AFTERNOON OF A HERO

A young Chicagoan had one of those days that every American boy dreams about. He was the star of the big game, heard a great crowd shouting his name, basked in the adulation of friends, had a date with a pretty girl. In a week of big upsets—Purdue over Michigan State, Tulane over Navy, Iowa over Wisconsin, Rice over SMU, Washington State over Oregon and Georgia Tech's tie with Auburn—Dick Thornton of Northwestern played a major role in the biggest of all.
October 27, 1958

In the world of college football, the season seldom passes that one totally incomprehensible weekend doesn't come along and turn everything upside down. In 1958 it came in the fifth week of an otherwise unusually placid year. Upset followed upset and the mighty toppled like tenpins across the land.

Strangely enough, the most chaotic proceedings of all took place at venerable Dyche Stadium in Evans-ton, Illinois, where the ghosts of Dick Hanley, Pappy Waldorf and Otto Graham roam on autumn nights, trying to recall the glories of yesteryear. Last Saturday more glory was earned in 60 minutes of broad daylight than any Northwestern team had earned in 70 years. Led by an obviously unghostly 19-year-old sophomore named Dick Thornton, the Wildcats walked all over Michigan 55-24.

Not that Michigan is quite so mighty as it once was, but it did tie Michigan State and had lost only to Navy. Even with Fullback John Herrnstein and Quarterback Stan Noskin out with injuries, the Wolverines were favored by four points. They were lucky to escape with their lives.

Northwestern has not been doing very well lately. The only privately endowed university in the Big Ten, it is an expensive school with high entrance requirements and has had trouble attracting the right kind of muscles. In 1955 the Wildcats didn't win a game and although they managed to take four in 1956, Ara Parseghian's first year as coach, last year they hit bottom again. They lost nine straight. And this fall, when Parseghian looked around, there was hardly a familiar face in sight; only four seniors were on the entire squad. This may have been a blessing in disguise but, in any event, Northwestern was given little chance of setting the Big Ten on fire.

When they outscored Washington State in the season opener 29-28, the consensus of opinion was h'm. When they trampled toothless Stanford 20-0, people said so what. When they beat Minnesota, everyone said what do you know. Now no one knows exactly what to think.

Parseghian, a very handsome young man who came to Northwestern after a fine record at Miami of Ohio (39 victories and six losses in five years), must have wanted to win this one in the worst possible way. He installed a new unbalanced-line series in the Wildcat offense, worked up a special spread pass and drilled the kids until they were ready to drop. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Chicago correspondent, Robert Boyle, reported that in the week before the game, Parseghian constantly reminded his young team of the hoots and jeers they had drawn at Ann Arbor the year before while being humiliated by Michigan 34-14. He covered the bulletin board in the locker room with newspaper clips that dwelt heavily upon the element of luck in previous Northwestern victories this year. And Parseghian needled his team again and again with the fact that the rest of the Big Ten looked down upon the Wildcats with undisguised scorn.

"You're just the patsies from Northwestern," he would say. "Everybody rolls over you."

On the day of the game Parseghian sent Inspiration in to substitute for Scorn, who was apparently tiring by this time. He led the team through the Lord's Prayer, once in the locker room and again on the field.

On the first play Northwestern stopped Michigan cold. On the second, Michigan lost 10 yards. On the third they lost seven more. And on the fourth, slippery Halfback Ron Burton raced the Michigan punt back 17 yards to the Michigan 26. In three plays Northwestern scored. The touchdown was a pass from Dick Thornton to Burton from the new spread formation, and after that Parseghian put his spread away because he didn't need it anymore.

The game turned into a slaughter. In the second quarter Northwestern scored 34 points, and Boyle reports that at half time queries began flooding into the Dyche Stadium press box from all over the Midwest to find out what in the world was happening. The puzzled inquirers all seemed to think that every Western Union operator sending out scores from Evanston was either drunk or insane.

An A.P. man called his desk and they refused to believe him. At Lafayette, Indiana, where Michigan State was playing Purdue, the public-address announcer solemnly intoned, "At the half, Northwestern 43, Michigan 0." Then he did a quick double take and blurted out, "We feel there's been a mistake here. We'll have to check back." In Madison, Wisconsin, where Iowa was playing Wisconsin, another announcer read out the same score in the Camp Randall Stadium press box, then shrugged his shoulders helplessly when 50 heads snapped around in his direction. "Well," he said, "that's what it says here."

