Let's face it, fans, college football suddenly is no longer a game of inches. Or even of yards. Or even of, say, 100 yards. Oh, no. Now it's a game of practical multiplication, with the added variants of 1 really being 11 while 2 is 1, 3 is 2 and so on up to 11 really being 10. Got that? Well, if that confuses you, just think what it does to the poor people at Alabama and Arkansas and California and a bunch of others. They all played the new game last Saturday, the extra game, the 11th game, and wound up with defeats—and buckets of fresh money—when normally they would have been home knocking heads and getting ready for their season openers.
All this strange making a profit out of a loss began last January when "...the NCAA voted to allow each team to play an 11th game for the extra money," said Bear Bryant, who voted for the change but privately admitted that his rebuilding program at Alabama needed an extra game just a shade less than he needed a 5'3" fat flanker. Bryant and Alabama dominated the 1960s, but the storied defenses had crumbled badly the last two years. So badly, in fact, that for the fourth game last season Bryant, in desperation, turned an All-America offensive guard and a very fine second-string fullback into two very confused starting linebackers. And when your big dam of concrete turns into a very small hill of sand you don't invite a flood in for an extra whack. Not at Alabama just for money you don't. At least not now, thought Bryant, who had just begun to pour fresh concrete.
Then his phone rang. It was John McKay of USC, a close friend. McKay wasn't calling Bryant the coach, he was calling Bryant the athletic director. "Hey," said McKay, "I just got the O.K. for an 11th game. How about against you?"
"I'll have to see if I can get permission," said the athletic director, ignoring the sighs of his coach. Permission was given, and the match was made for last Saturday night in Birmingham. For the invasion USC hoped to cut $175,000 out of the purse, enough to feed an entire herd of 250-pound tackles. Financially, football multiplication works well for all. Because of the bonus, which it is hardly desperate for, the USC football department will donate $50,000 a year to a minority-groups non-athletic scholarship fund.
Last week, two days before the game, Bryant sat in his office in Tuscaloosa and viewed the coming of USC from both of his angles. "I supported an 11th game for everybody not because I thought it would help us in the immediate future. I thought it would help teams that needed the extra money now. And," he added, barely grinning, "maybe somebody could get a team on their schedule that they could beat. But then this USC game came up and I thought it was too attractive to pass up. Especially when we want good trips."
So much for the athletic director. "But it might be a little early," said the coach. "Probably a year too early. But, darn, if you get down and want to get back up you've got to play some great teams and win. Still, I wish it was next year."
"Until USC came along," said Charley Thornton, the Alabama sports information director, "our opener was against Virginia Tech. We could beat them 60-0 and nobody would start pounding any drums for us to jump into the top 20. But if we beat USC...." All sports information directors are eternal optimists. If they weren't, they would be sportswriters. Or even coaches.
Saturday night a crowd of 72,175 turned out, glowing from the presence in its midst of Commander Richard Gordon, the Apollo 12 Moonnaut, Celeste Holm, the actress, and a lot of that fine old Southern beverage, bourbon. Most of the crowd shared Thornton's optimism. The feeling lasted only until McKay unleashed his seemingly endless supply of running backs and then it crumbled with Alabama's promising but young defense. The Trojans walked over them 42-21. Said Scoop Hudgins of the Southeastern Conference office: "Don't those guys ever fall down?"
They do and they did, but not until they had run for 485 yards, a lot of the yards coming after the runners had been hit once—and not a small number after they had been hit twice. They picked up more yards while falling than Alabama did rushing (32) the whole night. Six Trojans carried the ball, and each of them gained 53 yards or more. And for the night the best of them all was Sam Cunningham, a 6'3", 212-pound sophomore reserve (well, he was a reserve), who ran 12 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Out of 70 running plays USC managed to get past Alabama's defensive line 61% of the time. "Stop those runners and they can be beat," observed one of the state's sportswriters. Which is a little like saying, if a victim can stop the bullets he's got the firing squad whipped. USC's Jimmy Jones put the ball in the air just enough to keep Alabama's secondary honest, completing five of 15 for 68 yards and coming close enough on his misses to keep it scared.
When it was over Alabama's band stayed on to play Raindrops Keep Fall-in' on My Head. And Bryant went back to pouring his concrete with a consolation: he had helped a lot of underprivileged kids, none of them running backs, go through school at USC.
Next week USC takes on Nebraska, a big and fast team that had things pretty much its own way in beating Wake Forest 36-12 in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers' war chest fared well, too. Usually Nebraska plays opponents on a home-and-home basis, with both teams splitting whatever is in the day's pot. But for this one Wake Forest agreed to come for $135,000, and when 66,103 fans turned out and the invaders were paid off the Nebraskans scuttled to the bank with something like $250,000.
