Bob Blackman, the partially reconstructed interloper whose Dartmouth team won the Ivy League championship two weeks ago, finds he can amuse his friends back west with true stories about coaching Ivy football. "I am consistently amazed, as I am pleased, by the things that happen," he said recently in Hanover. "A few years ago I had a valuable player come in before the Yale game and ask to be taken off the traveling roster. 'I can't make the trip,' he said. 'What? Why?' 'I've got to study,' he said. They'll never believe that in Long Beach."
It is Dartmouth's experience, however, and Yale's and Harvard's and Princeton's, as well, that Blackman is a man to be believed—and reckoned with. Last Saturday at Princeton, his fine western stylings and his fine southern quarterback, Billy King, and his fine eastern center linebacker, Don McKinnon, survived an inspired challenge and won an exciting game, 38-27. It was not an artistic success for Blackman, for he teaches defense as well as offense, but for Dartmouth, the somewhat inscrutable backwoods member of the Ivies, it was a climax to a season that brought the Indians their first unbeaten, untied team since 1925, a warming achievement for the cheerless Hanover winter ahead.
Dartmouth College is just on the fringe of the broad-A belt (gaad your figah with vigah). Remotely stationed, it is not much on the fringe of anything else, save the White Mountains. It is the third smallest college in the Ivy League with a 2,900 all-male enrollment. Harvard and Yale men tweedily call Dartmouth men "animals" in recognition not of their scholarship, which is unassailable, but of their taste, which runs to B-19 Air Force parkas and aviation boots in the New Hampshire winters.
Dartmouth was founded in 1769 by the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, who according to song was "a very pious man; he went into the wilderness to teach the In-di-an, with a Gradus ad Parnassum, a Bible and a drum, and five hundred gal-Ions of New England rum." Naturally, the Indians fled. The school is noted for its beautiful campus, its uninhibited football bonfires (they burn railroad ties) and its disdain for Harvard and Yale ("those grundy schools grind out scholars like hamburger"). It is ancient, it is relaxed, it is out in the sticks. In short, say the he-man students of Dartmouth, it is great. "There are those," said Daniel Webster, "who love it."
December 3, 1962
Culture and fitness
President John S. Dickey crams the weekends with culture—Monet originals are now being shown at the Hopkins Center—and athletic events to keep the boys out of mischief. Sixty-five percent of the student body participates in some organized athletics. Wholesomeness fairly screams at you. At football games some Dartmouth cheerleaders have been known to go barefoot and wear nothing but red warpaint on their upper torsos, whooping it up on the sidelines with a jug marked XXX as a joke. "In 25°, brother, it's no joke," says one ex-cheerleader. "It's blackberry brandy and it stands between you and pneumonia."
Into this den of virility Blackman came in 1955 after great success at San Diego Naval Training Station, Monrovia (Calif.) High, Pasadena City College and Denver University. The new order quickly drew attention. Fans at Memorial Field, used to averting their eyes from the field where Navy was running up the score, now sat unswiveling in their seats. Blackman, a militarist and a perfectionist, introduced organization to everything, even the bonfires, the cheerleaders, the practices (no more waving to your friends on the sidelines). The uniforms were changed; so, drastically, was the offense. Blackman's only losing season was his first, 3-6, in 1955. Since 1956, when the Ivy League formalized and began round robin play, Dartmouth has won 36, lost 11, the best record in the league. It also won the Ivy title in 1958.
A native Iowan, Blackman has the round face and chronic smile of a ginger-bread man. Relaxed at home with his wife, Kay, and sturdy children, Gary, 16, and Julie, 13, he could be Robert L. Blackman, Prop., Blackman's Dry Goods. He is 43, short and stocky, and walks—or more often, trots and runs—with a slight limp, the result of polio, which ended his football playing after his freshman year at Southern California. He is one of a growing breed of similarly successful modern coaches—Dietzel, Royal, Faulkner, Broyles, et al.—an iconoclast, an innovator, a tactful administrator and diplomat, a stickler for detail and conditioning ("You never see a gut on a Dartmouth man," says Brown Lineman John Arata), and an untiring worker. He celebrated a stirring 15-14 victory over Cornell in 1961 by working six straight hours alone in his room on defenses for Princeton. None of his five assistants is a Dartmouth man—three came with him from Denver. He inspires allegiance.
"Blackman understood and accepted the Ivy code—no spring practice, no scholarships, terrific entrance requirements—and quickly learned to live with it," said Athletic Director Red Rolfe, the ex-Yankee third baseman. "If I were in another league," says Blackman, "I'd want to play it their way—spring practice, scholarships, the works. But here it's different and it may sound corny, but you appreciate the caliber of boy you get under the system."
