To those of us who study and follow college football as closely as we do our plunging stocks and who devote a great many hours to genuflecting before its shrines—Bear Bryant's drawl, for instance, or John McKay's wit—the first 100 years seemed to speed by as quickly as Orenthal James Simpson on hut, hut, hut, 23 blast, or whatever that thing was he did off tackle so often. One day some young men from Princeton and Rutgers played Jab the Belly, Knee the Groin, and then the whole mosaic of the game unfolded wondrously like a card section spelling out Granny Rice: here came Pudge Heffelgrange, Amos Alonzo Baugh, Pestilence, Famine, Death and Rockne, Slingin' Sammy Nevers, the Seven Blocks of Seats, Fireball Frankie Harmon, Mr. Sideways and Mr. Backwards, Win One for the Gifford, Indian Doak Thorpe, all of those marvelous coaching names: Pop, Jock, Dutch, Red, Tiny, Moose, Biff and Biggie, all inventing Old 83, the Flea Flopper, and finally like a breath of fire and a streak of flame outlined against a dull-gray October scedule, General George (Blood and Guts) MacHayes and his Buckeyes win again.
It seems impossible that we would have had none of this had it not been for those inventive men from Princeton and Rutgers, 25 on a side, who removed their waistcoats back on Nov. 6, 1869 and fell into a heap; that without their efforts Texas would be meeting Arkansas this Dec. 6 on the new AstroTurf of Fayetteville, Ark. in a televised debate to see who's No. 1 in English Lit 341; that Walter Camp might have been the Father of American Crew; that the annual Army-Navy spectacle might now alternate between lacrosse fields at West Point and Annapolis; and that the Crimson Tide would roll, tide, roll largely during Southeastern Conference triangular track meets.
Unthinkable. If no one else had, Notre Dame would surely have invented football later on, and this would then be the 58th anniversary of Knute Rockne's first fingertip catch on a wobbler from Gus Dorais.
Of course, it took more minds than just those of Princeton and Rutgers to develop college football into the slightly paranoid religion it has become: a game watched by paying millions who worship a galloping goose one season and fire his jolly old coach the next. Harvard and Yale had much to do with its early sophistication. Without them we might never have had the scoring we know, the snapback, 11 men to a side or picnics by station wagon. Notre Dame gave us the true intersectional schedule and introduced the enormous dividends of winning. A group of Californians gave us the bowl game. A man from St. Louis devised the forward pass, and the South-west made it a major weapon. The Deep South thought up frantic defense, and the Midwest originated the brute. It was also the Midwest that dragged the game out of the East, forcing Walter Camp to acknowledge All-Americas west of the Statue of Liberty. If Bear Bryant actually originated effort, Bud Wilkinson invented speed and magic. Recruiting is older than Frank Leahy; it is as old as Pudge Heffelfinger and Germany Schulz. And in 100 years nobody has figured out a way to beat the team that has the studs, if the studs feel like exerting themselves on Saturday afternoons.
September 14, 1969
There is a saying today that pro football has become the national game, one insinuation being that baseball no longer is and another being that college football is no more than a farm system. But, before this can be a fact, the pros must answer some questions. Such as: What pro player caused more excitement and received more publicity over the past two seasons than a collegian named O.J.? Before him, what pro player got more national attention than Roger Staubach at Navy? Ernie Davis at Syracuse? Billy Cannon at LSU? Howard Cassady at Ohio State? If there are so many coaching geniuses in the pros, why is Vince Lombardi the only one who ever wins? How many pro clubs would like to draw the repetitious crowds of Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, Texas, LSU, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Arkansas and many others? As it happened in 1967 and 1968, how could USC out-draw the L.A. Rams, when both had winning teams? Pick a regular-season pro game that can out-Nielsen a poll bowl, even if it isn't Notre Dame vs. USC? Why does Ohio State get its 81,000 at home whether its quarterback can throw a pass in the air or in the dirt?