Northwestern scored four touchdowns in seven minutes of that unbelievable second quarter, added another before half time and two more in the last two periods. The Wildcats pounced on Michigan fumbles, intercepted passes and tackled like demons. Every few minutes another Northwestern back seemed to be crossing the goal. Burton scored twice more; Willie Fowler, the other blistering-fast halfback, scored two; Thornton returned an interception 37 yards and two second-string halfbacks also got into the act. Sam Johnson ran 34 yards (see right), and Ray Purdin took a 19-yard pass from sub Quarterback Chip Holcomb, son of the Northwestern athletic director, for a finale. In the meantime, the defense, led by Linebacker Jim Andreotti and two large and belligerent tackles, Andy Cvercko and Gene Gossage, smothered Michigan completely when it had the ball.

In the second half Parseghian humanely sent in the third and fourth teams and Michigan scored three times, but who cared. The result could have been 75-0 just as well. As it was, no one had run up so many points against Michigan in 67 years.

If there was an individual standout, it had to be Thornton, a blue-eyed, brown-haired, Jack Armstrong type of young man from Chicago, who spent the afternoon passing and running the Wolverines dizzy when he wasn't faking them out of their cleats. Still a bit embarrassed by his sudden fame—he has played a big part in all four Northwestern victories—Thornton tries to give all the credit to the rest of the team, insists that he honestly doesn't want to be a star. Apparently there isn't much that he can do about it. Dick's father, an electrical foreman for the Chicago Park District, once played quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early '30s and began to teach his son the game when Dick was only 2. They still spend summer evenings practicing together in Olympia Park.

An all-state high school quarterback, Thornton picked Northwestern over 47 other colleges because "I knew I would be happiest here" and because of Parseghian. "You have to like and respect a coach, because he plays a big part in four years of your life. Ara's just a wonderful man."

To show Parseghian that they all felt the same way, the Northwestern players hoisted him to their shoulders at game's end and carried him off the field. "It was a welcome change," he said happily in the dressing room.

NEVER AN UNDEFEATED SEASON

Northwestern has never been a great football school—it has never had an undefeated team and the only outright Big Ten championship it ever won came in 1936—but down through the years there have been some very good Wildcat teams. Back in the early years of the century Northwestern was strong, and under Dick Hanley in 1930-31 the Wildcats lost only two games, sharing the conference title both seasons. Pappy Waldorf had winners in the decade before World War II, and Bob Voigts took Northwestern to the Rose Bowl 10 years ago.

But it has been a long time since anything quite so exciting as this has happened around Chicago, where Northwestern has been in an eclipse of late, where the University of Chicago dropped football altogether 19 seasons ago, where the Cardinals are usually in the backwash of the pros and even the Bears seem to have let down. This fine Northwestern team and its equally fine coach seem to be on the verge of bringing football respectability back to town.

It would be a mistake to get too excited, of course. In the next five weeks the Wildcats must play, in order, Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois. It is doubtful that any other college in the country faces such a murderous schedule from here on out. If Northwestern can win three more, it will have had quite a successful season indeed.

And with only four seniors on the squad, just wait until next year.

While Northwestern was putting on its sensational display, the unexpected was happening elsewhere, too.

At Madison, both Wisconsin and Iowa were unbeaten, ranking fourth and 13th respectively in the wreekly Associated Press poll. Iowa had been tied by Air Force and Wisconsin was a slight favorite; most people considered the two even, and that is just about the way they played.

Wisconsin won the first half 9-0 and clearly had the better team. Iowa won the second half 20-0 and displayed even more marked superiority. So Iowa won the whole game 20-9 and now shares the Big Ten lead with Ohio State and Northwestern.

Billed as a battle of quarterbacks—Dale Hackbart of Wisconsin vs. Randy Duncan of Iowa—the game turned out to be no such thing. Instead it was a battle of breaks. Wisconsin controlled the ball for a half, while Paul Schwaiko kicked a field goal and Hackbart passed for a touchdown.