There were a few other bonuses, like Joe Orduna, back from a season's absence after knee surgery, and Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska's most-touted sophomore in years. "It was good getting into a varsity game," Rodgers said. "I was getting awfully tired of doing nothing but practice, practice, practice." At one point on Saturday, Quarterback Jerry Tagge called Rodgers' number on a fly pattern, one of football's more complicated plays. And the pair executed it brilliantly. Rodgers ran as fast and as straight as he could, and Tagge threw the ball as far as he could. And when it was over Nebraska had scored on a 61-yard pass. When Rodgers caught the ball he was 15 yards behind the nearest defender. That's flying.
"That was the second time we tried it," said the candid Rodgers. "I messed up the first one. Tagge had a few words for me on the sideline after that one. I didn't miss the second chance."
Nebraska's latest star finished the day with 33 yards on three carries and another 37 yards with a kickoff return. Orduna, Nebraska's leading runner in 1967 and 1968, appeared as fit as ever. He averaged five yards on 10 carries, scored twice and apparently took the I-back job away from Jeff Kinney, last year's best sophomore back in the Big Eight. Well, maybe. Kinney did gain 55 yards in 11 carries, and he scored once. It's tough duty having two guys like that fighting for a job.
In another big, ah, tune-up, Georgia Tech emerged as one of the South's top independents, for the moment, and made a move toward recovering some of its past glories by beating South Carolina 23-20. Before the game Head Coach Bud Carson said Tech had to win it with defense, and then he sat back and watched his offense rip South Carolina for 25 first downs and 396 yards, and, of course, enough points to win.
Carson's worries over his offense were understandable. For one, he started a sophomore line, and when it blocked exceedingly well a lot of shudders went through the South. And, two, he started a kid named Eddie McAshan, who was under just a little bit of pressure as a sophomore, being Tech's first black player and the Deep South's first major college black quarterback. If that didn't give the youngster butterflies, nothing ever will. Apparently nothing ever will. He completed 20 of 38 passes for 202 yards and one score, and twice in the second half he commanded touchdown drives, each starting with Tech behind. Kevin McNamara scored Tech's last two touchdowns with runs of five and two yards, leaving Paul Dietzel to exclaim: "I was amazed at the way we wilted in the last quarter. I thought we were in shape, but they just kept throwing fresh backs at us and we couldn't stop them."
Not too far away in Chapel Hill, something of a minor miracle in medicine was taking place. Actually it began last December when Paul Miller, a left-handed junior quarterback with limited experience in four games, thought he had pulled a muscle in his back. An examination disclosed arthritis around a spinal disk. The disk was removed and a piece of his hipbone was fused into his back. The doctors told him no heavy exercise until July, and as for football, well, many people told him to forget it. Last Friday Miller was scheduled for a final examination, a yes or no on his football career. But he didn't show up for the appointment.
Saturday, just before North Carolina's game against Kentucky, Miller sat in the dressing room. The doctor walked in. "He pulled up my shirt, knocked on my bones and said O.K.," said Miller. And Coach Bill Dooley said to the third-stringer, "You'll start." And he did, passing for two touchdowns, and a 20-10 victory.
Then things really got tough for Miller. Walking from the locker room with his father, he spotted three female admirers. The one on the right was his girl from back home in tiny Ayden, N.C. The one on the left was another girl friend, a Wake Forest majorette. Miller quickly called a power play up the middle. Looking neither left nor right, he walked straight into the arms of the female in the middle. His mother's. If that doesn't win him the Heisman Trophy nothing will.
The score wasn't thunderous, only 14-9, but there were serious rumblings out West when UCLA came up with an unexpectedly strong running attack to defeat Oregon State. Three of Tommy Prothro's corps of reportedly weak running backs—Art Sims, Randy Tyler and Gary Campbell, the last two sophomores—averaged just under six yards per carry and between them ran for a total 275 yards. When you talk about points it was a pair of touchdown passes by Dennis Dummit that put them on the scoreboard, but it was UCLA's surprising power on the ground that kept Oregon State off-balance.
"Why, some of our backs didn't even run the right routes," said a pleased Prothro. "But they ran the wrong way hard and that helped."
An official who accidentally acted as a backboard for a bouncing loose ball helped a little, too. In the final minute of the third quarter Tyler was a step from scoring but fumbled into the end zone. Oregon State recovered. On the next play, Bill Carlquist fumbled right back. The ball bounced loose toward the out-of-bounds line, struck an official first and bounced back into the hands of UCLA. Seconds later Dummit passed 26 yards to Bob Christiansen for the winning margin. "We got a break on that one," said Prothro. "It's the luck of the game. And it was our luck."
Which is the way some of the 11th games went. Like Florida using All-America Flanker Carlos Alvarez against Duke as a safety for the first time in his college career. He took the only punt that came near him and ran it back 67 yards to score. What else would you expect? And Florida won 21-19. For the week before the season opens it was one wild Saturday.