At Berkeley, a large young man named Joe Kapp fled 92 yards for a touchdown, muscled his way across the goal for another and threw two passes for conversions as California demolished Oregon 23-6 and moved closer to the Rose Bowl.
At Iowa City an equally talented boy named Randy Duncan kept Iowa pointed in the same direction, passing for three touchdowns in a 26-20 victory over unbeaten Northwestern.
At Pittsburgh, Ivan Toncic threw a touchdown pass, then passed again for the all-important two points which tied Army 14-14.
At Columbus, Dale Hackbart gathered in a punt and stormed 64 yards to score, thus enabling Wisconsin to tie Ohio State 7-7. On the other side, Frank Kremblas ran, passed, punted and handled the ball beautifully to keep Ohio State unbeaten if tied.
November 3, 1958
At Philadelphia, Joe Tranchini led Navy to two quick touchdowns, then spent the rest of the afternoon huddled under a parka on the bench as outclassed Penn went under 50-8.
At Lawrence, Richie Petitbon was the one bright spot in a Tulane defeat; his passing led to the only Greenie touchdown as Kansas scored a 14-9 upset.
The same names—Kapp, Duncan, Hackbart, Toncic, Tranchini and the rest—have been cropping up in much the same way each Saturday all season long. While they do not all come from the same town in South Dakota nor do they all wear spats or brush their teeth with Pepsodent, they do have quite a bit in common. Each is a T-formation quarterback, a species which this autumn seems to be occupying a great deal of the football spotlight. In a season when Neanderthal-type fullbacks are conspicuous chiefly by their absence and most of the 9.6 halfbacks seem to be occupied elsewhere, the country is alive with good T quarterbacks.
The enthusiasm which this relatively new breed of athlete arouses in his fellow students can be seen in the picture below, taken last Saturday in the usually sedate Harvard Stadium. Charlie Ravenel, the sophomore quarterback, had just engineered an upset over Dartmouth, and was thereupon carried off the field on the shoulders of Cantabridgians, who had seldom been so worked up over a football game since the unsophisticated era of Charlie Brickley.
Other T quarterbacks are also the big news on their respective campuses.
Mississippi State has Billy Stacy and Washington State, Bob Newman. Dave Baker and Bobby Boyd do a fine job for Oklahoma, as do John Kuenzel and Rich Mayo for the Air Force. There is Jack Cummings at North Carolina, Don Meredith at SMU, Tom Greene at Holy Cross and Chick Zimmerman at Syracuse, Harvey White at Clemson, Reece Whitley at Virginia, Billy Holsclaw at Virginia Tech and Lee Grosscup at Utah; Buddy Humphrey at Baylor, Fran Curci at Miami and Bob Hickey at Illinois. Army's Joe Caldwell has taken some of the headlines away from Anderson and Dawkins, and Northwestern's young Dick Thornton may in time become the best in the entire history of the Big Ten.
There are others,-too, and, in the selection of a handful to classify as especially outstanding, there is always the danger of ignoring the very best of all. Yet a coach in search of a good one wouldn't bother to look much further than Duncan, Hackbart, Kremblas, Petitbon, Toncic, Tranchini or Kapp. Among them they possess all the qualities anyone could desire in a T-formation quarterback.
On an autumn afternoon in 1940 a small crowd in San Francisco's Kezar Stadium witnessed an unusually significant moment in football history.
Stanford, which was playing the University of San Francisco that day, broke from the huddle and trotted into position, a maneuver which the seven linemen managed to execute in near-flawless style. It immediately became apparent, however, that the entire backfield was lost. Instead of arranging themselves in one of the standard alignments of the day, one member tucked himself up close behind center while the other three formed a line abreast several paces to his rear. Their names were Frankie Albert, Pete Kmetovic, Norm Standlee and Hugh Gallarneau. You may have heard of them before.
While USF was still figuratively scratching its head, Kmetovic detached himself from the others and galloped away from his left halfback position, off to the right and toward the sidelines as if suddenly realizing that he had come onto the field without his pants. Immediately thereafter, while USF was watching Kmetovic's progress in some wonder, the ball was snapped to Albert, and a number of strange things happened.
Gallarneau bolted toward the middle of the line, clutching to his wishbone the football which Albert had handed him. USF swarmed over Gallarneau only to discover that he didn't have the football at all. Instead, Standlee, from his fullback position, was pounding purposefully into left tackle, the ball cradled in his arms. So they tackled Standlee. Guess what. No football. By now USF began to suspect that hanky-panky was afoot; still, someone had to have the blasted football and, by the way, where was Albert? When this young man was observed strolling casually along several yards away, apparently looking for friends in the stands, USF raised a hue and cry and set off to lay him by the heels.
At which point Frankie, happy as a British longbowman at Crécy, produced the football from behind his leg and lofted a long left-hand pass to Kmetovic, now forgotten and about to disappear over the horizon.
And so the T formation was born.
Not really, of course, because the T dates from sometime around 1888 and even the modern T, with its flankers and man in motion, was bouncing around the brainpans of several coaches long before Clark Shaughnessy unleashed Albert and Co. that day in 1940. But for all practical purposes, football's most far-reaching tactical innovation since the invention of the pig came to life the moment it fell under the inspired touch of Frankie Albert, who couldn't block, couldn't tackle, was not a great passer and couldn't really run very well, yet possessed such a marvelous blend of other talents that he became the spiritual ancestor of every T-formation quarterback who has played in all the years since. Blessed with a keen mind, a flair for the spectacular, the gift of leadership, the touch of a pickpocket and vast confidence in his own ability, he was the original con man in cleats.
