Not every football season has the honor of wearing an exclamation point. Some just fade away, to be forgotten in the years. But there are others when one man or one team or one game...well, remember 1924 and you remember Red Grange. 1929? The year that Roy Riegels ran the wrong way in the Rose Bowl. 1934? An end named Don Hutson. In 1940 Stanford brought the T formation to college football, and 1944 was the year that Davis and Blanchard began to roll. If 1958 is to join the list, it will be because of Lonesome George, Army's exiled end.
Lonesome George—his real name is Bill Carpenter—is not so important in himself, although he is really quite a fine end. Teams have flanked ends before, although usually they are permitted occasional access to the huddle. But Carpenter is symbolic of Red Blaik's new Army offense, and the Army attack is, in turn, symbolic of a season. Before it was over, teams all across the nation were making college football a more exciting, more entertaining show than ever before.
In Army's opening game, played on a rainy, gloomy September afternoon at West Point, the Cadets completely abandoned their old conservative, driving style of play in favor of a wide-open, all-the-way sort of offense that overwhelmed well-regarded—and visibly startled—South Carolina 45-7. The Cadets deployed Lonesome George far out on the horizon, operated from a wing-T formation with an unbalanced line, sent halfbacks scurrying in motion in every direction and threw a soggy football (28 times) all over Michie Stadium. Blaik's teams normally do not throw a football, even a dry one, that many times in half a dozen games. It was fun and Army won and before you could say Amos Alonzo Stagg, teams everywhere were doing the same thing.
Not that anyone was copying Blaik—although a few did produce a lonely end of their own. It was simply that nine-man lines and stunting, looping defenses and red-dogging linebackers and all the other complexities of modern defensive play had finally slowed the old pound-it-out attack to a stumbling walk. Coaches responded in the only possible way: they opened up their offenses to spread the defense, and college football began to be a thing of thrills and excitement once more. The 10 Saturdays whimsically indicated on the gridiron above represent a total of 460 points. Mervin Hyman, who compiled SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's weekly college football roundup, saw 10 entirely different games and 429 points. The scoring alone wasn't important, for high-scoring games can often be dull as well as bad. But these games were frequently close, and the way the scoring was accomplished is what one remembers. It was fun.
It was also successful. The three best teams in the land—LSU, Iowa and Army—were all quick-striking, tremendously exciting ball clubs. So was Pittsburgh, whose Coach John Michelosen learned his football in the grind-'em-out days of Jock Sutherland; but this year he used as many split ends and flankers and double reverses as anyone. Coach Bud Wilkinson came up with some razzle-dazzle at Oklahoma, and even Auburn, after a couple of close ones, decided to exploit the forward pass, too. By the end of the season Woody Hayes at Ohio State was the only coach who was able to resist the trend, but he had had an All-America fullback named Bob White running behind a 230-pound line.
"The offense," says Coach Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech, "has had to move into a new area of thought."
"We're all copycats," says Darrell Royal at Texas. "Everybody likes to copy success, and that's why these things run in cycles."
There is another reason for college football's new look, which only a few coaches and athletic directors dare hint at just yet. Competition from the pros. "College football is losing fans to the pros," says Moose Krause of Notre Dame, "and we have to make the game more appealing." Not all schools are affected, as Blaik points out, but those which must play in an area where professional football is also a contender for the entertainment dollar realize that they must meet the test.
"The pros are doing it," says Dodd, "and the trend is to follow the pro game, which is drawing such fine audiences." Says Rip Miller, the assistant athletic director at Navy: "We're taking a lesson from the pros and we're going to compete with the pros. We're after that buck, too. We have to be realistic."
If there was one other unusual characteristic of the '58 season, it revolved around the remarkable balance of teams all across the country. Only LSU, of all the major football colleges, went undefeated, and there were Saturdays when even Coach Paul Dietzel's young players got a bit of a fright from such as Mississippi State and Florida. Early in the season Oklahoma lost its customary invincibility to Texas on a delightfully crisp October afternoon in Dallas. Army was tied by Pitt and beat Rice only in the last minute of play. Iowa was tied by the surprising Air Force Academy squad and finally went under against Ohio State. Auburn was tied by Georgia Tech. And there were other games which now, with the help of hindsight, no longer appear to be the upsets they seemed at the time. Northwestern shattering Michigan 55-24, for example. Indiana beating Michigan State. Rice battering Texas 34-7. Any team, on any particular weekend, seemed capable of beating another.
"The game is taught better in the high schools," says Coach Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State, "and the kids are bigger and faster every year. The quality of football is constantly improving."
This egalitarianism was due in no small part to bed-rock foundations. Coach Ara Parseghian, at Northwestern, says, "Everyone is working at the job. The improvement among lower teams in the Big Ten is the result of hard work and hard recruiting." Darrell Royal feels the same way. "Coaching staffs," he says, "are improving all the time, primarily because of coaching schools, swapping movies, exchanging ideas and using larger staffs. We still have a few standouts at the top of the profession—but there's a slew of others now just a step behind."
Perhaps because of the added emphasis on passing and deception, the season was notable for outstanding quarterbacks and ends. On the other hand, there seemed to be a real shortage of good fullbacks and tackles.
The player of the year, winner of the Maxwell and Heisman awards, was a long-legged blond halfback from West Point named Pete Dawkins. While not necessarily the best football player in the country—the other Army halfback, Bob Anderson, was quite likely superior in all-round play, as were Billy Austin of Rutgers and LSU's Billy Cannon—Dawkins was certainly the most exciting. He could do some things so very well and he had a habit of winning football games in spectacular fashion. Seldom has the cadet corps produced a finer all-round man than this athlete, student, musician and brigade commander.
