There is this year a long-gaited, steel-clawed gatherer-upper and swallower of collegiate football runners known as The Mad Stork, and there is a ballcarrier known as Orange Juice, who is one of the least gathered up and swallowed runners since the Lord began to maketh feet. Naturally, when they got ready to collide last week in Los Angeles, everyone had a right to expect a confrontation that would inspire a classic tale, one that would be worthy of a title like, oh, How The Mad Stork Learned to Squeeze Orange Juice, or perhaps How The Mad Stork Got His Orange Juice Spiked. Miami's 210-pound, 6'8" Ted Hendricks trying to stop, slow down or squash USC's O. J. Simpson (see cover), he of the 9.3 speed and door-slamming impact, just had to be a wondrous spectacle.
Well, if it was, there were 71,189 on a cool night in Memorial Coliseum who missed it. What they saw was O. J. Simpson do what he just keeps on doing week after week, which is grind, slash, streak and flutter for the big scoops of yardage that are gradually making him the most devastating runner the game—or any kind of Ted Hendricks—has ever seen. Against a Miami defense that was stern and hard hitting, the always loose, pleasant halfback got 163 yards and two touchdowns and started Coach John McKay's Trojans toward a stunning 28-3 victory. It was the worst defeat yet handed to a Miami team coached by Charlie Tate, and it was so easy that Simpson was allowed to go home from the office early; he rested the last 10 minutes on the sideline.
Among other things, Simpson is becoming a statistician's joy. After each of his games one has to sit quietly for a while and tote up all the things he is accomplishing. For example, O. J. has already amassed 588 yards from scrimmage in only three games this season and has scored nine touchdowns. That is an average, for you folks without a pencil, of 196 yards per game—and, of course, three touchdowns per game. Nor does it seem likely that Simpson will let up on this pace, barring an injury, because his best games tend to come against USC's toughest opposition, which the Trojans have yet to face. Therefore, you can with some justification project Simpson's averages through a whole 10-game schedule, and what you come up with is astonishing.
O. J. would finish 1968 with 2,000 yards or so, which happens to be about 430 more than the most yards ever gained running in a single season, and he would have 30 touchdowns, which is also absurd, and for a 20-game, two-season varsity career he would have 3,400 yards. That would be more than anyone ever totaled in three seasons. Since Simpson burst on the scene last fall from San Francisco City College to lead the Trojans to the national championship—only Dr. Barnard can rival that for a successful transplant—he has played 13 games and gained 2,003 yards, or an average of roughly what he made against Miami Saturday night. There is hardly any ball-carrying record out of his reach. Let it go at that for the time being.
October 13, 1968
Before the Miami game the keepers of The Mad Stork and of Orange Juice had elaborate plans about attacking one another. Publicly, they tried to argue that the game really was not a matchup between the two gifted All-Americas. In fact, Miami Coach Charlie Tate went so far as to say, "If you want a matchup, you'll have to take them to the middle of the field and let them have a fist fight." But their plans betrayed them. Hendricks' primary duty was to stop or at least "slow down" O. J. by holding his position firm, and Simpson's task was to beat Miami where it least expected to be beaten: at, inside of, around or over the top of Hendricks.
Early in the week USC Coach John McKay sat behind a cigar, a cup of coffee and a foot-high pile of Miami defenses in his betropheyed office and talked about his side of the problem. "Defense is three things," he said, as if he were writing it on a blackboard. "Recognition, reaction and pursuit. Our job is to make it hard for Hendricks to recognize the play, slow down his reaction and then cut off or outrun his pursuit."
McKay said that the simple thing, and the most predictable thing, would be for USC to run "away" from The Mad Stork, who is called that because of his long legs, flapping arms and determination. Most teams do aim their plays away from him. "We want to run at him," McKay said, smiling slightly. "We don't think they pursue as well to his side as they do to the other side when he is doing the pursuing. He gets up steam going across the field and catches people. And he never lets up. We want to break past him or around him. We don't think he can turn around and catch O. J. from behind."
USC also planned to try to fool Hendricks while running at him. This would involve making passes look like runs and making runs look like passes. First, USC hoped to show Hendricks a formation with an end flankered wide of him and Wingback Jim Lawrence in the slot, almost facing him. That would be a pass. But then they wanted to show the same formation again, except this time the flanker would be Lawrence and the slot man would be the tight end, Bob Klein, who is 6'5" and weighs 238. Hendricks might not react immediately to the change in personnel. This would be a running play for Simpson, with both Klein and Lawrence blocking on Hendricks.
"A defense is a wall about 15 yards wide," said McKay. "You try to make cracks in it during a game. We think if we can make five good creases in it all night, O.J. can score three times."
