It was before the game, and Jack Mollenkopf thought he was joking. He stood in the middle of Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium with his hands in the pockets of his overcoat and a 20-mile-an-hour northwester blowing in his face. He said to Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State that the offensive team ought to get the wind advantage at all times and that the punting team, ho ho, should always have to kick into the mouth of that terrible wind. This was the biggest game of any year at Purdue, with a homecoming crowd of 62,113 trying to fit into the stadium under an eerie Indiana sky bloated with rain clouds. Even kidding, Mollenkopf could not have prepared himself for a worse nightmare if he had washed down a piece of pineapple upside-down cake with a glass of orange juice on top of a chocolate mousse and hopped right into bed.
The nightmare did not begin until the third quarter. Then Mollenkopf's quarterback, Bob Griese, renowned as a maker of miracles, punted four times into that northwester. Griese was backed up against his own goal line, and each time he kicked the ball it looked as though it were attached to his foot by a string. The punts went for 17 yards, 18, 25 and, most prodigious of all, 30 yards. Each was agonizing. Before the quarter was over few were the people in Ross-Ade Stadium who did not know that Purdue's hard-chiseled 10-0 lead was in jeopardy.
Few, also, were the people who did not grieve that the year that was supposed to be Purdue's—the year of a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl invitation—might be ended, the Boilermakers' heaven being definitely in the sweet by-and-by and not, as the fraternities had proclaimed fervently, on this earth. For undefeated Purdue the houses on West Lafayette's fraternity row had wrapped themselves in banners that said bravely, "Everything's Coming Up Roses!" and, "Here Lie the Rose Bowl Dreams of MSU, Died on the Day They Met Purdue." In fits of superanalysis, the local sportswriters had said, "Michigan State is a running team and Purdue is famed for its passing, but Michigan State is deemed to have a better passing team to complement its rushing than Purdue has running to complement its passing," and, "Our final advice [for Purdue] is to get out in front and improve your position."
Purdue's players may not have understood the complementing bit, but they knew how to get out in front—no matter that Michigan State was ranked second in the country. They went ahead on Griese's 20-yard field goal in the first period. They improved on it to 10-0 and they dominated the first half. With the added protection of an unbalanced line that Mollenkopf had put in especially for Michigan State, Griese completed 13 passes on sprint-outs and rolls to the strong side, eight to Split End Bob Hadrick, who surely must have two sets of everything—arms, legs, eyes. Fullback Randy Minniear, sliding off and to the outside of the pinching State line that had ground the bones of Michigan and Ohio State fullbacks before him, was a steady gainer and once broke for 23 yards, longest run of the year by a Purdue back.
And the stunting, submarining Purdue line—Jim Long, Jerry Shay, Pat Conley and other flesh-eaters like them—shut off the Michigan State offense at every turn. So what is this business about a 10-0 lead being shaky?
Well, it is the old business of football and the curious initiatives and subtle nuances that cause trends. The initiative and therefore the course of the game had subtly passed to Michigan State in the desperately windy third quarter that eroded Griese's poise.
And then there was that basic of the game the coaches call "field position." Michigan State became a classic exponent of field position in the second half. Only six of the 65 offensive plays run in the second half were begun in State territory, and all six were begun by the Spartans. Purdue never got beyond its own 42 in the third quarter, never beyond its own 25 in the fourth. It never once got out of the three-down area, because it had to start from its 15-yard line, its 34 and then its 20, 9, 17 and 16, in that order.
Michigan State, on the other hand, gained possession five times in Purdue territory, usually after one of those low-comedy punts. When its offense was unable to dig out, Purdue's fast-moving defense expended energy beyond its capacity and began to flag, only a little at first and then noticeably in the fourth quarter. That was when the great slashing power of Michigan State's fine running backs—sophomore Bob Apisa, the 212-pound Hawaiian puncher Coach Daugherty disguises as a second-string fullback, and Halfback Clinton Jones—began asserting itself.
Where once they had tried to run outside of Long, who had contained them well, the Spartans now struck inside on dives and slants. No frills. Man-to-man stuff. Spartan linemen gap-blocked viciously, attacking the first men they could hit, whether they were on the line or not. Apisa and Jones were now inspired; they consistently broke tackles, as many as three on a carry, and at the end of a 50-yard drive Apisa made a swan dive from no more than an inch out into the end zone.
A two-point conversion pass by Quarterback Steve Juday cut Purdue's lead to 10-8 with nine minutes and 46 seconds to play. But Purdue had the wind at its back in the fourth period, and conditions favored it to regain the initiative. Nightmare indeed. "The play that killed us," Mollenkopf called the kickoff that followed.
Almost any kind of runback would have allowed Griese room to manipulate his offense—and it could have stood some manipulation, Purdue having piled up exactly one first down in the second half. If he got the runback and still failed to move, Griese could at least ride the wind with his punt and Purdue would be reasonably assured that Michigan State would have to begin again deep in its own territory.
But on the kickoff Purdue's Lou Sims, bearing down on the ball, careened into the receiver, Gordon Teter. Teter stumbled as he caught the ball and went to one knee at the nine-yard line. He got up quickly and ran forward, but it was painfully obvious, even to Purdue followers, that he had touched down, and there was Purdue backed up to its goal line once more.
