Almost everybodyhas heard the old story. This football coach was driving through the Minnesotafarm land one day. He saw this big, raw-boned kid plowing in the field andasked him which way to the city. When the kid picked up the plow and pointedwith it, the coach knew he had found another Big Ten tackle.
If the story wasamusing 30 years ago when college football's linemen stood a strapping 6 feet 1and weighed a ponderous 215 pounds, it now should be the most hilariousanecdote on the whole roast-beef circuit, because Big Ten linemen today are bigenough and strong enough to point with tractors.
There are a lotof theories about why people are getting bigger. Shoe and suit and theater-seatmanufacturers are all supposed to be concerned about the trend. Some believethe reasons lie somewhere within or among better prenatal care, better medicalcare in childhood, better diets, more athletic activity and vitamins. PragmaticBig Ten recruiters don't care what the reason is as long as they manage to gettheir share of the big people. The evidence is that after a hiatus of some sixyears they have done so, and now the Big Ten is back with a firm hold on manyof the best interior linemen of the country (see cover).
Before 1957 itwas considered almost natural law that the Midwest had the good lines, but inthat year the Big Ten instituted its "need program," an attempt toregulate athletic scholarships on the basis of a student's finances, or lack ofthem. The program remained in effect through 1961, but it resulted in a modestde-emphasis. Most Big Ten coaches feel they are just now getting over theexperiment that profited Big Eight schools—notably Nebraska, Missouri andKansas, who recruited in Big Ten territory—more than it did their ownconference.
November 4, 1963
But that is donewith now. While last year was distinguished in the Big Ten for the quality ofits top linemen—among them Ed Budde and Dave Behrman of Michigan State, BobVogel and Daryl Sanders of Ohio State, Bobby Bell of Minnesota and Don Brumm ofPurdue—this season there is quantity. Wisconsin Coach Milt Bruhn, who has thebest won-lost record in the conference over the last five seasons and whoseteam, while upset Saturday by Ohio State 13-10, may still win the title, says,"The material is everywhere. It's bigger and faster."
His center andco-captain, Ken Bowman, one of the Big Ten's outstanding linemen, is moreexplicit. "Last year," says Bowman, "I played at 212 and no onepushed me around. Now I'm 230, and I'm getting pushed plenty. Even thedark-horse teams are big and tough."
At the start ofthe season there was no bigger dark horse than Illinois. Coach Pete Elliott'steam had won but two games in 1962, and the year before had lost all nine. ButElliott had done the best recruiting job in the conference in the past twoseasons and suddenly the word went around: he had animals. If Elliott couldharass them enough to make them angry, look out.
The mostferocious of Elliott's linemen are 6-foot-3, 237-pound Center Dick Butkus, thebest linebacker in the country, and 6-foot-4, 260-pound Tackle Archie Sutton.He also has a swarm of Goliathlike sophomores and juniors who seem likely tocomplete Illinois' resurgence as a power. Mostly Pete Elliott recruited inChicago and its suburbs, which, with 200 high schools, is one of the greatreservoirs of talent from which all Big Ten schools—and Notre Dame—draw.
If Chicago hadprovided no other player than Dick Butkus, Illinois would be pleased. Among allof the other promising sophomores and juniors on Elliott's rejuvenated team,Butkus is the player he most wanted and recruited the hardest. At ChicagoVocational High School, Butkus was a fullback who had power and speed. Moreimportant, he made roughly 70% of his team's tackles on defense. Every Big Tenschool wanted him, but they were not sure how to use him. Elliott was, though.He convinced Butkus he should play linebacker—for Illinois.
With good lateralspeed, brute strength and a "feel" for plays, Butkus made 78 tackles inIllinois' first five games and seems certain to be chosen on the variousAll-America teams. "He has that uncommon knack for doing the right thing atthe right time, and I've never seen him take a loafing step," saysElliott.
Other Big Tenlinemen the pros are interested in include Carl Eller, Minnesota, 6-foot-5½,245-pound tackle. (The pros say: best pass rusher in the conference. Can weigh270. Great strength in his arms for dealing off blockers. Good as any of theBig Ten's best last year.) Matt Snorton, Michigan State, 6 feet 4, 245 pounds,end. (The pros say: good as he wants to be. Great potential as tight end.)Roger Pillath, Wisconsin, 6-foot-3½, 240-pound tackle. (The pros say: quick,tough to move and strong. Will get bigger. Handles the double team block betterthan any.) Ken Bowman, Wisconsin, 6 feet 2½, 230, center. (The pros say: bestoffensive center in Big Ten. Perfected techniques. Picks up the blitz with rarepolish. Still gaining weight.) Jack Cvercko, Northwestern, 6-foot, 235-poundguard. (The pros say: something of a risk because of chronic knee trouble, butotherwise one of top linemen in nation. Great determination and technique.Powerful one-on-one blocker, good trapper, exceptional speed, perfectattitude.)
