It had been a slow 1:52 half mile but Villanova's Dave Patrick acted as if he had just run three seconds faster, beaten Jim Ryun by 30 yards and broken his own indoor world record. He rushed into the tunnel alongside the track at Detroit's Cobo Arena and threw an arm around teammate Frank Murphy, who had finished second. "We did it!" he shouted. "We did our job, Frank." The time? "I didn't even hear it," Patrick said. "I guess it was pretty slow. But that doesn't matter—not this weekend."
All that mattered to the Villanova captain was who won and who placed in each event of the NCAA indoor championships. Southern California, with stars like Bob Seagren and Lennox Miller and great overall depth, was the defending champion and favored as the meet began. But Villanova had one record-breaker of its own, three strong relay teams and a belief that every athlete on the squad could help to pull off an upset.
"We all think of one another in everything we do during the year," said Patrick. "So naturally we point for this big chance to accomplish something together. You will see a lot of our guys rise to the occasion." After the half mile Friday night, no one was higher than Patrick. He and Murphy had picked up 10 points under the 6-4-3-2-1 scoring system, and Villanova had a wide early lead over USC. "We're so psyched up now its unreal," he said. "Just think, we're way ahead, and the Mighty Burner still has another race to run."
The Mighty Burner is Larry James, a shy and soft-spoken sophomore who makes it clear that he did not earn his nickname because of a fiery temperament. The other members of his mile-relay team gave it to him. "It was a natural," said Hal Nichter. "It came to us one night after he burned up some poor guy with one of those amazing anchor legs of his." James is embarrassed by the nickname but, from Dave Patrick on down, all the Villanova trackmen eagerly await each of his races.
March 25, 1968
Last weekend he came through for them, beyond all expectations. On Friday he opened Villanova's scoring (six big points) with a 47-second-flat quarter-mile victory, fastest ever run on an 11-lap track. On Saturday he helped to add a final six points to Villanova's winning total of 35 1/3 with a 46.6 anchor leg in the mile relay. In a meet that boasted names like Patrick, Ryun, who won both the mile and two mile, Bob Beamon, who set an indoor world record in the long jump, Gerry Lindgren, Paul Wilson and Bob Seagren, James was easily the outstanding individual and the key man on the winning team.
As James lined up for the 440-yard final, he glanced at Tom Randolph of Western Michigan, who had run the fastest time in the trial heats. "I wanted to be sure to get the lead from him right away," Larry said. "I have trouble if I can't take charge in a race, because I don't have a strong kick. If he had taken the lead, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make it up. I've been pressing for this race all winter, and I sure didn't want to make any mistakes."
He had had no reason to worry. He burst into a clear lead on the first turn and widened it during the rest of the race. As he finished, there were cheers from the crowd and from his teammates, and then excited shouts from people with stopwatches. Somebody said that James's time was 46.9, but someone else insisted that that must be a mistake; it had to be 47.9, because the indoor world record, after all, was only 47.8.
"It couldn't be 46.9," said one athlete. "That's impossible."
"If he ran 47 or better," said Ben Olison of Kansas, "I'm sure glad I wasn't chasing him."
"If he ran 47 or better," said Earl McCullouch of USC, "somebody shrunk the track."
Moments later the official time was announced—47 seconds flat—and the doubters hurried to congratulate James. Larry moved quickly through the crowd and found a phone to call his mother in White Plains, N.Y. "Believe it or not, Mom," he said, "I just set a world record." Nichter raised James's hand in the air and said, "See what we mean? He's the Mighty Burner."
"A 47-flat quarter," chortled Jim (Jumbo) Elliott, the Villanova coach. "I really coached the hell out of that race, didn't I?"
Despite his kidding, Elliott does deserve much of the credit for James's dramatic development this year. Even in his senior year of high school, James still was not sure how best to use his ability. He was running the intermediate hurdles as well as 220 and 440 legs in various relays, and he had no idea which was really his best event. He was not even the best quarter-miler at White Plains High. Otis Hill, the anchor man, was rated over James; Hill went to Southern University but has since left school and has yet to mature into a top runner. Elliott decided that James should concentrate primarily on the 500-yard races indoors this season, and Larry responded with a series of impressive victories. He stretched out to 600 yards, came within a yard of upsetting unbeaten Martin McGrady, and later won the IC4A 600-yard title. He still thinks he may wind up as a hurdler, but while he wonders about it he is also getting ready to challenge Lee Evans in the 440.
James had no difficulty adjusting to Elliott's emphasis on the team aspect of the sport. "I've always enjoyed relays," he said. "At White Plains we held records in both the 880 and mile relays. And it's great to be part of a mile relay. It's great to be part of the whole team."
"What makes you feel that way about a team?" he was asked.
"Anyone on our squad can tell you," he said. "The team feeling comes from Dave Patrick."
Patrick's first chance to contribute points to the team effort came a few hours after James's record. Last year Patrick provided the highlight of the meet by beating Ryun in world-record time in the 880, but then was disappointed when he tried vainly to run two distance-relay legs within 20 minutes in an attempt to carry Villanova to the title. This time he was entered only in the 880 and the anchor leg in the distance medley. "We have enough guys to go around now," he said. "If Frank Murphy and I can run one-two in the half and then help both relay teams win, we'll beat USC and that will make the whole winter worthwhile."
The winter had not been a good one for Patrick. Before the first meet back in January, he hurt a foot during a workout. It felt like a slight strain, so he had it treated and kept running. A few weeks ago he finally decided to have it X-rayed. He learned that he had a broken bone. "It's almost healed, so there's nothing to do about it now," he said. "But this is the first time that I've really felt good."
