deep breaths and exhaling with loud "a-a-ahs." Suddenly he stopped and pointed down the path. "There's our athletic field, son. Not much to look at, is it?"
Bob Wyczk looked at the ivy-covered wall of the concrete stadium that consisted of two concrete stands, one on either side of the field. The ends were open, but there was obviously space for temporary seats.
"Seats 8,000," said Blenheim. "But we could boost that to 12,000 with bleachers at either end. So far, the need for that has not arisen. Our biggest crowd last season was just under 4,000. That was for the homecoming game." He chuckled. "That stadium hasn't been touched or improved since it was built in 1920." He turned and looked at Bob Wyczk and his smile faded as he saw the young man's troubled countenance.
"Something eating you, boy?" said Blenheim.
"Well, sir—" Bob Wyczk began.
"All right, Boogey!" cried Bob Wyczk, "I've got to tell you something. I don't know if I want to be a coach after all."
"What!" exclaimed Blenheim, aghast.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to raise my voice," said Bob Wyczk. "But really, Boogey, I didn't know big-time coaching was like that. I didn't know you had to do all those things."
"What things," demanded Blenheim, his face hardening. "You sound like I did something wrong!"
Well, does it seem right, Boogey?" said Bob Wyzck. "Making it such a cold-blooded business? Cultivating high school coaches you really don't care about? Making all those phony speeches? Posing as a well-read man when all you've read is Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book? Turning football into a kind of Hollywood production with press agents and camera men and television and radio programs? And deceiving people, passing your dentist friend off as a clergyman? Promising to marry a woman just to recruit her son and then—then jilting her?"
"The boy had lost his potential!" roared Blenheim. "Didn't I make that clear?"
Bob Wyczk shook his head. "I don't know, Boogey," he said, "I had it figured all wrong. I thought in terms of character building, in terms of a game that would teach a boy self-reliance, make him better able to deal with the problems he'd have to meet in later life."
"Listen to me, Bob Wyczk!"
The younger man seemed not to hear him. He gazed off through the trees and went on: "I read a speech about football and business that Coach Bryant made to the Houston Kiwanis Club. Mr. Bryant said a boy could learn lessons on a football field that even his parents couldn't teach him as well. It was one of the most beautiful things I ever read, Boogey."
Blenheim fell back as if he had been struck a blow. He smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. "Bryant?" he cried. "Bryant!"
Bob Wyczk raised his head and looked at the old coach.
"Boogey," he said, "after all the things you've told me today, I don't think I want to be a big-time coach ever. Boogey, I just don't think it's worth it."
Blenheim reached out and grabbed the young man's shoulder. His face was livid, his square jaw jutting out, his eyes flashing.
"Not worth it?" he demanded. "Not worth it? You come with me. I'll show you what it's worth!"
Bob Wyczk held back and Blenheim dug his strong fingers into his shoulder and almost pulled him along toward the entrance to the old stadium. He walked with great, strong strides through the gate, under the stands, out onto the green field of the gridiron.
They stood together on the sideline and Blenheim, breathing hard, relaxed his grip on the younger man and waved his long arms around to encompass the stadium.
"Not worth it, you said, boy?" he said. "Maybe this kind of football isn't worth it. But did you ever stand on a football field with 100,000 people looking down on you? With the marching bands prancing out on the field and the little drum majorettes swirling their skirts and the cheerleaders leaping and somersaulting down the sidelines?"
You talk about a Hollywood production? It's bigger than that because it's alive. You understand? It's alive and it's breathing and yelling and roaring and waving its flags and stamping its feet—100,000 people, son, not slumping back in some pitch-black movie theater, but out in the open air, under the open sky, living and breathing and thrilling down to the marrow of their bones. They're young, every one of them, the oldest of them young for this moment—their own little private concerns lost in the creation of this big over-all character—the crowd, the football crowd, a phenomenon, unique, drawn together out of 100,000 lives that haven't another blessed thing in common but this game—this football game!"
Blenheim thrust a finger toward the sky. "Look up there! Television cameras looking down, radio broadcasters screaming into their mikes, two, three, four hundred reporters banging away at their typewriters, the teletypes going a mile a minute, the president of the university sitting in his own private booth with the refrigerator and the electric heater in it, waving his arm down to you, the coach, hoping you'll wave back so's he can turn and say to the governor of the state next to him, 'There's Boogey Man Blenheim down there in the cowboy hat, a remarkable character.' "
Blenheim crouched and pointed dramatically across the field. "Down in the business office, they're starting to count up the take. A hundred thousand people at $5 a head. How much is it? It's a half a million dollars, boy! That's your gate. That's what comes in at the box office. A hundred thousand admissions—paid. Do you realize something, son? One of these Saturdays at Ann Arbor, Michigan or Columbus, Ohio they'll play to more people than Greeley University will play to in all its games for six or seven years! Can you get it, can you comprehend it? Do you grasp the scope and size of it?"
Blenheim straightened up and drew the back of his hand across his mouth: "Hollywood production, you say? It's an interesting thought. Now let me ask you something. If Mr. Sam Goldwyn or Mr. Cecil B. DeMille were putting on a show for half a million-dollar gate, how would they cast the production? Would they say to some flunky, 'Go out and get me a blonde-haired girl and a black-haired fellow to play the big parts'? Or would they go out and scour the world for the best talent they could get their hands on?"
He looked around the field and then pointed to the stands again.
"It's your show, it's your production and you've gotten the best boys you could to play this football game. You've slapped backs and you've cut corners and you've made the corny speeches and you've lied to a red headed woman. But nobody up there knows about that. All they see is the big show you've given them, a show that'll take them out of themselves for a Saturday afternoon. Where else could you assemble all those people under these kind of auspices? Where would all those people be, what would they be fussing and fighting and griping about if it weren't for your show? Because it is your show, son, if you're the coach. You've pulled it all together. You're the Sam Goldwyn, the Cecil B. DeMille of this production, you're the impresario and there you are down on the field where they can spot you from anywhere in the stadium because you're smart enough to wear a ten-gallon hat!"
The old coach swept off the big hat and held it high over his head, turning this way and that, smiling broadly and waving as if he were acknowledging the cheers of a big crowd.
But then suddenly, realizing what he was doing, he dropped his arms and put his hat back on, his face reddening in embarrassment. Young Bob Wyczk looked around the field, pretending not to notice.
Blenheim coughed and cleared his throat. "Bob Wyczk," he said gruffly, "a coach doesn't have to hit the big time. Wherever he is, if he's got tenure, I mean to say if he's teaching maybe English or history on the side, why, he can make out all right—hold his job and maybe do what you said, build a little character here and there."
Bob Wyczk stared at the ground for a moment and then looked up at the old Boogey Man and smiled. "I could go for that," he said.
Blenheim grinned back at him.
"Son," he said, "do you ever take a glass of beer?"
Bob Wyczk nodded.
"Good," said Blenheim. "There's a little place down the road. We ought to stop all this gab and get working on some formations for that team of yours. Who was it said, 'He is not only idle who does nothing, but he is idle who might be better employed'?"
"I don't know," said Bob Wyczk as they started out of the stadium.
"Well, son," said Coach Horace Jasper (Boogey Man) Blenheim, "for your information, it was Socrates. You'll find it in Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book."