'IF MICHELOSEN CAN'T DO IT, LITCHFIELD CAN'
The closest the University of Pittsburgh football team ever came to being described as "fascinating"—at least in the last 50 years—was the time a New York sportswriter wrote that to see the Panther offense was like watching a very resourceful, very dedicated man rake leaves. Then, just the other day, in the flush of some extraordinary current events, the Pitt team wrung from the press box the most honored of wire service clichés, "razzle-dazzle." If the writer's fingers did not tremble as he wrote of the Pitt offense he was either marble-hearted or under 12. But he was accurate.
Delivered from monotony by the newly distinguished one-two-three punch of Quarterback Fred Mazurek, Coach John Michelosen and Chancellor Edward H. Litchfield (necessarily in that order), the fascinating, palpitating Panthers, best team in the East, surprise team of the nation, last week won their fourth straight game. Pittsburgh had won its first four games only once since 1938, when Jock Sutherland was the coach. Sutherland's idea of razzling and dazzling was to run off right tackle on one play, then cross up the opposition by running off left tackle the next, but he was a winner and, though they have tried very hard, Pittsburgh followers have been a long time forgetting it.
The fourth victory was accomplished Saturday in Morgantown, W. Va., where Pitt defeated West Virginia University 13-10. The victory was more impressive than the score indicates. In four of the last six years that these two schools have met, Pitt was favored to win and did not. At times last Saturday the Panthers seemed unhappily aware of the hex West Virginia has on them and played a stiff, safe and uninspired game, but when they had to move the ball—at the outset and in the fourth period, when they were behind—they threw passes and took chances, offensive components formerly considered one and the same by Pitt coaches and looked upon with brooding suspicion. Once they ran on fourth and one inside their 20—and made it. They threw 12 passes, nine by the accomplished little roll-out artist, Mazurek, and now have averaged 21.8 passes a game. This is almost double the pleasure over previous years—11 more a game than they threw last year and, at the projected rate, 100 a year more than ever.
October 28, 1963
Against UCLA in the first game this season, Mazurek passed three times in the first five plays. Ultimately Pitt threw 28 passes, completed 16 for 227 yards, added 202 rushing (the offense is beautifully balanced) and won in a breeze 20-0. The next week 21 Pitt passes helped beat Washington 13-6. On one there was a mad shuffle of handoffs and Quarterback Mazurek wound up racing down-field to catch an 11-yarder from Halfback Paul Martha. Pure carnival. Late in the fourth quarter Mazurek, with a 13-6 lead to play cozy with, rolled out from the Pitt 15 and actually passed for a first down. "Jock Sutherland is spinning in his grave," said a Pittsburgh sportswriter, who could not believe his eyes. "Jock Sutherland does not buy season tickets," said Pitt Publicist Beano Cook, who had not believed it either but adapts quickly. The next week Pitt passed on five of the first seven plays and routed California 35-15. "Just what I had in mind," beamed Chancellor Litchfield. "Now, isn't this much better?"
Dr. Litchfield has not thrown a pass yet, of course, but he did throw a chancellory bomb last December, and that is when the fun began. Alone with his coach and with Athletic Director Frank Carver, away from his six jobs, his multimillion-dollar building projects and his six secretaries, Dr. Litchfield said that he might not know what it was like to be a football coach but he certainly knew what it was like to be a Pitt football fan: it was a bore. He said winning all the time, losing all the time and being dull were three things he found intolerable. He said he was tired of seeing Pitt's fullbacks "wearing themselves out running on and off the field with plays from the bench. Let the quarterbacks call the plays." He said he wanted one good team captain and not a committee to make decisions on the field. He said he liked Michelosen fine but, "like real estate, John needs redevelopment." He said he was apprised of the fact that students, faculty and alumni were "fed up" (Pitt had had a 3-7 season in 1961 and was 5-5 in 1962 in spite of great expectations). He did not have to say that nothing makes a college president look worse than a bad football team. To make sure there was no mistaking him, Dr. Litchfield let his views leak to the press, the way the Colorado River leaks through Hoover Dam.
There followed some sensational scrambling as reporters raced from one office to the other to compare quotes. For example. Litchfield: "It's perfectly clear that John is playing ultraconservative football. He's out to win alone and not for the entertainment of the fan." Michelosen: "I didn't think I was in the entertainment business." It was all good clean rank-pulling, and everybody enjoyed it except, perhaps, Michelosen, who took it in fine spirit but was clearly and dangerously on the spot, and knew it. Nevertheless, said the chancellor, he had just as much right to tell his football coach how to do his job as he did the head of the chemistry department. "I'm not a coach," he said, "but I'm not a chemist, either." He denied that he had delivered an ultimatum to Michelosen, but added that the consequences would be "whatever they would be for anyone who doesn't follow administration instructions."