Murphy, a tall junior from Dublin, did not feel as good going into the 880. "I haven't done any speed work at all," he said in his rich brogue. "And I need speed for such a short race. I have no kick, you know." Murphy is one of many Irish runners to be attracted to Villanova. "Since Ron Delany was here," Murphy said, "Villanova is a household word in Ireland. It was the natural thing to come here. Besides, my parents didn't want me to go someplace where I might lose my religion."
Testing his speed, Murphy took the lead early in the 880. Patrick soon passed him as Elliott, red-faced and worried, screamed at him, "Too slow, Dave, too slow." Patrick said he didn't hear him. "I know the coach thinks I have the ability to set a fast pace and still win," he said. "But I just wanted to be sure we won." When Patrick and Murphy finished one-two, their 10 points virtually sewed up the meet, although no one knew it at the time because no one could anticipate USC's surprising collapse.
The USC supporting cast did its best: the Trojans picked up seven points with their usual cluster of fourths and fifths on Friday night and trailed by only 16-7 with their best events still to come. But Saturday night everything went wrong. The trouble began at the start of the 60-yard-hurdle final, where Earl McCullouch failed to get his usual explosive break. "It was a good start," said Tennessee's Richmond Flowers. "Earl could not anticipate it, the way he can with some of the starters in the West." Breaking together, McCullouch and Flowers ran side by side all the way, and at the third hurdle accidentally locked arms and almost gave the race right there to Erv Hall of Villanova. But they kept their balance and drove together to the finish, where Flowers edged Earl by diving at the tape. With McCullouch, who had been considered a sure winner, settling for only four points and Hall getting three for third, Villanova's chances increased.
Earlier, Flowers had been anxious to talk about a Kentucky freshman named Jim Green. "He's the next great sprinter," Richmond claimed. "You'll find out soon." Lennox Miller and O.J. Simpson of USC found out—and finished third and fifth as Green won the 60 in six seconds flat to further crush the USC hopes. Green, a quiet kid from a tiny Kentucky town, is the second Negro to compete in track at Kentucky; the first one quit. "The guys are treating me fine," he said. "I know there will be some problems, but I think it will work out."
"Green can really go," said Simpson later. "I told him that he was unlucky when he finished third in the semifinal, and he'd do better. He did. There are no excuses for Lennox and me. We just got outrun. But don't give up on USC yet. The Trojans always come through." Then he watched world-record holder Bob Seagren finish a disappointing fourth in the pole vault as teammate Paul Wilson won. USC had needed first and second to retain any real chance of team victory. O.J. smiled at Erv Hall, who was standing nearby. "It looks like the fall of Troy," he said.
Villanova hardly needed its powerful relay teams to clinch the win, but the runners involved were eager to get in on the victory. In the distance medley the field was fairly bunched going into the final mile leg, but then Murphy drew away to win with a 4:06.8 effort. In the two-mile relay Villanova took second behind a fine Harvard team, which came within .4 of the world record and yet barely held off Patrick, who ran a 1:49.1 half mile as anchor man. In the mile relay James and his teammates missed another world mark by only .3 to conclude the meet. Hall and Patrick, on the edge of the track, broke out laughing as James went past them the last time. "It suddenly struck me funny," said Erv, "that everything had come so easy for us."
Things were much harder for Jim Ryun over the weekend. First he and Coach Bob Timmons were exposed to criticism for passing up a rematch with Patrick in the 880 in order to try for the mile and two-mile double. The idea of Ryun "ducking"' anyone is pretty silly, and the longer double was a challenge, especially since he had to run a mile trial Friday a few hours before the two-mile final. He finished a leisurely third in the trial in 4:13.2. "No matter what people think," Ryun said, "a preliminary takes something out of you. And the way my feet feel, believe me, I'll be glad when all this is over."
Ryun frowned as he moved into the second tier of runners at the starting line of the two-mile run. He was worried about himself and about the strategy Lindgren might try. "He can either run a slow tactical race," Ryun said, "or he can go the first mile in 4:10 and try to blow me out of it. If he tries that, he'll probably succeed."
Lindgren and Pearce elected to try the tactical race, however, and Ryun stayed near them in a slow first mile. When he finally kicked on the last lap of the 22-lap race Ryun was able to rush by them and win by 10 yards in an ordinary 8:38.9. "If they had run 8:30 or so," he said, "I would have been satisfied with third. But the slow pace gave me my chance. My biggest goal was to run an intelligent race and maintain contact with them. At least 1 did that." He sighed as he walked gingerly around the boards on his aching feet. "You know, I've got 11 laps to go around this thing tomorrow."
He ran 4:06.8 to win the mile in another tactical battle. Little Sam Bair, who set a slow pace as he waited to match Ryun's move, seemed to have a good chance to steal the race. "I tucked into second place on the last few laps and looked for Ryun," Bair said. "But when he moved from behind me, he did it so fast that he got the jump on me."
"Sam ran a very smart race," said Ryun. "He made me run his type of race and he almost beat me with it." Ryun lay on a training table to have his blister bandaged before he headed for home. "I would have liked to try this double without sore feet and see how I'd do," he said. "But, all things considered, I can't knock the result."
The Villanova runners did not wait long before going home. James wanted to tell his mother more about his record. Tom Donnelly, who ran a leg of the distance medley, welcomed a chance to recover from a bad cold he had hidden from Elliott so he could run. And Murphy was taking Dave Patrick to Manhattan for the annual revels of the St. Patrick's Day weekend. "I'm inviting him to some parties that the Dublin Society will be having," said Murphy. "A lot of my friends think Dave is from Ireland anyway, you know. If I don't tell them the truth, they'll make him a hero tonight."