In the second half, Iowa recovered a Hackbart fumble and rolled to one touchdown, knocked the ball out of his hand minutes later on an attempted pass and Jeff Langston, who plucked it out of the air, ran that one over, too. As insurance for this lead, Randy Duncan threw a screen pass to flying Bob Jeter, who outran the Wisconsin secondary 68 yards for the clincher. Twice Iowa stopped Hackbart after he had moved the Badgers deep into Iowa territory. It was as uncomplicated as that.

Five years ago Purdue ruined Michigan State's 28-game winning streak. Last year Purdue handed Michigan State its only loss. Last Saturday the Boilermakers did it again, 14-6, which probably surprised not even Coach Duffy Daugherty this time.

Purdue Coach Jack Mollenkopf had noted earlier that State couldn't pass. "So we were able to concentrate on stopping their running. If there was any secret about how we did it, it must be the defense."

Michigan State had numerous opportunities to win the game, recovering five fumbles and intercepting a pass, but the once-formidable Spartan offense could gain only 38 yards rushing and 65 passing. So Purdue, which itself didn't look particularly overpowering on attack, made its only two touchdown drives stand up.

If the Iowa-Wisconsin game failed to produce a battle of quarterbacks, Tulane's 14-6 upset over Navy certainly did. Navy's Joe Tranchini, who played only 82 minutes as a sophomore quarterback last year, now looks as though he may become even better than his famed predecessors, Tom Forrestal and George Welsh. In defeat he seemed to be all that Navy had, completing 10 of 19 passes for 126 yards and the only Navy touchdown. But when his two best receivers, Ends Tom Hyde and John Kanuch, were injured early in the game, there wasn't much that he could do.

Instead, the star of the show was Tulane's Richie Petitbon, who scored both Greenie touchdowns, ran 88 yards in 18 carries, thus gaining nine more yards than the entire Navy running attack, and handled his team with a polished style. An extremely dangerous passer in Tulane's earlier luckless losses to four good teams—Florida, Texas, Georgia Tech and Mississippi—Petitbon stuck to the ground on Saturday, throwing just enough to confuse Navy's defense.

Auburn, which doesn't allow the opposition to score very often, frequently doesn't score very much itself. For almost two seasons a lot of people have been waiting for the day when unbeaten and untied Auburn would not score quite enough. It finally happened Saturday against Georgia Tech.

Tech's Bobby Dodd worked even harder than usual to perfect his pass defense for this game and then saw it pay off when Fred Braselton picked off an Auburn aerial and ran it back to set up the touchdown which he scored a few moments later. It was the only threat by Tech, which battled all afternoon long to hold a superior Auburn team away from its goal and managed to do so through frequent use of the quick kick, which is Dodd's defensive stock in trade. Auburn has a huge, fast line that would do credit to a pro team, and with this advantage it used its power-running backfield to control the ball most of the time. It is a tribute to Dodd's coaching skill and the determination of the Tech players that Auburn scored only once. This time one touchdown wasn't enough, and Tech had its 7-7 tie.

PHOTOPROUD FRATERNITY BROTHERS PARADE THORNTON THROUGH SIGMA NU HOUSE PHOTOART SHAYTHORNTON AND DATE, PRETTY FRESHMAN COED PENNY PARKER, READ UPSET STORY IN PAPER BEFORE LEAVING FOR MOVIE PHOTOTHORNTON SCORES AFTER INTERCEPTION DIAGRAM86
72
78
60
12
56
24
17
73
88
42
TWO PHOTOSSIDELINE CAMERA catches the play as it actually occurred. In picture at left Johnson (42), Wildcat halfback, takes handoff from Holcomb (24) as Guard Arena (73) leads interference. In picture at the right Johnson is off for TD against Wolverines.

THE PLAY AND HOW IT WORKED

Northwestern Scored fifth touchdown on 34-yard run off this strong-side power play, executed by second-string backfield. With line unbalanced to left, Quarterback Chip Holcomb (24) takes ball from center, spins and makes simple handoff to Halfback Sam Johnson (42). Guard Pete Arena (73) pulls out and leads play off tackle, blocking right linebacker. Guard Joe Abbatiello (60) and Tackle Andy Cvercko (78) move defensive guard in. Tackle Gene Gossage (72) and End Elbert Kimbrough (86) move tackle out. Fullback Mark Johnston (17) handles charging end and Halfback Al Kimbrough (12) swings wide to block defensive halfback. Johnson, with ball, cuts through hole between tackles and heads for sideline.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)