A midsummer night's dream of autumn

The best college football players of last year shuffled off to touchdowns in Buffalo before a critical audience
July 07, 1963

On the day of the game it was 93°. In the furnace heat of the University of Buffalo dormitory where the All-Americas had been imprisoned for a week and a half, there was little for them to do. The poolroom downstairs in the Student Union was closed, so they just sweated and sat slumped on the sofas and chairs of the lobby and pondered the penal agonies of playing football in the month of June.

The only visible sign of life was at a table in the corner where a cluster of the top professional draft choices of 1962 sat in thigh-bulging Bermuda shorts and sandals and drowsily played a game of whist. Then somebody put on a twist record, and Dave Robinson, the big Penn State end who is going to the Green Bay Packers, began to sing a high-pitched harmony with it. Halfback Kermit Alexander of UCLA and the San Francisco 49ers observed him broodingly: "Oh, you sing good, real good. Cut your throat, man."

For the approaching task, the third annual All-America bowl game of the American Football Coaches Association, the card players seemed to feel that their throats already were cut. Most of the East and West stars were, after all, going from Buffalo to their respective pro camps. And as Minnesota Tackle Bobby Bell, sitting across from Alexander, said, "I don't want to hit my peak too early. This is just the first game of a long season."

Bobby Bell may have hit his peak when he signed that five-year, no-cut contract with the Dallas Texans—now the Kansas City Chiefs—even though he will have to move from tackle to linebacker for Coach Henry Stram. "Don't mind that, either," said Bell. "I went to Minnesota as a quarterback, and they moved me to the line. I liked the contact. And at linebacker, you can pick your contact."

Bell and Alexander provided much of the pregame conversation for the pro scouts from all 22 clubs, who gathered every day at the workouts to be sure their draftees still had two arms, two legs and plane tickets to camp. Moreover, it was Bell and Alexander, both on the West team, who drew most of the praise from the college coaches. USC's John McKay, who coached the West with Arkansas' Frank Broyles and Nebraska's Bob Devaney for assistants, was the most fulsome. "Kermit Alexander was the best college player in the country last year," said McKay. "He looks no different here." Of Bell, a quick 6 foot 4, 230-pounder, McKay drooled, "He's 100% better than any player we had last year. Make that 200%."

While these words brightened the smile of 49er Scout Pappy Waldorf and poured like music into the ears of Kansas City Owner Lamar Hunt, the two players were unmoved. "I have a lot of playing to do," said Bell. So does Alexander, of course, but, unlike Bell, he does not know at which position it will be.

"It doesn't make any difference to me where I play," Kermit said. "I got what I wanted. Now they'll get what they want. They sent me a book with half offensive plays and half defensive plays and said learn 'em all." Waldorf, plodding along the sidelines with the other scouts watching the moves and reactions of all of the investments, said, "We just don't know if he'll be a tight back, flanker or defensive back, but he can do it all, which is why we drafted him No. 1."

If the future pros were unnerved by their critical audience, Alexander was not prepared to admit it. "We saw them out there, man," he said. "We heard some of their comments, too. We just laughed at them."

Some of the comments of the scouts were not meant to be amusing. "That Ron VanderKelen," said an NFL scout, "I don't know about him. He winds up and looks flat-footed to me. You got to be able to move around back there, and get that ball away. I don't know about him."

Another scout looked at thin Hugh Campbell, the end, and said, "He's just too small. He's slow, too."

When Glynn Griffing, the Ole Miss quarterback who was drafted by the New York Giants, turned up chubby and with his throwing arm too rusty to give VanderKelen a serious challenge for the job under the East's head coach, Milt Bruhn, a scout murmured, "I'm appalled."

"I'm not," said the usually provocative Jack Faulkner, coach of the Denver Broncos. "I'm looking for cuts."

No body contact

No matter what shape the West squadmen appeared to be in, the coaching staff, McKay, Broyles and Devaney, decided to at least keep it whole. No body-contact workouts were held. "We didn't use body contact because we didn't want anybody sore," Broyles said. "In football your first contact work of the year is always your best. We know we have football players. They wouldn't be here if they weren't. We want to get that best workout from them in the game."

The favored East did hold body-contact sessions. Perhaps they should not have done so. Even their pride didn't make them winners.

Before the game East's starting quarterback, Wisconsin's VanderKelen, had said, "We've got a lot of talent and pride on this team, and players with pride always do O.K."

No one that night had more pride than VanderKelen, and he did O.K. Even though his team lost the game 22-21 in what Buffalo pricemakers considered an upset, the Wisconsin star responded to the challenge of his critics by throwing one touchdown pass to his college teammate, Pat Richter, and by leading his team to another score that briefly put the East ahead. But the Minnesota Vikings, who decided to sign VanderKelen after his great Rose Bowl game, could not have been more delighted than the 49ers, who had to fix their eyes on Hugh Campbell instead of Kermit Alexander for the West. Campbell may be a thin man, but he's a heavyweight receiver. The Washington State end caught eight passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

More delighted still was easy-going Willie Walls of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He saw a non-All America, USC's Bill Nelsen, steal the muggy evening from the glamour boys. John McKay chose Nelsen to replace Heisman Trophy Winner Terry Baker, who was ill. Running McKay's wide-action "I" formation, and looking mainly for Hugh Campbell, Nelsen passed for two touchdowns and the two-point conversion, which actually decided the game.

As Willie said, "There's mine over there, Nelsen. Watch him roll out there to the left and then throw. He don't look too bad out there in the middle of all that wild honey, does he?"

PHOTORON VANDERKELEN: A LITTLE SLOW BUT A LOT OF PRIDE PHOTOBILL NELSEN: KING BEE IN THE MIDDLE OF WILD HONEY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)