As a result, Pitt's startling success has been in no small measure attributed to Chancellor Litchfield. "It's very simple," explained a Pittsburgh cab driver the day before the West Virginia game. "The chancellor has this phone, see, from his box to the field, see, and whenever he wants to get a play in, he just calls up. Get it?" Students stole in and pasted "Coach" on the chancellor's door. Where once they booed his arrival at games (his 45% tuition hike and his wheeler-dealer activities as an executive for Studebaker, Avco, Smith-Corona Marchant and Oakland Corporation have not made him outrageously popular), they now cheer, and when Mazurek pulls off some new breathtaker they yell, "Hail, Caesar," and wave their empty wallets at the chancellor. He waves back. They have a chant: "Michelosen, Michelosen, /He's our man. /If he can't do it, /Litchfield can." Far from being abashed, Litchfield thinks the cry is "cute."
Though they would now just as soon forget Michelosen's and Litchfield's differences and get on with the task of beating Navy this weekend, even the players have entered into the fun. In a physical education class the answer to a question on football strategy was, "Call the chancellor." Whenever Dr. Litchfield appeared at practice someone was sure to whisper, "Here's King Edward with a new play for us." In one game, after two running plays had not produced, Halfback Martha suggested they throw "a couple of passes into the stands to jazz things up." Fullback Rick Leeson ran 13 yards up the middle, and on his way back to the huddle turned to the sidelines and chortled, "How's that for an old-fashioned line smash, Chancellor?" When Mazurek passed up spring practice to play baseball and was told that he would be lucky to return as fifth-string quarterback in the fall, he retorted: "They can't afford to do that. You heard what the chancellor said."
Finally, after Pittsburgh won its third straight, Dr. Litchfield called another press conference to assure everybody that he was not coaching the team after all and to please "focus attention where it belongs: on the wonderful job John and his players are doing."
Quite naturally, Michelosen responds that if it is a wonderful job of altering an offense, it is the job he would have done anyway, that he "absolutely" would have made the same sensational use of his material. He claims that basically his offense is the same as last year's—and it is, too, with the exception of wider use of slotbacks (open and tight), man-in-motion plays for both halfbacks, the halfback-to-quarterback pass, more roll-out options, the double wing (as used for the first time against West Virginia), a tackle-eligible play and a few little doodads like that. Sometimes the man in motion arrives behind the fullback just as the play begins, and presto! the I formation. "The big thing, of course, is that this year we're catching the ball," says Michelosen, who does not like to confuse the issue.
Michelosen is a quiet, stolid man, a gentleman coach who is much appreciated by his players. He has had two bowl teams in eight years but has always managed to draw fire. One Pitt squad spent an evening prowling the campus a few years back when it was rumored that Michelosen would be hanged in effigy. Effigies went up as soon as the team went to bed. Regardless of the often repeated charge, Michelosen has not clung to the Sutherland style in all those years. It would have been foolhardy: football has come too far since the 6-2-2-1 and 7-diamond defense of Sutherland's day. Nevertheless, Michelosen's split T—one year it was called the "sentinel T," but that was a ruse—always had the aura of the Sutherland single wing and its ground-hugging single-mindedness.
Michelosen played for Sutherland and coached under him and for years could not quite get the great man's image out of his eyes. Dr. Litchfield removed it for him.
In Pittsburgh's spring game, Michelosen's response to the prompting was to have his team throw 53 passes, 24 of which were completed. But there were no touchdowns, not until the final play—and then on an intercepted pass. "Looks like the only thing John can open up is his icebox," said a former Pitt player who saw the game, but he failed to take into account the springtime absence of Mazurek.
Fred Mazurek is the principal difference in the Pitt team. Michelosen says so, and the players agree. Jim Traficant, last year's quarterback, was a drop-back passer who had trouble getting the ball away, a poor runner and a personality problem. ("I made two mistakes in life," Traficant once said. "Coming to Pittsburgh was the first, staying here was the second.") Mazurek, on the other hand, is an exceptional roll-out passer—not so much because of his arm as his running ability—and is seldom trapped for long losses. He is adored by his teammates. They call him Mr. Moto—he is a squared-off 5 feet 10, with olive skin and a glistening little-boy smile—and they marvel at his good deportment. "He swore once at camp and three players told me about it," says Beano Cook. Michelosen thinks enough of Mazurek to play him at safety and let him receive punts. He is a junior and calls a good game, but do not be deceived. When he gets in a bind he looks to Michelosen for signals, "and when he makes a mistake," says Halfback Martha, "he looks for forgiveness."
