When a football team becomes good enough to attract national attention, it inherits two problems. One is complacency, born of glowing press notices. The second is an inevitable succession of fired-up opponents, ready to sacrifice the rest of the season for that one stunning upset. Syracuse and Washington, ranked first and third in the country, ran head on into both problems last Saturday. Syracuse managed to survive. Washington did not.
In Lawrence, Kans., shortly after Syracuse had edged a dogged Kansas team 14-7, Coach Ben Schwartzwalder lit a long cigar, pushed his baseball cap back on his gray head and peered pensively over his spectacles. "I thought Kansas was as good a team as we ever played," he said quietly. "I never saw such a grim team as they were before the game. I went over by their dressing room to talk to the officials and they were all so quiet. I don't know why everyone has to get so worked up about beating us all the time."
If Kansas Coach Jack Mitchell was worked up about beating Syracuse, he disguised it well as he talked about his team earlier in the week. "We got some good boys," drawled the folksy, handsome young coach, "but you don't beat Syracuse with just good boys. They're too much football team for the likes of us. Our little fellas in the line just can't handle that kind of team."
Although Mitchell undoubtedly was practicing a negative brand of positive thinking, the size of the Syracuse squad as they warmed up before the game was impressive. On the line they outweighed Kansas 19 pounds per man. In the backfield were two of the most formidable runners in collegiate football, Art Baker, a 215-pound fullback with tree trunks for legs, and Ernie Davis, a halfback who despite his 205 pounds is as elusive as a butterfly. As these football giants went through their pregame chores, they displayed an easy confidence and professional calm that in itself might be—and perhaps has been—enough to dismay an already jittery opponent.
Yet, three plays after Kansas kicked off, it was Syracuse that appeared jittery as it fumbled the ball away deep in its own territory. Less than a minute later, on an end sweep by speedy Bert Coan, the TCU exile, Kansas had a touchdown and, astonishingly, the lead.
The rest of the game was like watching a man on the side of a hill trying to hold back a huge boulder. Eventually it was bound to start moving, but there were times when Kansas seemed to be saying that if it did it would have to be next week. Relying on a few breaks and the remarkable long punts of Quarterback John Hadl, the Jayhawkers left the field at half time ahead 7-0.
But in the third period Syracuse finally scored, and after five minutes of the final period they scored again to lead 14-7. There was no denying their superiority. At that point in the game Syracuse had run 78 plays, Kansas 20. Syracuse had made 23 first downs, Kansas one.
Undaunted by this statistical proof that it was the inferior team, Kansas launched one last effort. Abandoning their defensive tactics, Kansas began a series of desperate razzle-dazzle plays, most of which seemed as impromptu as a sneeze. Ten plays later Kansas was in the Syracuse end zone with what appeared to be a touchdown and what could have been the biggest upset of the 1960 season. However, a penalty was called against Kansas and the drive died. Syracuse won and a tough game was behind them. Ahead seven more teams waited, all of them in the process of getting worked up about beating the national champion.
Where Syracuse had been harassed by a fired-up opponent, Washington, in losing 15-14 to Navy, was the victim of complacency.
"We're getting mighty fancy and smart-alecky now," Assistant Coach Tom Tipps of the Huskies said after the game. "If you want to be cuties, you'll beat yourself. You don't need the other team there to do it for you."
For Head Coach Jim Owens and the 49 survivors of his death-march training techniques, it was the loss of more than a ball game. It was the loss of a way of life. It was inconceivable that a team built on the notion of victory through suffering should not be able to punish a prima ballerina like Navy's Joe Bellino into submission and defeat, or that it should lose through fumbles and penalties and quaint field tactics. For a good share of the players, tears replaced words. Even Owens, who occupied himself for 30 minutes after the game with the parson's task of administering condolences, seemed hollow in his summation of the afternoon's catastrophe.
"They contained us," he said. "We made more mistakes than they did and they contained us."
It was a painful defeat, but perhaps more painful still was the official U.S. Navy analysis of the game. "The boys beat the men," the critique said. "We have more heart than they do."
Since the same idea had carried the Huskies through the Rose Bowl last January, Navy would have been far kinder merely to admit it was the stronger team.
Coach Owens went into the game with a handicap that proved too much to overcome. His tigers had fiddled their way through two giveaway games in which they had rolled up 96 points against inept enemies. To undo the effects of this powder-puff schedule, the bulletin board in the Washington locker room was festooned during the week with newspaper clippings and magazine stories, a superbly eclectic collection in which Washington was invariably damned and Navy always praised.
It was gentle, passive brainwashing, like feeding a police dog chocolate eclairs, then trying to make him a killer by telling him that eastern writers all mistake him for a cocker spaniel.
And yet Washington looked its fearful best in the first quarter, when it scored on a 31-yard pass from All America Bob Schloredt to Halfback Don McKeta, a chief of the kill-or-be-killed school of thought. But before the quarter was out, Joe Bellino had a touchdown on a dive over guard and Navy was only a point behind.
The game grew fierce as it ground along. Four times Navy was penalized for personal fouls and the entire Washington bench periodically took to its feet to shout at the referees. But Washington was penalized for the same nasty doings on two occasions, and both teams had touchdowns called back.
Late in the final period, with Washington leading 14-12, Schloredt bobbled a snap from center as he prepared to punt, and Navy took over deep in Washington territory. With just 14 seconds remaining, Navy End Gregory Mather kicked a 31-yard field goal for the Navy victory. Washington left the field beaten and bitter, but no longer complacent.
At Evanston, Ill. a volcanic upheaval shook the Big Ten as Iowa completely ruined Northwestern 42-0 and took one giant step toward the Rose Bowl. It was a brutally cold-blooded affair that saw Iowa win by the biggest margin it had rolled up over a Big Ten team since 1922. Working with micrometerlike precision, Iowa never failed to control the game, only once allowing Northwestern to penetrate beyond the Iowa 33-yard line. Said disconsolate Northwestern Coach Ara Parseghian, whose star Quarterback Dick Thornton was on the bench with injuries: "When you lose your passer, one of your best runners, your punter and your leader—that you've worked with so long, so hard to make the team go—you really feel it. But that's the best Iowa team we've played by far."
Iowa's Forest Evashevski was not ready to agree. "We've got a lot of work to do," he said drolly. "Our second unit has a long way to go."
Clearly, Evashevski was bracing himself to combat the complacency of a nationally ranked team.