There are reasons for not having postseason bowl games in places like New York and Philadelphia and the Swift & Co. meat locker, but too often the reasons have been dismissed as mere common sense. Promoters of the Liberty (Philadelphia) and Gotham (New York) bowls, undeterred, set out last week to prove that entertaining bowl games can be played in subfreezing weather just as well as they can in subtropical Miami and New Orleans and Pasadena, and they proved their point, too. Unfortunately, nobody listened. Worse for them, nobody paid to watch.
So calmly received was the fourth annual Liberty Bowl match that only 17,000 fans—flyspecks in sprawling 105,000-seat Philadelphia Stadium—were favored with the actual sight of Terry Baker, the season's outstanding player, running 99‚Öî yards on behalf of Oregon State for the touchdown that beat Villanova 6-0. This, moreover, was a clanging multitude compared with the 6,000 ("exclusive of kids in the bleachers," promoters announced sportingly) who suffered the 17° at Yankee Stadium to see what may well prove the most exciting bowl match of all—Nebraska's 36-34 victory over Miami in which Miami All-America George Mira passed (and passed and passed and passed) with breathtaking skill.
No sine qua non
But skill, painfully applied, and the individual magnitude of such stars as Baker and Mira are not necessarily the principal requirements for bowl success. The Gotham Bowl, after two tries, likely will not come up for a third. Promoter Bob Curran has thrown up his hands after dropping $150,000 in two years. Bud Dudley, who would do anything short of opening his veins for the Liberty Bowl (a $15,000-$20,000 loser Saturday), says he expects to be around to "celebrate its 25th anniversary," but Philadelphians regard this as bravado. What Dudley interprets as "a rumbling" of interest is, according to fellow townsmen, really a death rattle.
Primarily the games are victims of climate and their own cities' partiality to professional football, but so are they hurt by pairings that are not quite inspiring enough. The leavening process of the regular season leaves promoters with less than the best candidates; this year they got four good teams, to be sure, but teams that had lost two and three games apiece. Villanova's victories were over such as West Chester and Delaware; it had been beaten by Massachusetts U. The very best teams go where there is more warmth and more money; even Penn State, right in the neighborhood, spurned Dudley's advances and chose the Gator Bowl. Without a matchup that purported to prove something, the games become little more than a postscript to the regular season and are unable to make up for a massive shortage of glitter and ceremony; i.e., shapely ladies in bathing suits, papier m√¢ché, tennis tournaments, big parades—the things with which major bowl games are tinseled and sold. The half-time show at the Gotham Bowl consisted of a local band, a drill team and a group of little girls twirling batons.
The Gotham Bowl's private black cloud was a newspaper strike that virtually shut it off from nine million New Yorkers, which was just as well because the bungling that was going on would have been sad to read. Curran, putting up a brave front, scurried around trying to get national TV (worth $100,000 to the promotion last year) and wound up instead with a reported $25,000 for a taped, abbreviated showing that ABC carried six hours after the kickoff. The principals, Miami and Nebraska, were so bedazzled by the footwork that they demanded—and got, after New York Mayor Robert Wagner interceded—escrow money to insure their expenses, $35,000 for Nebraska, $30,000 for Miami. Wagner had to personally reassure worried Miami President Dr. Henry King Stanford. Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney held his squad at the Lincoln airport Friday until the check was certified in a New York bank. Eventually, at the stadium, there was a stunning absence of press credentials; Curran himself had to borrow a reporter's pass to get into his own game.
Both playing fields were frozen; all four teams wore sneakers, and butane heaters were a man's best friend on the bench. Miami borrowed the New York Giants' warmest warmup capes. Cheerleaders wore overcoats. Oregon State players wore thermal underwear and golf gloves. Villanova, sort of semi-deemphasized in football, couldn't afford gloves. With the prospect of Philadelphians and New Yorkers staying away in divisions and regiments, Promoter Dudley turned his game into a hospital charity and offered students tickets for $1 each; Promoter Curran did the same for the kids in Yankee Stadium.
In both cases, it was a buck well spent, for both games were entertainment of a high order. The protagonists were Baker in Philadelphia and Mira in New York, though Mira performed for a loser.
Heisman Trophy Winner Baker had been so busy traveling around harvesting awards and studying for exams the three weeks prior to the game that he had practiced only five times—four times with the Oregon State basketball team (he's a star guard) and once with the football team. "I'm cold. And I'm rusty," he said. Villanova, a 14-point underdog, was not expected to know the difference. "From what I've seen of the films," said Villanova Captain and Tackle Charley Johnson, "Baker gets his team out of trouble as fast as it gets in."
With five minutes left in the first quarter, Oregon State was clearly in trouble. A Villanova punt had been downed a foot from the State goal. Anticipating a safety-first plunge, Villanova set eight men on the line. Instead of a plunge, however, Quarterback Baker daringly rolled to his left. For a moment it looked like disaster; then it was sheer delight. Wildcat Tackle Al Atkinson, slicing through behind the goal line, clawed at Baker's right side, but couldn't hold and fell away. At the State 7, Sideback Larry Glueck embraced him near the sidelines, but Baker stiff-armed Glueck off and lengthened his stride. At the 10 he conjoined with a three-man escort and from there it was easy, a 90-yard footrace to the Villanova goal.
Afterward, Baker, smiling soulfully, his Adam's apple bobbing, said he was "lucky" and "wasn't really very good today" and was sweetly self-deprecating, but truth was that a Baker-less Oregon State wouldn't have beaten underdog, underprivileged Villanova. Baker, running and passing, accounted for 260 of State's 299 yards. His passing for the most part was just ordinary (a pro scout said that he will make it more as a runner anyway), but then Baker was rusty. Coach Tommy Prothro also admitted that Baker was injured—a sore right shoulder—and had been advised "not to run." It's lucky for Prothro that Baker calls the plays.
Villanova's bigger—by 15 pounds per man—line was good. The Wildcats also moved the ball well (20 first downs, 246 yards rushing) but invariably they were hurt by tactical misadventures. These did not occur when the powerhouse fullbacks, 240-pound Billy Joe and 235-pound Lou Rettino, ran, but when Quarterbacks Richie Richman and Ted Aceto succumbed to temptation and tried Baker tactics—rollouts and the like—Wildcat drives were stalled. Joe had a 12-yard touchdown run wiped out by a holding penalty in the second quarter.
In New York's Gotham Bowl, Nebraska tried everything but the Peace Corps to stop Mira. The Cornhuskers blitzed, they crashed their ends, yielded the short ground to protect long, and still the black-eyed, olive-skinned junior quarterback lashed them with his line-drive passes. There were 46 in all, 24 completed for 321 yards and two touchdowns—but five other Mira passes were dropped, four more bounced off frozen hands and another sailed artfully overhead as End Bill Sparks slipped and fell on his face at the Nebraska goal line. It was a superb performance by a superb player, Mira, but it wasn't enough for Miami to win.
For such meager crowds, the heroics were a waste, but the games were a wide-screen spectacle of offense. In the Gotham Bowl the lead changed hands four times. Nebraska's Willie Ross ran 92 yards on a kickoff return for a touchdown and set up another with a 41-yard run; Fullbacks Thunder Thornton of Nebraska and Nick Ryder of Miami were dreadnoughts. In the Liberty Bowl, Villanova played the kind of underdog game that makes for long, apocryphal stories that will be remembered by people who forget that Oregon State won. But all will remember Baker. By his lights, he had a bad day, but he assured his team of a cool win.