Tyrannosaurus Rex, a regulation-size and disconcertingly lively looking dinosaur, stands in the middle of the University of Wyoming campus, right where you would expect a statue of a cow. But if the 6,500 Cowboy students react with shocking indifference to their cretaceous wonder, visitors do not. After a while they get used to the fact that Wyoming is full of surprises.
Consider this year's football team. It was no more favored over Brigham Young University, an offensive marvel, winner of eight games and the defending champion of the Western Athletic Conference, than Notre Dame was over Michigan State. But what it did was tyrannosaurical. Playing a style of game that can best be described as crunch, the Cowboys scored almost at will. Their 47-14 win not only gave them the championship for 1966, it made them look suspiciously like the finest team ever to play in the Rocky Mountains.
And what were the residents of the Ivinson Home for aged ladies, which lies directly adjacent to the Cowboys' home, Memorial Stadium, doing? They were accepting victory with decorum. For six blissfully quiet days a week during the season the ladies take in the bracing air of 7,150-foot Laramie and calm themselves for the noise due on Saturday. Every Wyoming citizen who can get his hands on a ticket sings Ragtime Cowboy Joe (a light song) at the top of his lungs, cheers the rascal racing Joe's pony and stuffs his ears for the crack of the old French 75, the report of which has been known to start an avalanche. Rather than complain, the ladies smile wanly and, when the game is away from home, as it was last week, they miss watching their teacups hop up and down on porcelain saucers.
Even opposing coaches react most peculiarly to the situation at Laramie. Last year BYU's Tommy Hudspeth, who beat every team in the conference but Wyoming, got the full treatment. The Cowboys scored. Boom went the 75. Clippety-clop came the pony. Over all came the lusty chorus of Ragtime Cowboy Joe. It was when Wyoming had scored for the third time that Hudspeth caught himself reacting most uncharacteristically. "There I was," he said, "getting my brains beaten out and singing right along with the crowd, 'He's a high-falutin', rootin', tootin', son of a gun from old Wyoming. Ragtime Cowboy, talk about your cowboy, Ragtime Cowboy Jooooe.' "
But that was last year. This time around, the Cowboys met the defending WAC champions in Provo, Utah. Not only were they without Tyrannosaurus Rex, they had to face a quarterback named Virgil Carter, a young fellow who ran for such sheer joy and passed with such great accuracy that—forgetting names like Spurrier, Hanratty, Griese and Beban—he was about to set the record for more individual yards gained than anyone else who has ever played the game before. (Johnny Bright had 5,903 between 1949 and 1951 for Drake and Carter needed only 201 to top that going into the Wyoming game.)
Nor was that the end of Wyoming's troubles. This year BYU was ready to match the Cowboys tune for tune. Not long ago Hudspeth went to San Diego and came back with what most of his opponents insist was a regiment of Marines. Actually, there were only six of them, but they have gone at each game as if Mt. Suribachi were at stake. Appropriately, what the Cowboys heard last Saturday was 38,000 BYU fans singing the Marine Hymn. "It's enough to make you think we'd been drafted by the Viet Cong." noted one particularly startled Wyoming player.
The Marines, it seems almost superfluous to add, landed in the nick of time. As recently as the beginning of last season the Cougars were regarded with affection by those fortunate enough to have them on their schedule. Winning games was not the issue at BYU. The Cougars had to be sky-high to record a first down. So why did Tommy Hudspeth accept the job as head coach three years ago? Partly because he knew that the sign at the entrance to the campus, which states that ALL THE WORLD IS OUR CAMPUS, meant what it said. Any sturdy young Mormon boy—even a Marine from San Diego—was fair game for a recruiter. And partly because he was convinced by the administration's new attitude. Any doubts about that disappeared in the cloud of cement swirling over the big new stadium.
Hudspeth then got down to the serious business of weeding out the hangdog attitude of longtime losers. He did it dramatically by telling nearly half the squad they were not what he had in mind as players. One boy was cut right in the middle of a fainthearted wind sprint. What the young coach had left was a small, eager group willing to bleed from the eyes. At the core were his "Tripoli" boys. Five Marines were put on the offensive platoon, two (Max Newberry and Paul Ehrmann) to keep the world away from Carter, two (Casey Boyett and Phil Odle) to catch his passes and one (Perry Rodrique, with the oomph on "drique") to help as tailback in the backfield. It all worked so well that in the game with Texas Western, which BYU won 52-33, Boyett caught nine passes, three of them for touchdowns, and Odle caught 14, good for 242 yards. As for Carter in that game, BYU's publicity man, Dave Schulthess, casually answered inquiries about the quarterback's total yardage with "599."