What may actually be true is that football, college and pro, has become the national game, each variety enhancing the other's prestige. But it is also true that the colleges could do without the pros, as they did for years. Pro football is beautiful, to be sure—the avid fan likes all phases of his game—but the pros only sell the bomb and the mystique of the double Z-out, while the college game, armed with its vast head start in tradition, has both of these plus more triple options and monster rovers than the fan (or the writer) will ever comprehend, not to forget so many other things: the raccoon coat, the pregame party, the post-game party, the halftime, girls, cheerleaders, fight songs, homecoming, All-Americas, the effigy, the bowls, who's No. 1, pursuit, the button-down shirt and all of those years of lore, all of those breaths of fire and streaks of flame galloping through the swollen heart of Clyde (Old) Grad, season ticket holder No. 46,567, his lovely wife Mavis, an ex-twirler, and his son, Bubba, who'll start at fullback this year for Super-Suburb High.
College football endures and prospers with legend. The stars never die, and hundreds of games live on. Classics, they are called. Those who saw them still hear the thunder of USC-UCLA in 1967, of Notre Dame-Michigan State in 1966, of Army-Notre Dame in 1946, of Minnesota-Michigan in 1940, of Pitt-Fordham in 1937, of TCU-SMU in 1935 and of as many Army-Navys, Texas-Arkansas and Alabama-Tennessees as you care to count. Old 77 is still delivering ice for the Illini. Old 98 is still cruising down the sidelines for the Wolverines. Billy Cannon is still returning that punt against Ole Miss on a Halloween Night in Baton Rouge. They're still totaling up the magazine covers that Doak Walker made at SMU. It took a lot of Morley Drurys to make O.J. the noblest Trojan. Harry Stuhldreher begat Frank Carideo who begat Angelo Bertelli who begat Johnny Lujack who begat Ralph Guglielmi who begat Paul Hornung who begat Terry Hanratty at Notre Dame. At Texas the Longhorns try to "dance every dance" like Tommy Nobis did. And Joe Namath was wearing white shoes and blowing it in for six at Alabama long before he ever found his way to Broadway.
We can estimate that more than 2½ million men have played college football in a century and that about 1,500 have been immortal, which is to say All-America. At least as many immortals were overlooked for All-America, no doubt because they didn't wear their socks high or have a colorful nickname or work for a publicity-minded coach or have a Granny Rice writing poems about them. How could a halfback be a breath of fire and a streak of flame playing for, say, Southwestern Louisiana, for example? And yet Chris Cagle became something akin to that when he went on to Army for four more years of college ball back in the 1920s when you could do that sort of thing.
With so many greats, near-greats, semi-greats and would-have-beens handed down to us through the years, it would not seem likely that any select group of them—11, say—could have been better than all the rest at their positions as collegians. And yet some were. Although coaches like to say you can't compare athletes of different eras because size, speed, technique and emphasis change, in a way you can. Desire and instinct do not change, nor does that strange, inspired ability an athlete can possess that will lift his team above itself.
Thus, there have been those players who combined these traits to win consistently against big-time competition, which is of no small importance in measuring greatness, who sparkled all the more when they were thrust into stardom, who literally seemed to relish the dramatic situation and most often conquered it. By all that we know of college football's history and what we believe to be true of legend, and from all that we have seen and heard, the men depicted on the foregoing pages were the truest immortals of the first 100 years. Call it an All-Century team if you like.
Basically it is a modern team, and that does not seem improper. Mental strain became a great part of football after mid-century. The pressure to excel in packed stadiums and against the weight of headlines has become enormous. We shall never know what Willie Heston might have done, going for No. 1 before 90,000 in the Los Angeles Coliseum, for example, but we do know what O.J. Simpson did.
It is a team whose members share a number of distinctions. Eight players, for instance, have been chosen by various reputable selectors on Alltime teams. They would be Sam Baugh, Red Grange, Don Hutson, Bronko Nagurski, Bennie Oosterbaan, George Connor, Bob Suffridge and Bob Peck. Each of the 11 was an All-America, naturally, most of them twice and five of them—Doak Walker, Grange, Oosterbaan, Suffridge and Peck—three times. Walker is football's last three-year consensus All-America. Eight of the men led their teams to at least one undefeated season, and seven of them played on mythical national champions.