What makes Mazurek especially effective is the balance of the Pitt attack. "Pitt's not a lot of razzmatazz," says California Coach Marv Levy. "They just execute better than they did before, and they have more threats. You can look wide-open on a quarterback sneak if your quarterback is Jimmy Brown." Halfback Martha, the team's second leading runner (214 yards in 33 carries), is an ex-quarterback himself who can throw on the run. His clutch 46-yard touchdown run beat West Virginia in the fourth quarter. Power boy Leeson is the first Pitt fullback to gain more than 1,000 yards since Marshall Goldberg of the 1938 Dream Backfield.
Halfback Eric Crabtree, a sophomore, is possibly the best outside threat. He plays on the second unit, but the second unit gets in as much time as the first and is quarterbacked better than adequately by Kenny Lucas, brother of the former Penn State All-America, Richie Lucas. The Pitt ends catch well, the tackles are big and strong (both Ernie Borghetti and John Maczuzak have been drafted as futures by the Kansas City Chiefs), the guards are very fast and the team attitude is one of total dedication. "We think alike," says Fullback Leeson. "Not a selfish bone among us."
Litchfield sits in the chancellor's box with his own special scorecard. It gives each player's number, height, weight, age, quality point average, college board score, school and ambition. He helped foster an extraordinary agreement among Pitt, Penn State and Syracuse—they exchange scholastic progress reports—and it pleases him that Leeson is doing well in predental studies, Mazurek and Martha in premed, Captain Al Grigaliunas and Tackle Maczuzak in engineering. Maczuzak has an ulcer from worrying over his grades.
Grigaliunas, a very tough Lithuanian whose father was killed by the Russians and who as a child escaped from a Red concentration camp with his mother, is a natural fulfillment of the chancellor's idea of what the team captaincy is all about. Grigaliunas had arrived on campus with a ducktail haircut and pleated shoes and wanted first off to be pointed to the pool hall. "But I quit playing pool," he says, smiling. Excellent in class, Grigaliunas has a 3.6 average and is 4.0 in the respect of his teammates. "He is the kind of guy who can whip your fanny if you get out of line," says a buddy, "and if he can't, at least he'll try." Grigaliunas was elected unanimously. He hasn't had to whip a fanny yet.
The University of Pittsburgh sits nearly "in the lap of the district of Oakland, its Cathedral of Learning—French Gothic inspired, but not very much—rising 42 stories to dominate the landscape. Frank Lloyd Wright called the Cathedral of Learning the greatest keep-off-the-grass sign he'd ever seen. Chancellor Litchfield, in his seven years at the university, has pushed $156 million in building programs, adding a little Italian Renaissance here, some contemporary there, trying to tie it all together with gray limestone. Rising like scouring powder cans at the west side of the campus are the stark new cylindrical dormitories known as Ajax, Bab-O and Comet. Oakland, meanwhile, shudders at Litchfield's every move. "Today Oakland," they say, "tomorrow the world."
The people of Oakland are large-hearted and larcenous, according to legend, and Forbes Street is the home of such fanciful characters as Gus Miller the Newshawk, Big Bob and Joey Diven, the world's greatest street fighter. Oakland's most ardent sports fans do not necessarily believe in paying their way into games, and the Oakland Colts once appeared in the scarlet-and-gray uniforms of the Ohio State Buckeyes the day after the State uniforms had mysteriously disappeared. "But they are good people," says one university man. "If you had a week to live you'd want to live it with them."
In the past Litchfield and Michelosen had been bothered by the fact that too many Panthers were acting as though they had a week to live and were going to make the most of it. Two Pitt players were suspended last year for fighting with an Oakland cop. "Discipline has always been the 11 th team on our schedule," says Cook, "and we haven't licked it yet."
So far in this smooth, wonderful year, however, there have been no worries. The bad actors have been weeded out, to Michelosen's especial relief, and Oakland is quiet, comparatively. More attention is being paid to what the Panthers do on the field, and if some Oakland regulars are still skeptical ("Give Michelosen a 7-7 tie in the fourth quarter," they say at Canter's Restaurant, "and you'll see how razzle-dazzle he is"), the happy voices from Ajax, Bab-O and Comet are not skeptical at all: "If Michelosen can't do it, Litchfield can."