Ah, said the Villanovans, as they stormed Detroit last weekend with their little band of blue-chip runners to take on Kansas' musclemen and everybody else in the NCAA track and field championships. Ah, who needs beef and biceps? We've got speed to burn. We have Marty Liquori in the mile, and Larry James in the 440 and two relays, and if that doesn't add up to four wins and 24 points, what does? Now we just add some points in the half, and grab a few from the two-mile, and—what, we're out of people? Well, no matter, that should be enough, and so go ahead Kansas, put that shot all the way back to Lawrence and see what it gets you.
Which is just what Kansas did. Not quite to Lawrence but far enough to finish one-two-three in the shot Friday night, and what it got was 13 points, and yon can't start any fatter than that. But no one was shocked. The defending champions opened the same way last year. Now, as then, they got a first from Karl Salb (an NCAA record 67'2½"), a second from Steve Wilhelm and a third from Doug Knop. "Our guys were really raging and growling out there like angry lions," said Bob Timmons, the little Kansas coach "I'm glad some official didn't say anything to them. I don't know what they might have done to him." Timmons was bubbling. But he had good reason. Bill Penny had finished fourth in the 35-pound weight throw, and had given Kansas an unexpected two points. "Early in the week we figured all the maximums," Timmons said. "We figured Villanova for 30 points, us for 29. Now...."
"Who ever heard of a weightman from the Big Eight?" muttered Jack Pyrah, Jumbo Elliott's assistant at Villanova.
And then, down 15-0, Villanova's runners went to work. James blazed the 440 in 48.3, winning the event for the third straight year, and the first six points went up for the Wildcats. "And, man, it's a beautiful thing, seeing those six points go up," said James. "You know, you run the whole indoor season just for yourself. You can almost take it or leave it. But when the coach writes six points next to your name you know he and all the other guys are counting on you. I dig that. And we're going to win this thing, too."
March 23, 1970
Except for the rare exceptions, like the NCAAs, track is a loner's sport. A man wins or loses for himself. "And then you get here and everything is different," said Dick Buerkle, Villanova's gritty little two-miler. "I'd rather finish second in my race and have the team win than win the race and have the team lose. In every distance race there always comes a point when you really start paining and you have to decide whether you're going to ease up or break through and do as well as you can. With someone like Liquori, who's done it often, it's natural. He knows he has it in him to break through. But it wasn't until recently that I knew I could really put out when that time came. And, see, it's easy to quit on yourself. But when you're part of a team there's more pressure. You can quit on yourself but you can't quit on all the other guys. They know you can do it. And they know if you don't you've quit on them."
Six points home, and now it was Andy O'Reilly's turn in the 880. Villanova figured to score, but then so did Kansas with its freshman star, Brian McElroy. "Andy's so high he's about four stories off the floor," said Elliott. "I just want him to finish in front of McElroy." O'Reilly finished second to Wisconsin's Mark Winzinried. Four more points. McElroy finished last. Villanova couldn't believe it; Kansas was stunned.
"It's just great, just great," said Elliott. "I gave him the Texas eye."
"Who, coach? O'Reilly or McElroy?"
"Both, both," said Elliott, laughing and rubbing his hands together.
Timmons looked like he had been shot in the stomach. "I should have known," he said. "I guess it was youth. Monday he came to me and said he needed a lot of speed work. And I let him. I let him. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Speed work. I didn't want to hurt him psychologically. And all it did was tie him up."
"Who the heck is the coach?" Elliott snapped when he heard that. Timmons is not one of his favorite people. "Him or the freshman? I take my kids off speed work two weeks before a big race."
Now the score had closed to 15-10, and it was Buerkle's turn. He finished third, almost in tears "I got smoked," he said "I got smoked" The week before, when Villanova won the IC4As, Buerkle had won the two-mile. "But you won it too fast." said Elliott. "It took too much out of you But don't worry we're in great shape."