But let us look at them individually.
Sam Baugh of Texas Christian was everything a quarterback should be and something few of them are anymore. Joe Namath is the only passer who has come along that anyone would dare suggest could throw the ball as well as Sam. But Baugh was also perhaps the finest punter who ever arched his foot. For example, in the Sugar Bowl game of 1936 against LSU, on a rainy day, Baugh punted 14 times, frequently within LSU's five-yard line, for a 48-yard average.
Wiry and tobacco-chewing, Sam had the con artist in him, as a leader on the field who also played a vicious safety on defense. Once, when TCU was playing Tulsa, his fullback obviously scored, but an official disallowed it. "You're exactly right, Mr. Referee," said Sam quickly. "I saw it and he didn't get over." Whereupon, Sam called his own number on the next play, and this time the referee's hands went up for a touchdown almost before Baugh could take the snap.
Slingin' Sam threw long and short, soft and hard, dancing, running, being hit or with his feet planted. In an era when 10 passes in a game was considered extravagant, Baugh hurled 30 and 40, hit most of his receivers in the bridge of the nose and spiraled an unbelievable (then) 38 touchdowns in three seasons.
Grantland Rice was so taken with Sam and the dazzling style of football that TCU played that he went on picking Dutch Meyer's teams in his preseason Top 10 for years after Baugh left.
Another Baugh never turned up in the Southwest, but a Doak Walker did. Walker did more things well in football, including win—win with a mediocre team—than just about anyone who ever played. He ran, passed, punted, caught, placekicked, blocked and defended. And, in an era of free subs, he would play most of a tough game, both ways.
Handsome and shy off the field, graceful, calm and dramatic under pressure, he was everything the magazine covers yearned for, and the Cotton Bowl got double-decked because of his deeds for SMU. His most familiar play would be to get trapped trying to pass and then weave off a long run. Doak had that wonderful talent for making a five-yard run seem like 30, and his 60-yarders seemed to take an hour, for he faked, dodged and bewildered everyone in the stadium along the way.
In everything he tried, the form was always perfect. If you wanted a 70-yard quick kick, Doak kicked it. If you wanted a 30-yard field goal, he kicked that, too. He would raise up and complete a pass on one play, then leap up and catch one from somebody else. And best of all, he would find a way to win, frequently in the closing minutes. They called him "the miracle man," and he was precisely that in an age of perhaps the strongest football (the late 1940s) we have seen.
The miracle man of the 1920s was Red Grange. Primarily an open-field runner—and by all evidence the best ever—this led to a joke that has become part of football lore. Before Grange's famed Michigan game of 1924 when he scored five touchdowns and gained 402 yards (including returns), the Wolverines' daily newspaper had said, "All Grange can do is run." And the Daily Mini had rebutted, "All Galli-Curci can do is sing."
Grange's style was not to waste motion and he had a freedom of movement. He would start wide, cut back, then cut back again, carving a big S on the field. He once said his mind tried to envision where his teammates were and what they were doing as he ran and he would somehow use them. "I could see the run happening as I ran," he explained.
Grange had real speed for his day, a fast start, excellent balance and the uncanny ability—peripheral vision, they called it in Doak Walker's day—to see tacklers coming from the sides.
Knute Rockne complained that much of Grange's success was due to "skillful exploiting in the papers," but he did make all of those runs for three years, and he later turned them into big money. He endorsed everything he could find, including cigarettes he did not smoke, which could have invoked one of the marvelous ad slogans of all time: "If Red Grange smoked, he'd smoke Philip Morris!"
As much as Grange ran, he did not come near running as often as O.J. did at USC. Nor has anyone else in just two years. Or against such consistently rugged opposition, much of it stacked against him. As it has been said before, no runner in college ever combined speed, power, elusiveness and endurance like Simpson. All he did was gain about 3,500 yards in 22 games (counting Rose Bowls), scoring 36 touchdowns.