Still, what of it? Griese had driven the Boilermakers 96 yards to their touchdown in the second quarter—he got it on a seven-yard pass to Flanker Jim Finley—and in games past (with Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa) had he not performed prodigies in the fourth quarter? He had, despite the fact that he had come to Purdue a poor passer, an end-over-ender, a palm-ball thrower. Griese practiced diligently, however, and became an excellent passer, the best in the country, in the judgment of one Michigan State coach. But the frustration of the third quarter may have done him in. His second-half completions included only two inconsequential passes for a total of 14 yards, and frequently he threw poorly. He missed his last six in a row and, in short, finally was behaving like a mortal.
When Teter fell at the nine, a confident Purdue man in the press box said, "It is now time for Griese to walk on water." But, too near to his goal to throw, Griese had to call running plays, and they got only six yards. His punt went to midfield, and Drake Garrett returned it to the Purdue 39. It was the only punt Michigan State returned all day.
Now Apisa and Jones went grimly back to work and achieved a first down at the 24. At the 22, however, Juday missed a vital third-down pass, but Jack Calcaterra, a defensive guard, blundered into him after the whistle and, instead of having to try a fourth-down field goal into that wind, Michigan State was happy to relocate with a first down on the Purdue 12. Behind brutal clearout blocks by Apisa and Guard John Karpinski, Jones cut back neatly and ran in from the eight for the winning touchdown.
Michigan State has now zipped through six straight opponents, with only Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana left on its Big Ten schedule and Notre Dame after that. It would appear that the only way to keep the Spartans from the Rose Bowl would be to have Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana play them simultaneously.
This is, with a few important exceptions, the same Michigan State team that won only four games last year. If half of the coaches in the Big Ten are wondering where these big cutthroats come from, the Spartans are surprising themselves and their own coaches. "Every day in September when I'd see that schedule on the back of the scoreboard at home," recalls Line Coach Hank Bullough, "I'd about break out in a sweat. Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State.... 'Just no way,' I'd say to myself. 'No way.' "
Daugherty says the secret ingredients are enthusiasm and the team's willingness to play up to its potential—"and, of course, some excellent coaching." Daugherty is kidding, but enthusiasm is part of it. This Michigan State team is an extremely coachable one, far more so than other Daugherty teams. Bullough is amazed continually by players streaming into his office to ask questions, to make a meal on stunts and blitzes, "and when they leave they always want to take a movie of one of the games back home to study."
The defense—a colossal mass of sinew that averages out to 245 pounds a man and five scare stories for every visiting scout—not only plays together but plays around together. The regulars lift weights together and push against doors together, and over the summer they stacked on 105 pounds of muscle among them. "I think they felt they got pushed around by the other boys in the league a little too much last year," says Daugherty. Pushing now where once they were pushed, the defense left Michigan and Ohio State with minus yards rushing.
Moreover, the Spartans are a fiercely competitive bunch. End Bob Viney has been playing on a bad knee all year. "They see him limping around, making tackles," says Bullough, "and they know they haven't the right to loaf. And they're all the time correcting each other, sometimes in no uncertain terms. Man, they yell at one another."
The captain of the defense is a 5-foot-8, 164-pound halfback named Donald (Jap) Japinga. You can usually spot Japinga by the way he hops and jumps and leaps around, as if 10 springs have suddenly become uncoiled inside him. Japinga went out for the team as a freshman, without a scholarship. He is now so tenacious a defensive back that Daugherty has dared to play him man to man against such giants as Hal Bedsole of USC or Bob Lacey of North Carolina. But his man in the Purdue game was the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Hadrick, big enough. When Japinga came into the dressing room after the first half he was furious, and he had not calmed down much when he was ready to go back out again. The first time he got close enough, he braced Hadrick, eyeball to necktie. "Hadrick," he said, "you won't catch another one today." Hadrick did catch another one, for six yards, but one was all he caught.
The team leader is Quarterback Juday, a handsome, quiet six-footer from Northville, Mich. (pop. 4,000 when everybody is home for Christmas dinner). Juday and Japinga are members of a campus honor society, Excalibur, which few athletes are invited to join. One player says Juday is the type you tear down walls for. Daugherty thinks enough of him to let him call 90% of the State plays. He has an almost studied aloofness, a detached officer-to-noncom way of running his team. "He is not the type you give a hotfoot to," says one player. "Know what I mean?"
There is a depth of other talent. End Gene Washington, for example, is as good a pass receiver as there is in the country, and Daugherty calls Linebacker Ron Goovert without a doubt the very best. And then there is Halfback Drake Garrett. Garrett is—well, he got knocked out in the Michigan game, and when the trainer knelt over him to assay the damages Garrett opened one eye and whispered loudly, "I'm all right, Coach, but how are my fans taking it?"
"I love these guys," said Japinga last Saturday in West Lafayette, sitting stripped on a table in the deep-in-joy Spartan dressing room. "This team just makes you love everyone on it." He shook his head. "But I can't believe this is happening to us. It's wonderful, but I just can't believe it."
On the ramp outside, a waiting Michigan State fan raised a green-and-white pennant for one last wave, though the game had ended long before. "There'll be joy in Mudville!" he crooned, and a Purdue man who had passed him by stopped, turned and snapped, "That's what you think, mister. This is Mudville."