"No, no," questioners said, "not the team totals—Carter's."
"That is Carter's," was the reply.
Thus armed, BYU went out for the bloodletting against the pride of Wyoming.
To say that the university had always been the pride of Wyoming would be to stretch a point. Not many years ago, in fact, the state legislature appropriated more money for wolf bounties than it did for the college. But after World War II things began to improve dramatically, especially when a series of coaches named Bowden Wyatt, Phil Dickens and Bob Devaney came along to turn some of the country's worst football teams into some of the best. The latest in that rather prominent list is Lloyd Eaton, who learned the fine points of organizing a team from Devaney and who gets them across, some observers insist, with the aid of the Hallelujah Chorus. "I don't know if he got it from Billy Graham, or Billy Graham got it from Lloyd Eaton," said one Eaton assistant, "but when the coach talks, you expect thunder and lightning."
One of the things that Eaton learned early was that Wyoming has exactly 36 high schools with 11-man football teams, and if people are going to come roaring into Laramie for a Saturday shoot-'em-up he had better range far and wide for talent. Today no hamlet in the country is too remote to miss the gentle tap, tap, tap of Eaton and his staff. Typically, this year's squad was rounded up from 19 states, including Alabama, where Bear Bryant somehow overlooked Ron Billingsley, a 6-foot-8, 251-pound defensive end.
This year's Cowboys are a team born of disaster. Last season, fresh from having lost a heartbreaker and the conference championship to Arizona State the week before, they were humiliated by USC 56-6. Such a whipping can irrevocably undo most teams, but when the team is a good one—and Wyoming was good—it can also start its players thinking. "Never, never, never again am I going to get kicked around like that," thought Quarterback Rick Egloff then, and to a player the others had the same idea. The ferocity of last spring's scrimmages had the aging ladies at Ivinson taking a tight grip on their teacups.
This fall Eaton knew he had something good brewing. "Assets?" he said. "Yes, we have assets," meaning a defensive line that included Billingsley, Jerry Durling (known as the meanest man in the conference) and Mike Dirks, who weighs 225, a fact no offensive lineman he has faced believes. Eaton also had one of the fine now-you-see-me-now-you-don't running backs in the conference in Jim Kiick, and at split end was Jerry Marion, a whippet. The Philadelphia Eagles and Boston Patriots took a look at Marion when he was still a sophomore and said, "You belong to us."
No one did more to make Eaton think big, however, than Jerry DePoyster. "We expect to come back with something every time we cross midfield," said Eaton, marveling at DePoyster's kicking toe. Against Utah two weeks ago DePoyster warmed up with a 54-yard field goal, made good on another from 52 yards away, breezed in a modest 21-yarder and settled the Utes' hash but good with another 54-yarder.
But Eaton's hand was not entirely pat. What worried him most was his quarterback. The boy who was expected to get the call was Egloff, a hardy runner and a young fellow with a forceful personality. He was also thought to be totally incapable of completing a pass. Last summer, however, he stayed right in Laramie, throwing to anyone willing to shag for him. After 50 sessions Eaton told him: "Son, you're at least 50% better."
"Aw, Coach," said Egloff, "I'm better than that."
How right he was. In the opening game against Air Force, a team that boasted one of the fine secondaries in the country, Egloff completed 16 passes, good for two touchdowns and 195 yards, and, just to show that he had not lost the knack of running, picked up another 50 on the ground.
As for Wyoming's other supposed weakness, in the defensive backfield, Assistant Coach Burt Gustafson came up with four buzz bombs who are so good that just recently a professional scout called Wyoming's secondary not only better than Air Force's, but the best in the country.
Last Saturday it took the best to handle Carter and the Marines. Odle and Boyett ran wonderful patterns, but right there with them to steal four passes were the Cowboys' deep-four defenders. Part of this success was due, of course, to the firm of Durling, Billingsley and Dirks, Inc., who attacked Carter as if he were making off with Tyrannosaurus Rex.
When it came time to move the ball Jim Kiick got yards with that ghostly stride of his, or, when the subtle approach was not the answer, a little of that good old Wyoming crunch. And then there was Egloff, lots of Egloff. There was Egloff passing to Marion three times for touchdowns and once to End Dennis Devlin. There was Egloff scrambling for 85 yards. There was, in fact, more Egloff than BYU could stomach.
As for Virgil Carter, he got his 201 yards all right, and 83 more to boot, which makes him a master at advancing a football, and when Boyett caught a pass just before the end of the game to put BYU close to the goal line, the band again struck up the Marine Hymn. It must have sounded much as it did at Wake Island in 1942.