The T formation has gone through a number of major changes down through the years and been exposed to countless variations. The original Stanford T—or tight T or Chicago BearsT—was followed by the split-T, which in turn ran through a number of phases itself. Then there was the wing T and the slot T and the double-wing T and now the triple-wing T. Sometimes the quarterback was primarily a passer, sometimes a runner, but the good ones always possessed at least a few of those qualities which Albert had in such abundance: imagination, leadership, coolness under fire and the guts of a burglar. The T formation, like any other, cannot get along without fullbacks who run over people and halfbacks who run around them but, until someone invents the dismembered T, the quarterback is going to be the star of the show.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that kids grow up today wanting to be T quarterbacks, just as they grow up wanting to be the pitcher on the baseball team. And most of those who are good enough—the really gifted youngsters who are also the natural leaders—do grow up to be quarterbacks. Maybe it isn't surprising that there are so many good ones around after all.
Generally T quarterbacks today are bigger than Albert, and stronger and faster, which can probably be attributed as much to modern pre-adolescent nutrition as anything else. Although Duncan is no ball of fire as a runner and Kremblas, Toncic and Tranchini do not exactly excel in that department, quite a few quarterbacks these days can really move with a football. Petitbon and Kapp, for example, are very fine ball carriers, and Hackbart, at times, can be sensational. All are good passers, since this is the quarterback's basic offensive function in the T, with Duncan and Toncic and Petitbon and Tranchini among the best in the land, just behind a small group of exceptionally gifted throwers like Meredith, Newman and Grosscup.
But running and passing and even defensive play—Tranchini, Petitbon, Toncic and Kapp stand out here, too—are physical actions, and good halfbacks can do all of these. What most halfbacks cannot do is take over a ball club, steady it by poise and confidence, inspire it by leadership, confound the opposition with some old-fashioned slickery and then move the team with imaginative play selection toward the goal.
There isn't too much room these days for the Albertian sleight-of-hand sort of thing—defensive linemen are no longer so easily fooled; they just sit right where they are, not daring to move until they can count the laces on the ball—but anyone who has seen Kapp or Duncan in action knows how deceptive a quarterback can still be. Duncan is perhaps the closest to Albert here, a master faker who keeps the opposition in doubt for that split second it takes a play to develop. As for Kapp, his judgment on whether to keep or pitch out on the split-T option is almost uncanny; the way in which he works the maneuver is a thing of beauty to see. Utah's coach, Ray Nagel, said after the game with Cal: "I couldn't keep my eyes off him."
Of even more importance, however, is the ability to call the right play. "The most important six inches on a football field," says Andy Pilney, "is the distance between a quarterback's ears." Since Pilney has the pleasure of coaching Petitbon he figures Tulane is rather fortunate here. Of Tranchini, who runs the injury-riddled Navy attack with such icy calm that he seems to be alone on the field, Coach Eddie Erdelatz says, "I haven't disagreed with a play Joe has called this year." And of Toncic, a gambler with a flair for the unexpected, Pitt Coach John Michelosen says, "He has a good head and can think ahead, too...that don't-give-a-damn attitude keeps him poised when things go wrong."
Most important of all is the quality of leadership. Kremblas, steady and experienced but seldom so spectacular as some of the others, might be accused of benefiting unduly from a quarterback's greatest asset—seven good linemen and three other good backs—were it not for the fact that even Ohio State frequently stalls when he is out of the game. "He's the kind of a boy," says Woody Hayes, "that makes a team go."
As a junior, Kapp seemed to have a theory that leading meant making more noise than anyone else, which left California a bit uncertain whether it wanted to follow or not. Now, more mature and self-confident, Kapp exudes a quiet magnetism that he transmits to his teammates without raising his voice. As a result, they follow. Navy players have great respect for Tranchini, who came up from the third string to take over the team as if it had belonged to him for years, and there is a noticeable lift at Iowa when Duncan comes on the field. And the same might be true at Wisconsin were Hackbart not backed up by Sidney Williams.
In a position where leadership and personal acceptance by the team is of such paramount importance, Williams is that rarity in big-time college football, a Negro T-formation quarterback. Were it-not for Hackbart's brilliance, he would be No. 1 on one of the best teams in the land. As a matter of fact, this is exactly the position Williams held through most of the 1957 season until the gifted sophomore moved him to second string.
Williams is, in some ways, the most typical of all, for in addition to being a good football player—he can pass and run and excels on defense—he is a leader on the campus as well. Serious and intelligent, he is vice-president of his fraternity, a good student in the tough school of chemical engineering and popular with his classmates. Williams came to Wisconsin four years ago after graduating with honors from high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Wisconsin is happy to have him. "Someone's loss is Wisconsin's gain," figures Coach Bruhn, who had the foresight to see that Williams was the kind of man who could handle the job. "Quarterback is one position," Bruhn says, "where we are pretty well fixed."
It is a good place to be pretty well fixed in. The T is not dead, after all, and good T quarterbacks, like good pitchers in baseball, are handy to have around. To borrow a phrase from Casey Stengel, "Nobody ever had too many of 'em."