One way to annoy Laramie, Wyo. is to suggest that it is a naive newcomer to the world of college football. It is true, residents admit, that Walter Camp did not sit by the telegraph bug waiting for University of Wyoming results before putting together something like his 1897 All-America team, but it is also true that the University was playing football back at the turn of the century, which was not all that long after Harvard and its associates discovered the pig bladder.
In fact, it was a Harvard man who gave the Wyoming team its nickname of Cowboys. It happened in 1890 or so—the official record is somewhat inexact—when a University of Wyoming team scheduled a game against the Army's cavalry post at Cheyenne. Feeling outgunned, the team talked one Fred Bush, a 220-pound Harvard graduate turned cowpuncher, into signing up for a few courses and reporting for action. When the new recruit trotted onto the field for the game he was wearing a bright checkered shirt and a big Stetson. "Lookit the cowboy," shouted the cavalrymen, in who knows what tone of voice, and since then the Wyoming team has been the Cowboys.
Continuing its policy of judicious recruitment, Wyoming has been slowly working itself up in the football estate, until last week it had an 11th-place national ranking and enough muscle to beat dedicated Brigham Young 26-10 and remain one of the season's few major undefeated teams.
The Cowboys came into their game at Laramie against Brigham Young with victories over Arizona, Air Force and Colorado State, but in the process they had suffered some of the biggest Wyoming losses since the 11th Ohio Cavalry destroyed a whole wagon train of booze at Whiskey Gap in 1862.
"We're left with only one man in the offensive line that started against Arizona," complained worried Coach Lloyd Eaton. Surviving, however, was much of the defense that allowed only 38.5 yards rushing a game last season; a 211-pound tailback, Jim Kiick, who personally destroyed Florida State in the Sun Bowl; college football's best kicker, Jerry DePoyster, who set five NCAA records in 1966 and had won the previous week's game with a 55-yard field goal; and, most important of all, Quarterback Paul Toscano, who was a safetyman last year, but now had become the national leader in total offense with 683 yards.
Nonetheless, Coach Eaton was concerned, and for a very good reason: the BYU offense, which is run by three alternating quarterbacks and was averaging 44 points a game.
Last Thursday Eaton was discovered hidden in a small, dark storage room, running BYU films over and over to tease his nerves.
"BYU has the athletes, I'll tell you," he said. "Like Notre Dame they've got that church program going for them. Those three quarterbacks supplement each other, and they're all much better than average. It's like playing a pro team. They can put six on the scoreboard every play."
Eaton was also willing to worry about the Cougar defense. "They'll definitely come in at Toscano, figuring he's still a relatively green quarterback, which is right." But offense was his preoccupation. "They'll throw the hell out of us," he said.
"Passing entertains the people," corroborated Coach Tommy Hudspeth, who was holed up with his BYU team 50 miles away in Cheyenne. "As long as the ball has air in it, we're gonna throw."
A bright young coach, Hudspeth was disarming about his quarterback rotation. "It's nice because we get a chance to play a lot of boys," he began. "That creates a happy spirit on the ball club." What he really meant was each of his quarterbacks has a different style, and he would use the one that Wyoming seemed to like the least.
"You never know for sure how your quarterbacks, or your team, will react to the way they attack you and the way their fans do," he continued. Wyoming does have avid fans. One coach says the reason Wyoming followers are so hostile is that they have to travel so far to Laramie. He claims the 300 or 400 miles makes them mad, and that makes some of them drink, which makes some of those mean.
By Saturday at 3 a.m. Wyoming students had already started lining up to get the best seats when the gates opened at noon, and by midmorning the out-of-towners were arriving. At one point 500 intimidators from Rock Springs got off a Union Pacific Special. They were greeted by the Wyoming pony, Cowboy Joe, and the Mayor of Laramie, the college president, eight cheerleaders and a cannon. The game was Wyoming's third straight sellout.
Both Wyoming and BYU dressed silently, slowly winding up tight. Some Pokes absently sipped coffee or leafed through programs, but most simply sat or lay still, studying the inside of their heads. On an almost imperceptible signal from Eaton, the Cowboys followed equally-stonefaced BYU onto the field.
Brigham Young won the toss, and DePoyster—as is his terrifying habit—kicked off into the stands behind the Cougar end zone. On BYU's first play from scrimmage, Tailback Perry Rodrigue was dropped for a loss of four on a sweep. On the second, starting Quarterback Marc Lyons was spilled. The intimidation had begun.
Brigham Young did not quail. Little Dick Adams, a walk-on who reported two weeks ago after returning from missionary work, punted 43 and 51 yards. The BYU defense was stopping Toscano. But then, alas for BYU, Cowboy End Tim Gottberg roped in a Lyons fumble on the BYU 15. Tailback Kiick slanted to the first down. Kiick twisted to the three. Kiick bucked to the two. Kiick swept left end, just cutting the end-zone corner, and Wyoming was ahead. However, DePoyster, who is best from 40 yards or more, missed the extra point.
Only successive 47-, 46- and 44-yard punts by Adams—the last nearly hitting Wyoming's goal-line flag—kept the Cougars in the game until they could mount a good drive that ended with a field goal by John Patera, a converted discus thrower who had never kicked a football before this year.
But Wyoming was just too quick and too hard-running for BYU to win with field goals. Driving his team 69 yards in five plays, Toscano pulled his ankle out of a tackler's hand and hit Flanker Hub Lindsey in the end zone for the Cowboys' second touchdown and a half-time lead of 12-3.
Adams matched DePoyster by kicking off into the stands to start the second half and coming up with some more 52-and 53-yard punts, but Wyoming scored—on a 10-yard Toscano pass to Vic Washington—and BYU could not, at least not until late in the third period when its cause was desperate. Soon thereafter DePoyster ruined good BYU field position with an 81-yard punt (a Western Conference record), and Safety Jim Stankus recovered a BYU fumble on its own 25 to set up the final touchdown pass by Toscano and an easy Wyoming win.
Why had Wyoming humiliated promising Brigham Young, outgaining it 301 yards to 155? Because, said Eaton, Coach Fritz Shurmur's defensive line put on impossible pressure. Because, Defensive Backfield Coach Burt Gustafson agreed, "The linemen continually hurried the throw and took the running away, too. All we had to do was apply plain religious coverage to the receiver."
Poor Tommy Hudspeth. "I don't even like rodeos anymore," he said after the game. "I'm afraid of horses. I think it's because I keep seeing that Wyoming mascot, Cowboy Joe, running around the field after touchdowns."