Great quarterbacks seemed to be popping out of the cracks, and there were a dozen who appeared, on certain days, to be better than all the rest. But for sheer consistency of brilliance, none could match the day-in, day-out performance of Randy Duncan of Iowa, SMU's Don Meredith or California's Joe Kapp. Bob White of Ohio State was the No. 1 fullback and you couldn't miss in naming any one of a dozen ends: Jim Houston of Ohio State, Buddy Dial of Rice, Curt Merz of Iowa, Rich Kreitling of Illinois, Al Goldstein of North Carolina, Sam Williams of Michigan. The best lineman had to be either Auburn's fabulous Guard Zeke Smith or Pitt's tough Guard John Guzik.
NO MUSICAL CHAIRS
It was a delightfully peaceful year for the coaches. Almost no one was fired, and the game of musical chairs, otherwise known as contract-jumping, seemed to be out of fashion after its long and popular 1957 run. Even the three major rules changes failed to produce the expected controversy.
The one-arm blocking rule, as it developed, didn't disturb anyone very much for the simple reason that officials seldom bothered to call it. The more liberal substitution clause was enthusiastically approved almost everywhere and led to 1958's most interesting bunch of kids: the Chinese Bandits at Louisiana State. Nothing more than third stringers, they were turned loose when Coach Dietzel discovered he didn't have enough big, tough players on his first two teams to match the opposition. Before the season was over, the Bandits were almost as famous as Lonesome George himself.
As for the new conversion rule, allowing two extra points for a successful run or pass, there seems to be some difference of opinion.
"Maybe it added to spectator interest," says Duffy Daugherty, "but it sure didn't eliminate tie games. We had our first tie game since 1948."
"It had less influence than I expected," says Dodd. "We tried one and our opposition tried one and neither had any effect on the result."
"Teams tried for two points early in the season," says Michelosen, "then went back to kicking the single point."
And Royal, an outspoken foe of the rule since its inception because he felt it would put added pressure on the coach, now has to admit that it didn't quite work out that way.
No season is perfect, of course, and there are minor complaints about this one. If the new offensive tactics are to receive any assistance from the rules makers, even more liberal substitutions is undoubtedly needed, perhaps a complete return to two-platoon football. It might also be fun to put those goal posts up on the goal line. "We can't follow the pro game," says Bobby Dodd, "unless they let us play by pro rules."
It would also be pleasant to see the Pacific Coast Conference—or the various remnants of it—smooth out its differences and organize a sensible, representative intercollegiate football league on the West Coast. If the Ivy League is going to continue to play Navy and Syracuse and Penn State—and Rutgers and Buffalo-then the Ivies should be allowed to hold spring training, as every coach in the conference annually recommends. Army should be allowed to play in bowl games. Navy and the Air Force do.
There was a growing and unhappy trend among many players to disregard the sort of respect they should instinctively give to officials; and many otherwise excellent coaches, forgetting their responsibility to young pupils, were allowing them to get away with these displays of bad manners on the field.
But then, maybe you wouldn't want a season in which everyone was happy. Otherwise there wouldn't be anything to argue about until the next September.
MEET LONESOME GEORGE
KICKOFF IN DIXIE
"WE'RE FROM O-HI-O"
COMEUPPANCE IN DALLAS
AFTERNOON OF A HERO
THE SQUARE IS ALIVE AGAIN
THE BIG T PARTY BOYS
THE BANDITS OF BATON ROUGE
BEST OF THE TOUGHEST
THE REALM HONEST A
THE SEASON'S LAST ROUNDUP
Herewith are final major-college individual and team statistics compiled by the National Collegiate Athletic Bureau, official keeper of the records for the NCAA.
Dick Bass, COP
Bill Austin, Rutgers
Ron Burton, Northwestern
Dick Bass, COP
Bob White, Ohio State
Dwight Nichols, Iowa State
B. Humphrey, Baylor
R. Hunsaker, Arizona
R. Duncan, Iowa
Dick Bass, COP
Randy Duncan, Iowa
Buddy Humphrey, Baylor
Dave Hibbert, Arizona
Ulmo Randle, Virginia
Chris Burford, Stanford
Bob Walden, Georgia
Boyd Dowler, Colorado
Don Coker, North Carolina
TOTAL TEAM OFFENSE
TOTAL TEAM DEFENSE
PLAYER AND SCHOOL
Buddy Dial, Rice (22)
Sam Williams, Michigan State*
Ted Bates, Oregon State
Brock Strom, Air Force
Ron Luciano, Syracuse (36)
Andy Cvercko, Northwestern
John Guzik, Pitt**
Zeke Smith, Auburn (48)
Bob Harrison, Oklahoma (17)
Randy Duncan, Iowa (1)
Billy Cannon, LSU***
Pete Dawkins, Army
N. Pietrosante, N. Dame (6)
Bob White, Ohio State***
*Drafted by Los Angeles in 1956.
**Drafted by Los Angeles in 1957.
***Ineligible for draft.
PLAYER AND SCHOOL
Rich Kreitling, Illinois (11)
Jerry Wilson, Auburn (14)
Paul Dickson, Baylor (9)
J. D. Smith, Rice (15)
Charles Horton, Baylor (18)
Dick Schafrath, Ohio State (23)
Dan James, Ohio State (8)
Randy Duncan, Iowa (1)
Dick Bass, COP (2)
Don Clark, Ohio State (7)
Nick Pietrosante, Notre Dame (6)
Arizona St. (Flagstaff)
Kearney (Neb.) State