Buerkle's third had added three more points for Villanova, and when they called a truce for the night Kansas led 15-13. On Saturday, Villanova would be the favorite in the mile, and in the distance medley and mile relays. Kansas still had people in the pole vault, the mile and the two-mile relay but wasn't favored in any of them. Things looked good for Villanova. But things weren't good, not good at all.
Friday night Marty Liquori, America's top miler, lay in bed in his hotel room, his left leg packed in ice and propped on a pyramid of suitcases. In qualifying for the mile, he had stumbled, pulled a calf muscle and finished in pain. "When I stumbled," he said, "I tried to accelerate off balance and something went. I tried to jog later and I couldn't even do that." He flexed the leg, trying to make a muscle in the calf, but it hurt too much and he quit. "Damn qualifying anyway," he said. "Most of the guys in my heat didn't even know how to run on boards. Some idiot kept stepping on my heels." Liquori went downstairs and got hot ointment and an Ace bandage from the team manager. Liquori rubbed down the leg and wrapped it himself. Then he propped it up on the suitcases and slept a few hours. The next morning he said it felt better, but not much. "I'm scared that when I start running on my toes the calf will tighten and that will be it. If it wasn't for this team thing I wouldn't even run."
Later in the day, at Cobo Arena, Liquori went to Bob White, the head meet trainer, for a rubdown.
"There's a knot in the calf," White said.
"Bad?" asked Liquori.
"Enough to make the difference," said White.
Only Chris Mason, Liquori's roommate, White and the manager knew about the injury. Then someone told Buerkle. He shook his head. "You don't know if Marty is really hurt," he said, "or if he's just talking himself down to get himself up."
"Doc says there's a knot in it."
"Aw, hell," said Buerkle.
Things began to get worse. Of the six vaulters left, two were from Kansas. One, Bill Hatcher, who had never done better than 15'6", had cleared 16 feet. Villanova's distance medley relay team, which had won the last two years, finished third. Six points penciled in, three on the board.
Then the first Kansas runner toed the mark in the two-mile relay. The Jay-hawks figured to do no better than third. They won in 7:25.7, a world record for an 11-lap track, with McElroy running a 1:49.7 anchor.
A few minutes later Timmons was asked if he had been shooting for a world record. "What world record?" he said. "I don't even know what the time was. I was so excited when the race started I dropped my stopwatch."
"Hey, man, after that horror show yesterday we had to do something," said McElroy. "When you've got three shot-putters the size of ours telling you to go out there and win, you'd better. Seriously, you see them working so hard, then go out and sweep, you really feel like you're letting them down. I messed up so bad yesterday that I had to do something. Hot dog, a world record!"
Elliott began figuring points. "Six from Marty and six in the mile relay will give us, ah, 28. Let's see, Kansas has got—aw, we still got a chance. Let's go, Marty."
The mile began and Liquori was off last and hung there. They ran the half in 2:06. "What's Marty doing?" someone asked. Pain etched into his face, Liquori began to move up. To third. To second. And no more. Howell H. Michael IV of William and Mary won in 4:03.1, three steps ahead of Liquori. Doug Smith of Kansas finished fifth—another point.
Pyrah turned to Elliott and said glumly, "They just finished the pole-vault. Kansas got second and fifth. We lose by a lousy point."
Jumbo shook his head and walked off.
There was still the mile relay, but it was anticlimactic. Pyrah had figured Villanova to win the six points and it did. Upstairs it was announced that Hatcher had actually tied for fourth in the vault, giving Kansas another half point, so it won 27½ to 26; Harvard was third with 15.
"Everything went wrong," Elliott growled. "Everything! How can you figure it? And they score 20½ points in the field. In the field! We haven't scored that many points in the field in the last 10 years! We're like a one-armed man going into a boxing match. Nuts!"
"One arm—and one leg," someone said.
Elliott nodded. "Yeah, on one leg in the mile. Oh, nuts!" Then he grinned. "And you know, these kids nearly did it, too."