Over and over, O.J. made holes where there weren't any and created daylight out of tangled jerseys. Not only was he 6'2" and more than 200 pounds, he had 9.4 speed and moves. And never had a fast man carried so often, up to 40 times a game. In the 100th season of college football he was, appropriately enough, all of the greatness that had come before him in one dynamic package.
It has never been easy for a lineman to achieve glory, as we are aware, for in football most of the romance thrives on dazzling runs and accurate passes. Baugh, Walker, Grange and Simpson prove it, as have so many others. But a few have risen from the gore of the scrimmage line and remained giants ever since. The player on the All-Century team who goes back the farthest is the center, Bob Peck of Pittsburgh, who was one of the best at focusing attention on himself.
One reason was that he taped his wrists, ankles and headgear so there would be no mistaking him in a heap. Small but outrageously aggressive, Peck's yelling could often be heard high up in the stands, and, when he made tackle after tackle and kept up the chatter and fierce mannerisms, a Pitt whoop got started: "When Peck fights, the team fights."
With Peck at center, Pitt lost only one game from 1914 through 1916; and the last team was not only the national champion, Pop Warner said it was the greatest he ever coached.
The guards who flank Bob Peck were the same type of fanatics. One needs to say little else of Tennessee's Bob Suffridge except that General Bob Neyland considered him the greatest lineman he ever had. Suffridge was a moody, antagonistic player who could hardly eat or speak on the day of a game. Best of the pulling single wing guards, he was a defensive terror as well. The Vols did not lose a regular-season game in the three years that Suffridge made All-America, 1938 through 1940. As for the other guard, it is doubtful if ever there breathed a more dedicated player than Texas' Tommy Nobis, who had size and ability to go with it. He had a fire that was usually found in players trying to compensate for lack of size—like Peck or Suffridge.
"He simply never made a bad play," says his coach, Darrell Royal. "I've never seen any player handle his position so well—or ever heard of one."
Nobis was primarily a linebacker of the type who averaged 20 or so tackles a game, who was everywhere, quick, strong, nimble and eager, but who also, in a platoon era, went over to offense when the goal line got into view. Much to his credit is the fact that Nobis was at his best against the big names he faced—Namath, Roger Staubach and Donny Anderson among others—and Nobis won.
Notre Dame for some time has been up to its Dome in immortals at all positions and, if you said, O.K., the Irish can have all 11 of the Alltime team, South Benders wouldn't be able to agree on most of the names. One guy would be a cinch, however. Notre Dame never had a better tackle than George Connor, and if big George is the best Notre Dame ever had, then he must be better than nearly all the others.
A blocker who opened gaps for the Johnny Lujacks and Terry Brennans, he was a crushing defender who moved from one side to the other to put the brakes on runners like Buddy Young. Big and mobile, he was a leader who had a sense of humor. Once, before a great big Army game, he told the team, "The sons of slum and gravy are coming to the campus of beans and sausage."
"He had the agility to sort out the ballcarrier and the toughness to break up the power play," said Frank Leahy. "He was indestructible."
So, apparently, was our other tackle, Bronko Nagurski, who was more than just a tackle. For Minnesota, Nagurski was also a fullback and he was even an end for a time. He would have beaten out any man at any position, old Gopher fans will argue, but the experts pretty much agree that Nagurski, powerful, numb to pain, durable and inspired, played his best football at tackle, almost singlehandedly raising so-so Minnesota teams into winners.
Nagurski was considered a physical brute at 6' 2" and 217, and his bravery was often displayed when he would hunker into the line to stop every play, then shift to fullback to lug the ball repeatedly. One way or another, he made the big play.
Bronko Nagurski benefitted from a catchy name, to be sure, as did Grange, the Galloping Ghost. Between them in the Big Ten, there was a player who had a name to overcome—Bennie Oosterbaan. But while Oosterbaan might have been a headache for headline writers, he was the most splendid thing Michigan had ever seen.
