Regardless of what the College All-Star Game used to be, it has become an exercise in pro football trivia. You do not try to block a monster like Bubba Smith, of course. You fool him. You worry a good but young pass defense on the outside and beat it down the middle. And you take the Heisman Trophy winner with a grain of printer's ink. You do all of these things if you are a Green Bay Packer and have to stroll through the annual contest once more. Last Friday in Chicago the Packers strolled, 27-0, and the score could have gone higher if the pros had wanted to get their uniforms dirty. It is surely time for this annual non-football spectacle to be hung from the ceiling of the Smithsonian Institution.
The funny thing about this year's game was that the All-Star coaches were supposed to be leveling in on it as never before. After the Packers buried the collegians 38-0 last year there were the usual outcries that the game had outlived its importance, that the pros were far too talented and sophisticated for any group of rookies in this day and age. So Coach Johnny Sauer decided that he would work harder than any All-Star leader ever had before to see if the notion could be disproved.
For weeks Sauer, who had been an assistant All-Star coach under Otto Graham, studied films of the Packers and of all sorts of college games. It was primarily his job not only to figure a way to attack the world champions, but to select the prized rookies for the task. Once they were chosen, he would have three long weeks to shape them up in practice before the march into antiquated Soldier Field.
Sauer leaned toward size as he recruited the stars, because there is a myth today that pro football players have to be as big as Michigan State's Bubba Smith, who is 6'7" and weighs 297. Whether it was a mistake or not, Sauer took only two players from the Southeastern Conference and only one from the Southwest, two of the toughest sectors in the land. "They're rough and quick but too little," he argued. A lot of notable collegians were missing as Sauer loaded up his squad with players from the Big Ten, Notre Dame, the East and small colleges. One rugged lineman from the South reportedly was bypassed because word reached the coaches during the selection period that he had a playful habit of setting fire to cats.
The All-Stars had looked fine in camp. They were indeed large and seemed especially proficient on defense, where Smith was at left tackle, Michigan State's brilliant George Webster was at left linebacker and Northwestern's Phil Clark and Michigan's Richard Volk were shining in the secondary.
The offense was less impressive. Although the collegians had an unusually gifted group of runners, such as UCLA's Mel Farr, Michigan State's Clinton Jones, Syracuse's Floyd Little and Notre Dame's Nick Eddy, they geared themselves for a throwing game behind Florida's Steve Spurrier, the Heisman winner, and Purdue's Bob Griese. There were moments in practice when Spurrier and Griese looked terrific, just as they had in college. But they also looked inconsistent and incapable of taking charge of a team. As one scout observed, "Griese doesn't throw long and Spurrier doesn't throw short. And you can't like the delivery of either one of them."
Of the two, Spurrier looked like the better pro prospect because he was taller and could flip the long ones, but he has never learned to set himself up properly before throwing and does not release the ball as quickly as he might. He put on a woeful showing at the Coaches' All-America Game in Atlanta in early July, even though it was his pass that won for the East over the West 12-9 in the final minutes. Up to that point he had connected on only one of 12 tosses, and even a few Southerners in the crowd had booed him.
After the game in Atlanta, when a writer was congratulating him on pulling it out, Spurrier, who won a lot of games for Florida in the fourth quarter, said, "Well, that's how I usually do it—in the clutch."
The Heisman winner's attitude had slightly distressed some of the All-Star coaches in Chicago. "I don't really think he's a prima donna, but every now and then you get that impression," said one.
Steve himself said, "The Heisman does carry a lot of obligations—banquets and things like that. I've been busy. I know I've got a lot to learn to be a pro quarterback." The San Francisco 49ers, who spent $250,000 for Spurrier, must know it better than anyone.
The Heisman Trophy winner has rarely had a good evening against the professional champions in Chicago, so it was nothing new when Spurrier had one of the worst. He missed the first six passes he tried, looking just as rusty as he had in Atlanta. A couple of them were only five-yarders aimed at men in the flat. He fumbled twice, and the Packers converted one of these mistakes into a field goal. By half time Spurrier had completed only one of his eight passes, Green Bay held a comfortable 20-0 lead, and it was obvious there would be no clutch finish for Spurrier, or any All-Star.
Meanwhile Green Bay was looking better than it had in any other All-Star Game under Coach Vince Lombardi. Working quite calmly against a defense that was indeed good, Bart Starr and his pals scored four of the first five times they got the ball. Starr did not even play in the second half.
Quickly noting that the All-Stars' secondary was especially determined to guard against the sidelines and deep, Starr simply sent the likes of Max McGee and Carroll Dale weaving into the middle, and he hit them with ease. When the college boys tightened the middle, there were Packers like Bob Long open outside. Rookies can't cover veterans. It is that simple.
Essentially, two players saved the All-Stars from total disgrace—Bubba Smith and George Webster, both of them from Michigan State. This pair had a long table of Packers raving between big bites of steak at a Rush Street restaurant in the early morning hours of Saturday. Webster had knocked McGee out of the game in the second quarter and had jolted Elijah Pitts with a tackle in the open field that caused a fumble and made the stadium seats squeak. Coming up with tackle after tackle, Webster almost personally held the Packers to field goals instead of touchdowns on two drives.
Less consistent but at times spectacular, Bubba smashed Starr twice and Donny Anderson once, all behind the scrimmage line. But maybe he had had a special incentive. The Colts had cut his brother, he had learned, and he was all upset, saying he was not going to report to Baltimore's training camp because his brother did not get a fair tryout. "It wasn't very smart of the Colts," said a rival coach. "A guy like Bubba you want to get in the cage before you do anything to make him mad." Packer Guard Jerry Kramer found that all he could do was try to screen the giant Smith away from the play. When Bubba came, he roared.
"I didn't believe what I had heard about him," said Fuzzy Thurston, the other Packer guard. "But Bubba is going to be great. He has a chance to become one of the best pass rushers in the game. All he needs is experience."
There is, in fact, nothing wrong with the All-Stars that some pro experience and a few less Heisman awards couldn't cure. But that is no excuse for continuing the All-Star Game.