Simpson had studied a great deal of Hendricks in films, and he had plenty of respect for his loping, smothering mayhem. "He likes to penetrate," said O.J. one afternoon as he loitered outside USC's dressing room. "He shucks off most blockers, or just pushes'em away and gets around'em. He's real strong in the hands and arms. He likes to play cat-and-mouse with the quarterback, too. Force him to pitch, then get the ballcarrier. I won't really be thinking about him personally. You don't do that in a game. I run for downs and distance. If I know we need three yards, that's all I'm thinking about. That, and their linebacker. I watch the linebacker just before the snap because his move tells me what Danny Scott, our fullback, is gonna do when he leads me to the hole. Then I know what I'm gonna do."
The best thing O.J. knew about Hendricks was that The Mad Stork was not going to be hitting him first. Nobody does. "I run to hit the tackier before he hits me," said O.J. "I want to be the punisher, not him. People say to me, and I look at films sometimes and see it, that I could have made more yards on a particular run if I had cut outside, or something. Well, most of the time I didn't because I'm tired and didn't feel I had the energy to go all the way, or because I knew I had the five yards we needed, or something like that.
"Running is a feeling," O.J. continued. "I don't wear a lot of pads because I want to 'feel' the game, the contact. It helps to be able to feel a tackier hitting you or grabbing at you. You know where he is and what to do." For this reason Simpson wears no elbow pads or forearm pads. He does not even wear the conventional hip pads. Instead, he tapes a couple of small knee pads to his hips and leaves his tailbone unprotected. "I feel more loose that way," he said. And, of course, he seldom gets hit from behind, so he has no reason to be alarmed about his tailbone.
Defense is a feeling, too, and a sort of knowing. At least it is for a Ted Hendricks. He lines up outside the end, on the left side as the Miami defense faces the foe, and he looks for things that will tell him where the play is going, things which have helped him cause 12 fumbles in his career. "On a running play the man on offense who is opposite you has to dig in with his back foot and rest his weight on his arms and hands," The Mad Stork said before the game. "And because I'm right on his head, I can't see his feet. I look at his arm. If the muscles bulge out, I know it's a running play and he's coming straight at me. This is what I'll look for with Bob Klein, who'll be blocking on me most of the night. By his first move, I'll know where the play's going. If he blocks me head-on, I'll know that O. J. is running inside. If he comes at an angle, I'll figure it's a sweep. If he goes downfield, it's a sweep to the opposite side. If the muscles don't bulge, he's set to pass protect."
Hendricks said his peripheral vision would help him as well. "You can pick out blockers coming at you from the interior line. You read the near back and you can pick up the direction of the play from the angle he moves out of his stance. Mostly I'll expect O.J. to run when USC is in the I. If they are in a T, I'll figure the fullback to run or a pass."
The Mad Stork thinks a great deal, and not always about football. He is something of a brain in math who has said, "I sometimes wish I was just a student." If his long arms and cold grasp don't always stop runners, his Miami curriculum might: electromagnetic theory, statistics, differential equations, topology and mathematic analysis. His chief hobby is dismantling automobiles, not ballcarriers.
Alas, like a lot of things in life, most of last week's fun was in the anticipation. Only twice during the course of the game was Hendricks in a position to grab O.J. and stop him for no gain. He got himself fooled a few times, as McKay had planned, and he got himself run straight at frequently. Once, on a play McKay relishes calling Student Body Right because of all the interference Simpson has on it, O.J. flashed around Hendricks' end for 30 yards—his longest gain of the night.
Miami was so Simpson-conscious that USC was able to display a rather stylish passing game. Quarterback Steve Sogge, a little guy who does not get much credit but just keeps on winning games, punctured the Miami defenses repeatedly with his throwing. When he had the visitors—who had arrived at 2 a.m. Friday and seemed a trifle leg weary from an ill-advised trek to Disneyland that day—thinking only of O.J., he shot a 28-yard pass to his wide-open wing-back, Lawrence, for the first touchdown. His throwing continued to move the Trojans when they were not being penalized for holding (three times) and when O.J. was decoying. "They lullaby you with Simpson," Charlie Tate later confessed, "and then they hit you with the pass. But it's Simpson's presence that makes everything else work."
Simpson's two touchdowns came from close in. He dived over guard for one, and he slanted over left tackle—away from Hendricks—for the other from three yards away. The Mad Stork's biggest moment came when his long claw reached out and caused Fullback Dan Scott to fumble, an error that Miami's futile offense could not take advantage of. Hendricks really was not close enough to O.J. the entire evening to speak to him.
If a defense was to be lauded for the night, it was USC's, led by End Jimmy Gunn and Linebacker John Blanche, who between them broke through to throw Miami players for losses 10 times. "Miami has a pro-style offense," McKay noted later, "which is great as long as you can throw and catch." The USC defense kept Miami from doing much of either.
In the end, the only conclusion anyone could make was that there probably are a lot of mad storks to be found in the world, but there is only one bundle like O. J.