All five graduatethis year. Among the juniors, in addition to Butkus and Sutton, are MinnesotaLinebacker Frank Marchlewski, 6 feet 2, 230 pounds; Purdue Tackle James Garcia,6 feet 4, 235 pounds; Wisconsin Tackle Roger Jacobazzi, 6 feet 3, 235 pounds;Northwestern Center Joe Cerne, 6 feet 2, 224, and Joe Szczecko, 6 feet, 235.There is a host of equally talented sophomores.
The man in theBig Ten who is perhaps most preoccupied with linemen is Northwestern's AraParseghian, who has more trouble getting them than anyone else. Lack of depthgoes with Parseghian and Northwestern, the only privately endowed school in theconference, like wind goes with Chicago's streets. Worse still, every time itappears that Parseghian has done something to solve his problem, Northwestern'sline cracks in the middle, and late season opponents run through it as merrilyas ducklings in an animated cartoon.
Parseghianthought all might be different this year. Although he does not get the marginalrecruits who go to the state-supported schools, he came up with some fine lineprospects to go with the passing of slender Tom Myers. Even injuries, primarilyto Guards Cvercko and Larry Zeno, which cut down the strength of his interior,had not dimmed his hopes as he approached last week's game against MichiganState with four victories and only a 10-9 loss behind him.
A late fader
Unfortunately,when a gorgeous, cloudless day greeted 51,013 for North-western's homecoming atEvanston, the results for Parseghian were sadly the same as in the past.Northwestern got off to a 7-0 lead, but in the second half the Wildcat line wastorn open for one bolting 87-yard run by Michigan State's Sherman Lewis. At theend the Spartans' Duffy Daugherty celebrated the announcement of a newfive-year coaching contract with a 15-7 victory.
Facing a varietyof storming defenses, including a safety blitz that Northwestern could not pickup quickly enough, Tom Myers had one of his worst days. He completed only nineof 26 passes and had two intercepted. He was thrown for 61 yards in losses bythe swarming Spartan rushers. Some of Myers' passes were dropped, but Myers'slowness in avoiding the rush had him throwing badly off balance.
On the otherhand, State's small Lewis (5 feet 9, 152 pounds) made Northwestern defenderstackle too diffidently with his on-balance running. Aside from the record87-yard touchdown run, Lewis got off an 84-yard punt return, intercepted a passand caught a 29-yard touchdown pass lying flat on his back. Lewis' all-roundperformance was one of 1963's very best, and although Northwestern's defensebroke down badly only once, the lapse and Lewis were enough to give MichiganState the game.
"I know youhear it said that a passing team doesn't play the real tough defense," saidParseghian. "But we played well. Lewis was the difference. He's been thedifference against a lot of people. We don't think of ourselves as a passingteam. We like balance. But you do what you can do best. What are we going to dowith Myers? Make him a split T runner?"
Northwestern isnot the only Big Ten team that passes. The conference average is about 20throws per game. But there is a paradox. They arc making fewer points. AsIllinois, Ohio State and Michigan State moved into a tie with 2-0-1 records,each was averaging a fraction more than two touchdowns a game.
"I guessthey're scoring less because of the tougher defenses," says Parseghian."But the season's only half over. I think you'll see some scoring."
Northwestern isnow, at a very early date, almost out of the championship race after being thefavorite. While most Big Ten people believe that Northwestern will never win achampionship because it cannot recruit enough of the quality interior linemenit needs to last through the rugged season, Parseghian refuses to agree."I've seen some good line play for us this year," he said."Certainly if we had Cvercko, people would see a great one. But we have twoor three players who have a chance to be real good. Kids like Cerne, Szczeckoand Mike Schwager. We've been close to a championship two or three times, buthave lost out late in the season. Because injuries have hurt us, we got hitearly. In the past five years it was our schedule that got us. For example, inthat time, the first six teams we've played each year have won 48% of theirgames, and the last three have won 68%."
Doc Urich,Northwestern's end coach, probably put it better than anyone else when he said,"About the best we can hope for is that every three or four years we canget a group that can make a good run, like some of those others do all of thetime. And then we'll need luck."
So far,Northwestern seems to have had everything but luck. Last week in a conferencewhere the big, powerful linemen make the difference, Northwestern's best werelimping on the sideline.