Blackman's success can be equated with his abilities as a recruiter. He has a gift for enduring the chummy agonies of high school banquets and once spoke at banquets every night for three straight weeks in the Midwest. Contacts are many, admissions to the college are few. He says he once had 16 high school valedictorians turned away. Admissions Director Eddie Chamberlain strives for balance in campus life. An ex-Dartmouth footballer, Chamberlain is "sympathetic" to the needs of coaches, perhaps more so than most in his job at other Ivy schools, but so is he sympathetic to piccolo players and "other campus necessities." The football team stands about even with the school percentage (38) of boys getting financial help. It annually achieves grades higher than the school academic average, and Blackman says he has had 100% graduation of his varsity players.
Blackman has turned down offers from several big-time football schools. He will not say he will never leave Hanover, but at present he gives an appearance of permanence. He has a two-year contract (at $14,000, originally) renewable every year. He has settled his family into a $40,000 California ranch-style house, specially built and overlooking the third hole at the Hanover Country Club. When summer comes, he plays the course. He also plays squash with the college vice-president. He is, by the best organizational standards, In.
Some Ivy League coaches, however, are not won by his ingenuous smile. They are reluctant to discuss him. They object privately to his seemingly ungracious attitude toward losers. A Columbia man recently said, "Blackman is not likely to say anything—anything—nice about anyone else's team." Others say he poormouths before the season and moans about his injuries, most of which are miraculously healed by game time. A number of his critics thought it ludicrous when Blackman said after this year's Brown game: "I was as worked up about Brown as I would have been if we were playing Ohio State." Dartmouth won, 41-0.
Explaining every mistake
Some of the criticism is perhaps valid; some is sour grapes. Ivy League coaches generally don't fraternize enough to know each other's moods. Blackman is, in fact, an inveterate perfectionist who feels impelled to explain every mistake. He is unaware of the criticism. John McLaughry of Brown says he likes Blackman and says everybody respects him, "and if they don't they're crazy."
Blackman is a remarkably complete coach whose teams are as imaginative and daring and sound defensively as they are offensively. (Cornell's Tom Harp says Dartmouth is more difficult to prepare for than anybody, Navy included.) He gears to do complex things in a simple manner; his offense will run the same plays from a variety of formations, including his own creation, the V, in which the fullback lines up on the quarterback's heel, between the guard and tackle, to act as a blocking back in the fashion of the single wing. It is a power formation, especially effective for short yardage.
Blackman makes quick, subtle changes on defense to confuse the eye. "What looks like a standard 5-3 may in reality be something else," he says.
Long proud of their defense, which shut out five teams this fall, the Indians brooded over Cornell's scoring 21 points the week before the Princeton game. Dartmouth won, 28-21. Where the defense failed, the offense was superb, as it was against Princeton. The Indians do not fluster on the attack; they have a coolness of execution and an almost professional surety of accomplishment.
Blackman had his first real success with the three-platoon system this year (this was his biggest, deepest squad), but in serious scrapes—as against Cornell and Princeton—the system gave way to some rather frantic scrambling. It was at these times that King and Linebacker McKinnon and Halfback Tom Spangenberg were sacred members. Quarterback King, from Richmond, Va. is a special delight to the purists because he gets no scholarship help; his father, a Dartmouth grad, is president of the Virginia Bar Association. More important to Dartmouth football, King is the best quarterback in the league, better than Gary Wood of Cornell, better than Archie Roberts of Columbia. He may be the best in the East and possibly as good as the Bakers and Miras and Myers of the nation. He set six Ivy records. He captained the Indians, he ran, he passed, he blocked, he kicked, he made speeches at banquets in compelling Southernese ("Lord sakes, we bettah win Sattaday") and charmed his elders with his courtliness.
King uses himself freely, especially near the goal (13 touchdowns this season) and is positively audacious on third and fourth downs. He had uncanny success against Princeton: a 24-yard pass on fourth down to set up one touchdown, a 19-yard third-down pass to keep a touchdown drive going, a 23-yard third-down pass to set up a touchdown in the third quarter. But the most audacious was in the fourth quarter, third and nine on the Dartmouth 13 and an aroused Princeton trailing, 27-31. Blackman called for a quick kick into the wind. Spangenberg, a junior, suggested in the huddle that the wind might hurt him, "Why not run?" At the line of scrimmage King checked off the quick kick, called a pitchout and Spangenberg ran 29 yards to the Dartmouth 42. Minutes later he scored the clinching touchdown.
Ernie Roberts, the Dartmouth publicity man, has been charged with dressing five men at a time in McKinnon's No. 51 jersey, the logic being that no one man could cover so much ground. Black-man unashamedly plumps McKinnon for All-America. He stops films at quarterback luncheons to point at McKinnon's image: "Now," he says, "watch him on this play," and, sure enough, No. 51 performs the predicted atrocity.
McKinnon has been the best lineman on the field, by press box vote, in every Dartmouth game. He is big, 6-3, 215 pounds, a prelaw student like King who hopes to play pro football in hometown Boston while he attends law school. A Yale back, asked to comment on McKinnon after the game, said, "I really couldn't say. He hit me on the first play and I was still groggy under the shower two hours later."