To Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State all games are big games, but some are bigger than others. It was easy to see that he regarded last week's meeting with undefeated Iowa as one of the bigger ones. Normally Daugherty contents himself with supervising the workouts while his assistants take care of fundamentals.
But for Iowa, Duffy dressed in a zipped-up woolen jacket despite Indian-summer temperatures and busied himself with the tiniest details. He rolled out of bed at dawn and arrived at his office shortly afterward. He made plans, organized notes, checked and rechecked defenses. After the workouts he returned to his office and stayed there until midnight.
To ease the pressure that invariably builds up during the week, Daugherty cooked up a gimmick. In Michigan State's victory over Michigan the previous week the Spartans' kickoffs had been weak. So, from the State soccer team, Duffy recruited a pair of booters. Dressed in jerseys, helmets, shorts and knee pads, they kicked off over the goal line all week.
Daugherty's chief innovation, however, was strategic. He decided to give Iowa the middle-of-the-line plays and the hook passes and to stop them everywhere else. In the first half Michigan State did just that. But Iowa's quarterback, a 200-pound junior named Wilburn Hollis from Possum Trot, Miss., sent his halfbacks up the center for huge chunks of yardage. Iowa drove to two quick touchdowns and just missed a third when Hollis fumbled on the State three-yard line. Michigan State, on the other hand, made only two first downs and had the ball for only 16 plays. At the half Iowa led 14-0.
In the dressing room Daugherty remained calm. "We're going to get the ball and score," he told his boys. "Then we're going to go for the two-point conversion. Then we're going to score again, kick the point and win at least 15-14."
One of Daugherty's soccer players, Reimier Kemeling (he was born in Holland), kicked off, booting the ball off the side of his foot down to the Iowa six-yard line. Soon after, just as Duffy had planned, Michigan State got the ball and scored, with Daugherty himself calling every play from the sidelines. And sure enough, Quarterback Tom Wilson faked a place kick and passed for a two-point conversion.
In the fourth quarter Michigan State scored again. The Daugherty blueprint called for a place kick, and it was done. Michigan State led 15-14, just as Duffy said it would. When State got the ball again and moved it into Iowa territory with time running out, it looked as if Duffy had won.
Then occurred a play so unexpected, so unpredictable and, to Duffy, so horrible, that no amount of midnight planning could possibly have prevented it. Quarterback Wilson was running out the clock. He faked, giving the ball to his fullback charging into the line, pulling the ball away from the fullback's stomach at the last instant. As he did, the ball slipped out of his hands. Wilson tried to grab it but batted it instead into the air.
Iowa's fullback, Joe Williams, was crashing through the line as the ball popped loose. In one motion he grabbed it in mid-air and was on his way, 67 yards to a touchdown. That one mistake, careless perhaps but completely human, cost Duffy Daugherty his well-planned victory. It hardly mattered, a few moments later, when Iowa scored again to win 27-15. The damage already had been done.