The leaves on the trees were just breaking out green and crisp in central Michigan last Saturday. The mowers were cruising across the broad lawns of the Michigan State campus, and the sun was taking the chill out of the air. Over there you could see several dozen young archers pinging their arrows into the red, white and black targets. Nearby, a golfer was hitting practice shots across a soccer field. Up the broad walk, the baseball team was starting a double-header against Indiana, and farther along, the track team was in earnest engagement with Notre Dame. Dozens of tennis courts were swarming with leaping undergraduates, and spring was everywhere. But wait. In the midst of all this springtime play, a lot of people looking surprisingly like football fans were converging on the portals of Spartan Stadium, although a large green sign at the western entrance proclaimed that the first home game of 1960—with Michigan—was still nearly five months away.
This was no mirage. Inside Spartan Stadium an honest-to-God football game was about to begin, and by kickoff time 10,561 honest-to-God cash customers had strewn themselves loosely throughout an area which will seat 76,000, come Oct. 1 and Michigan. They had assembled to watch the traditional wind-up of State's month-long spring practice, a full-dress contest between the next fall's squad and the best of the younger alumni, labeled the Oldtimers.
The game may well have been the most thrilling that anyone is likely to see in Spartan Stadium all year. Coach Duffy Daugherty's Varsity, playing at times as sharply as if it were already November, broke into an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter against a somewhat ragged alumni defense. The older men had been assembling rather haphazardly right up to the morning of the game, and Coach Steve Sebo, a fellow alumnus who had taken time out from his duties as general manager of New York's embryonic professional Titans to organize the Oldtimers, had had only a couple of hours to show his men their assignments. Yet 20 of them, including Walt Kowalczyk and Clarence Peaks of the Philadelphia Eagles, Bill Quinlan of the Green Bay Packers, Lynn Chandnois of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dome Dibble and Sam Williams of the Detroit Lions, were full-fledged pros, past or present. Once Coach Sebo's veterans got used to one another, Coach Daugherfy's undergraduates had their hands full.
Still, the score stayed 7-0 until a frenetic and wonderful fourth quarter that started with an Oldtimers' touchdown, cutting the lead to 7-6. With only 37 seconds to go, the Old-timers scored again as Quarterbacks Tom Yewcic and Al Dorow, lately of the Washington Redskins, threw desperately to Chandnois and others. But the Varsity wasn't quitting. On the second play after the next kickoff, Quarterback Tom Wilson completed a pass to Halfback Jim Eaton on the varsity 30-yard line. In came substitute Quarterback LeRoy Loudermilk, and he called a play known as "slot right, right end post," which Coach Daugherty had taught his men the previous Thursday. So Right End Wayne Fontes ran hard and deep, and Quarterback Loudermilk let the ball sail. Fontes gathered it in on the dead run well past mid-field, outsped the only defender anywhere near him and crossed the goal line with just one second left in the game. Final score: Varsity 14, Oldtimers 12.
STOOGE FOR A STOGIE
A rouser like that is a seldom sort of thing, but even without it the Old-timers' game brings a rare kind of relaxed fun to the deadly serious business of intercollegiate football, and it is developing into a rather joyous and relaxed reunion for the outsized alumni who are still tough and agile enough to take part. When, for instance, did you ever see a suited-up player on a college gridiron smoke a cigar? Bill Quinlan, '53, the enormous defensive end who was with the Cleveland Browns before he was traded to Green Bay, does that during the Oldtimers game, and he gets a friend to hold the cigar for him when he goes into play.
Despite the fun and frolic that surrounds such as Quinlan and the other less inhibited Oldtimers, the purpose of their visit is serious. Football, at best, can be a long and tedious drudge, particularly in the spring with no Saturday glory to anticipate. Yet, as the Ivy League has so convincingly demonstrated in the last few years, it is patently impossible to play topflight intercollegiate football without those 20 days of springtime drills, which, intelligently, are permitted by the NCAA code. It is then and only then that the coaches have time to teach the fundamental chores of football such as blocking and tackling without risking injury to the players on the eve of important games.
It is only in the spring that the coaches have time to observe and promote the player who may have arrived at college without a thick portfolio of high school clippings. It is as inconceivable to imagine that a college team can play anywhere close to its potential without spring practice as it is to argue that the Yale crew could have won the 1956 Olympic gold medal if it had been forbidden to practice until a month before the race.
As Daugherty sent his squad against Coach Sebo's Oldtimers last Saturday, there were quite a few unanswered questions in his mind about his 75 candidates for the varsity. By and large, it was a young squad with only six of next year's seniors among the first two starting lineups that Daugherty always employs. Last year's performances proved to him that he had two superlative halfbacks in Herb Adderley and Gary Ballman and an able though smallish fullback in Carl Charon. And the team was deep in replacements at these positions. There were at least five crackerjack ends including the brilliant pass receiver, Fontes, who isn't even listed on the first two teams. But quarterback could be a problem, and so could the middle of the line, where Daugherty will have to rely heavily on sophomores and juniors this fall.
It was a smiling, almost gleeful Duffy Daugherty who recontemplated these problems a few hours after the end of the game. Wilson and Louder-milk, the quarterbacks who carried most of the burden, were not in the least awed by the consistently violent charge of the alumni line—a line that averaged 250 pounds per man. Wilson completed eight out of 10 passes and Loudermilk two out of three for a total yardage between them of 211. And State's big young linemen, most of whom go well over 200 pounds, were now and then opening impressive holes for Halfbacks Adderley, Hudas and Eaton and Fullback Ron Hatcher.
"But the main thing they all really learned out there," Daugherty said, without trying to hide his joy, "was that hope is never gone in a game so long as the clock is running.
"You know," he went on, "someone asked me if we really planned it that way—to end up the game with that 70-yard touchdown pass. I told them no, that Fontes was a second faster than we figured. Otherwise, we never would have had to kick off again and risk their running it back for a touchdown."
Big Ten, please note.