When Duffy Daugherty sneezes in East Lansing, according to the legend, Tommy Prothro at UCLA, Paul Dietzel in South Carolina, Jim Owens in Washington and Ben Schwartzwalder in Syracuse say Gesundheit. Pure reflex. Ara Parseghian, diagraming a devilishly clever play in South Bend, breaks his chalk, and Bear Bryant, down in Alabama, cringes. Reflex. Among the fraternal order of college football coaches, there are no secrets.
And so last month the brothers from all over the U.S. checked through Canadian customs at Toronto, dutifully answering the questions, "Nature of visit?" with rousing good humor: "Business." The coaches could have said with greater accuracy that it was a safari they were on, the bring-'em-back-alive kind but, as Canadian customs officials are not finicky about such things, business it was.
Some business. It is a known fact that a coach will walk into a collapsing mine shaft on the chance he may come out with something big and mean and fast and capable of passing a college-board exam. And what does Canada have to offer? That kind of talent. It is the roughest, most unpolished kind, but it is there and it is there in abundance.
Until very recently the voice north of the border was still and small. It is not yet a full gale shout but the word is out, and coaches, air-travel cards at the ready, have begun to swoop down on such places as Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto to mingle with tough young Canadians who want nothing more than to attend classes and play football for American universities. By unofficial count, there were 150 Canadians playing football in the U.S. last season, and there could conceivably be 100 more each year who would look good in anybody's jersey.
July 2, 1967
It is no coincidence that the locations mentioned are the home towns of Canadian professional teams. The great migration south, in fact, stems from rules that stipulate that Canadian football should be a game for Canadians by Canadians—mostly—and thus the rule: of the 32 players on each CFL team, no more than 14 may be foreigners. The rest must be Canadian born and bred.
The rule is great for national pride but rotten for good professional football. Players freshly graduated from Canadian high schools are obviously not ready for the rigors of the professional game, and since Canadian colleges would as soon import a crate full of scorpions as give an athletic scholarship, CFL teams are in constant danger of being manned by players who will look as out of place as miniskirts at a coronation.
The solution was so obvious it was overlooked for decades: send the best prospects south for four years, then bring them back to Canada bigger, better, and wiser. The problem was convincing American recruiters that there were any Canadians worth giving scholarships to. There was also the risk that should a boy turn into a rip-roaring stud capable of demolishing entire backfields in a single pass rush, the American pros might snap him up. Or perhaps he would decide that four years of football was great fun and then, armed with a degree, say thank you very much and go into business on his own.
"We're aware of all that," said Bob Moir, director of player development for the Toronto Argonauts, "but what the hell. We hope that some of them will return and, if they do, they will, of course, be obligated to play for the team that sponsored them in the first place."
Sponsor may not be just the right word. The players get nothing from the pro teams but the use of some tired uniforms and some very intensive coaching for a few days while the American recruiters ooh and ah on the sidelines.
"We won't even advise them which college to attend," said the circumspect Moir, who is only too aware that should the NCAA smell hanky-panky, it would pounce on this reverse underground railroad immediately. The Canadian teams, he said, are scrupulously aboveboard about it all.
Toronto's high school camp, open during the third week in June, was typical of the other Canadian roundups, but larger. The Argonauts were showing off local players for the first time and had a lot of catching up to do. The Ottawa Rough Riders, for instance, have been sending players south for five years, and this season eight ripe young giants are returning for their rookie year.
There was another reason why Toronto's operation was bigger—the number of high schools around the metropolitan area. There are 93 of them, 85 of which have football teams. Last fall Moir scouted their games and at the end of the season invited 60 of the best players to attend the Argonaut camp. Moir then advised 60 American colleges that a vast new source of talent was now available and open for inspection.
In the past few years American coaches have learned to take such invitations seriously. Kentucky's Charlie Bradshaw has called Al Phaneuf, a junior destined to play with the Montreal Alouettes, the best defensive halfback he has ever coached, and North Carolina's new coach, Bill Dooley, inherited four Canadian players, three of whom will play in the Tarheels' backfield if Dooley can learn to pronounce their names—Mark Mazza, Saulis Zemaitis and Dick Wesolowski. The fourth, Ed Chalupka, will be up there as a first-string guard.
Kent State may be the most convinced of the recruiting schools. There will be 10 Canadians on the varsity this year and more in the freshman class. "We have found the Canadians to be real dedicated people," Assistant Coach Jack Robb said last week. "They are behind American boys in fundamentals. That's why most of them end up on the defensive unit. But they make up for their deficiencies by toughness. They like the contact and are scrappers. There are no problems in the classroom, either. They all seem to have good educational backgrounds and apply themselves."
One boy in Toronto, even if he had never opened a book—and he had—was alone worth the price of a jet flight north. He is John Harris, 19 years old, 6'5" and 285 pounds. He has run the 220 in 24 seconds, which is somewhat slower than Olympic time, but if you can conceive of the Chrysler Building racing along just a few strides behind Tommie Smith, then you know what the coaches saw in him. Even such an experienced bird dog as Clyde Walker, Bill Dooley's chief recruiter, lost his composure when his hand disappeared—entirely—in Harris'. Bob Gongola of Minnesota said his how-do-you-do and raced for the telephone and, while no one present heard the conversation, presumably it went something like: "Murray, you won't believe this, but...."
Harris was the big one, but there were others on a slightly more mortal scale, 240-pound types, and any number of sturdy young backs with long, powerful legs. "The big thing going for these boys," said Bob Agler, athletic director at Otterbein College and the man who is coordinating the Toronto program, "is they want that scholarship. They know almost nothing about football, but some of them have terrific talent and they want to learn. You tell them to take their laps, and if you don't watch them they'll be running when you get up the next morning."
It took approximately three minutes of the opening day workout for the American coaches to see what was what. The big linemen's version of the three-point stance bore a striking resemblance to a bull elephant teetering on the edge of a precipice. And when the ball was snapped, there was an agonizing moment of stark inactivity by both linemen and backs. The explanation is simple. Canada's season starts late and ends early—before the autumnal blizzards make anything caught off snowshoes absolutely stationary for the season. And even during that short time any practice lasting over an hour, three days a week, is approaching overemphasis. As for a coaching staff, usually it consists of a phys ed teacher who has read a book on football.
The U.S. college coaches, however, were not looking for polish. They took 16 of the boys finally. There was size and good speed and agility, and even though all of it tended to explode off in the wrong direction at precisely the wrong time, the young Canadians went at each other with bone-crunching zest. And without that, as Tom Price of Southern Mississippi noted, "you can get into your perfect three-point stance until you're blue in the face, and if you win two games a season you've cheated."
Suddenly the coaches, who had been touring the field at random, began to congregate around a swift 190-pound flanker named Gary Kuzyk who had just zipped downfield, thrown his hip to the right, cut sharp left and snatched a pass out of the air without breaking stride. "Pure instinct," said Mike Wadsworth, a Canadian who played guard at Notre Dame for three years and is now an Argonaut. "You can bet your sweet life no one taught him that up here."
"Yeah, but he started late," said one critic.
"And I'll take him as is," said Price. He would have to hustle, though. The recruiters were swooping.