The team had just stretched its undefeated streak to 16, shutting out an opponent for the fifth time this season, and now it sat glumly in the locker room. There were no heady words of victory from the coach, no happy shouts, no visiting well-wishers to pound the players' backs. The Memphis State Tigers, 13-0 winners Saturday night over Chattanooga, were depressed, every last big, fast blue-chip one of them.
At Memphis State it not only matters whether you win, but by how much. Once clawless, the Tigers have grown accustomed to mangling the likes of Chattanooga. This year they have even stunned two former tormentors, third-ranked Mississippi with a 0-0 tie, and tough Mississippi State with a 17-10 victory, and they now are looking forward to a major bowl bid. For Memphis State, formerly a teachers' college but now a full-fledged university with an enrollment of 8,000, is suddenly—and not accidentally—quite major in college football circles. It got that way by building as thoroughly as the third little pig—and it can attribute its fast rise to, oddly enough, basketball, the city of Memphis, Dr. Cecil C. Humphreys, the university president, and Coach Billy Murphy. Humphreys, a handsome, dark-haired SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Silver Anniversary All-America (1960) who oozes vigor from every pore, is an educational phenomenon, unlikely to be duplicated west of the Mississippi (except possibly in Hollywood) or north of Baltimore. He rose to his present academic eminence through roles as assistant football coach, head coach and then athletic director at the college he now rules.
In 1957, when State's highly ranked basketball team played in the National Invitational Tournament in New York, it caused considerable excitement, twice on network television, before losing to Bradley in the finals. The point was not lost on Memphis political, business and professional leaders, who for decades had chafed at the long sporting shadow cast by the University of Mississippi, 70 miles south in Oxford (pop. 5,283). Memphis Mayor Edmund Orgill was so impressed that he leaped for the telephone as soon as the tournament was over and tied it up for two hours on a call to then Athletic Director Humphreys. Their conversation, in distillation, went something like this:
Orgill: Why can't we have a football team that would do for the city what the basketball team did in New York?
Humphreys: We could, but it would take time.
Orgill: I'm in a hurry. How can I save time?
Humphreys: Well, if we could step up our scholarship program....
Orgill: Consider it stepped up.
The eventual result was the Educational and Athletic Scholarship Program, an association of local men who contribute enough money to the school's athletic council to pay for an additional 25 to 30 full athletic scholarships a year (board, room, tuition, fees and $15 a month). This swells the overall total to 85, small by Southeastern Conference standards but a good beginning.
The next step, of course, was to hire a coach who would put these scholarships to the best use. State could hardly have made a more appropriate choice than Spook Murphy, a former all-SEC tailback at Mississippi State who had been an assistant coach for five years in Memphis before joining Murray Warmath and following him to Minnesota. Murphy, now 42, is a wonderfully agile and persuasive recruiter who could sell combs to Mr. Clean. But even he was slightly appalled when he showed up for spring practice and contemplated a 1958 fall schedule that promised to provide Tiger skins for hearths at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama.
"I took a look at what I had to fight with and then who I had to fight," recalls Murphy, in his smooth, rolling southern voice, "and I knew I had to work fast. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee had the area's football talent all wrapped up," Murphy added, "so I knew I'd have to go out of state or give up."
Murphy was blessed with friends in all the right places. The end coach he had brought with him from Minnesota, Ray Malavasi, knew the New Jersey area. A fellow Marine from World War 11 days on Okinawa, Paul McKee, now end coach at Harvard, was coaching in Rome, N.Y. and would beat the bushes in New England. A comrade from V-12 days at Duke, Bob Root, a high school coach in Pennsylvania, agreed to scan the rich Ohio-Pennsylvania breeding grounds. And Murphy himself took on the Chicago area.
This year the Tigers opened the season with 52 players from 14 states. Only 16 of them come from Tennessee, Arkansas or Mississippi. No less than 24 of Murphy's 31 linemen weigh over 200 pounds, 13 of these top 220 and nine weigh in excess of 230. With all this beef in the forward wall it is hardly surprising that Memphis State is the third most effective defensive team in the nation.
"I try to sell prospective players on three things," Murphy says. "First, our academic program—that we are likely to have a course of study that they will want. Second, that we are a winning team and intend to stay that way. Third, that Memphis is a big city with some wonderful chances for employment after graduation."
All of Murphy's points are valid, none more so than the first. The academic standards are not so high that deserving athletes are denied entrance to Memphis State. Once enrolled, their course of study need not be too strenuous. In fact 20 members of this year's varsity major in physical education or industrial arts, the latter a college-level version of arts and crafts.
"I probably would have gone to a Big Ten school," says Chuck Brooks, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound end from Oak Park, Ill., "but I didn't have the grades. Now I like it fine down here."
Dick Quast, a 6-foot-2, 238-pound tackle from Chicago who already has been drafted by the pros, transferred to Memphis State because he neglected to make the grades that would have kept him athletically eligible at Wake Forest.
Not all the players came to Memphis because it was the only college they could get into. Harry Schuh, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound tackle from Feasterville, Pa., who received 60 college offers, enrolled at State because "they took the time to introduce me to the faculty in the industrial arts department." Dave Casinelli of Follansbee, W. Va., a stumpy fullback who was too slow to get into any other school but who is now the nation's third leading ground-gainer and third leading scorer, came along on the shirttails of high school chum Ralph Ciccarelli.
If Memphis State's academic standards seem modest when measured against those of other nationally ranked schools, they differ in no respect from those of any state school in the South. They may even be a little higher.
"Last year we actually turned down 500 applicants," says President Humphreys. "That doesn't exactly put us in a class with the Ivy League, but we wouldn't be doing our job as a state college if we accepted only the top 5%."
Not affiliated with a conference, Memphis State is having difficulty lining up suitable opponents. Recently, Memphis started construction on a $3.7 million football stadium. It will be ready for the 1965 season, and will seat 50,000. While this municipal investment puts the football team squarely on the spot, it will help develop a major schedule.
It better had, or there will be an awful lot of angry folks downtown. In addition to the Educational and Athletic Scholarship donors there are two rapidly growing booster clubs: the 425-member Tiger Club, Inc. which raises money for additional scholarships, and the 335-member Highland 100 which raises funds for recruiting and promotional purposes.
"Let's not think of the Tiger football team as belonging to the university alone," City Commissioner James Moore told a cheering crowd of Highland 100s at their weekly meeting prior to the Chattanooga game. "Let's think of it as a vital industry for the entire city of Memphis."