Oosterbaan was the first of the brilliant pass catchers, an acrobatic player who dived and scooped up the ball or who one-handed it in midair. Wherever Benny Friedman threw it. It is said that he was the most complete end who ever played, that in three years of All-America performances no runner ever gained around his end. And this included Grange.
Oosterbaan was a natural type of player, fluid of motion, almost beautiful in his faking, the patterns he invented and the ease with which he gathered in the ball. Only Don Hutson, who came along in the next decade, has ever been compared with him as a receiver.
What Hutson could do better than Oosterbaan was run with the ball after he caught it. Tall and willowy with immense speed and at least four different gaits, Hutson at Alabama brought all of the dimensions of a pass receiver that we now know of to the game. "I just ran like the devil, and Dixie Howell got the ball there," Hutson says today, but he did more. The Alabama Antelope invented catching "in traffic," he made the end-around a devastating weapon and shifting gears a must. He made multiple faking vital.
While Hutson would catch only six or eight passes in a game, that was a bundle then, and they would be Alabama's key yardage, if not its touchdowns. When he grabbed six passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama's victory over Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl, he was lavishly labeled "the world's greatest pass-catching, speed-merchant end," and no one has tried to put anyone ahead of him since.
And so we have a team to commemorate a century, a team that can speak well for the lore of a colorful game. We have a Bronko and an Antelope, a Slingin' Sam and a Galloping Ghost. We have passing, running, kicking, receiving and wanton defense. We have speed and enough size. We have winners. But now who do we play? Well, in only 100 more years we'll see.
THE BEST ELEVENS THROUGH THE DECADES
THE FIRST 50 YEARS
E Frank Hinkey, Yale
E Tack Hardwick, Harvard
T Wilbur Henry, Washington & Jefferson
T Belf West, Colgate
G Pudge Heffelfinger, Yale
G T. Truxton Hare, Pennsylvania
C Bob Peck, Pittsburgh
B Walter Eckersall, Chicago
B Jim Thorpe, Carlisle
B Wi lie Heston, Michigan
B Ted Coy, Yale
E Bennie Oosterbaan, Michigan
E Brick Muller, California
T Bronko Nagurski, Minnesota
T Ed Weir, Nebraska
G Dutch Diehl, Dartmouth
G Jack Cannon, Notre Dame
C Peter Pund, Georgia Tech
B George Gipp, Notre Dame
B Red Grange, Illinois
B Chris Cagle, Southwestern Louisiana, Army
B Ernie Nevers, Stanford
E Don Hutson, Alabama
E Gaynell Tinsley, LSU
T Ed Widseth, Minnesota
T Bruiser Kinard, Mississippi
G Joe Routt, Texas A&M
G Bob Suffridge, Tennessee
C Ki Aldrich, TCU
B Sam Baugh, TCU
B Tom Harmon, Michigan
B Clint Frank, Yale
B Marshall Goldberg, Pittsburgh
E Leon Hart, Notre Dame
E Barney Poole, Mississippi, Army
T George Connor, Holy Cross, Notre Dame
T Dick Wildung, Minnesota
G Alex Agase, Illinois, Purdue
G Bill Fischer, Notre Dame
C Chuck Bednarik, Pennsylvania
B Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame
B Doak Walker, SMU
B Glenn Davis, Army
B Doc Blanchard, Army
E Ron Beagle, Navy
E Ron Kramer, Michigan
T Alex Karras, Iowa
T Lou Michaels, Kentucky
G Les Richter, California
G Jim Parker, Ohio State
C Jerry Tubbs, Oklahoma
B Dick Kazmaier, Princeton
B Jim Swink, TCU
B Howard Cassady, Ohio State
B Billy Cannon, LSU
E George Webster, Michigan State
E Jerry Levias, SMU
T Ron Yary, USC
T Bobby Bell, Minnesota
G Tommy Nobis, Texas
G Dick Butkus, Illinois
C Lee Roy Jordan, Alabama
B Gary Beban, UCLA
B Gale Sayers, Kansas
B Chris Gilbert, Texas
B O. J. Simpson, USC