Plunkett, Dummit. Dummit, Plunkett. Gunfight at the LA corral. That was the staging last week out in the California wonderland where the mini still thrives, where they still elect things like Miss Taco Delicious and where Stanford and UCLA still play those football games that don't end until everybody has to be taken to the hospital on stretchers.
They played another one last Saturday night that was supposed to have all sorts of influence on such immense treasures as the Heisman Trophy, the Rose Bowl and the Pacific Eight championship, and maybe it settled all of that and maybe it didn't. What it did do was leave the large impression that the most harrowing football of the season is being played by West Coast teams, and it is probably a shame that Plunkett Dummit, or Dummit Plunkett, isn't one guy.
Jim Plunkett is the Stanford fellow who has this hard-sell campaign going for him in regard to that trophy everybody knows about. And Dennis Dummit is the UCLA guy who keeps beating everybody he plays—but seeing some of those victories turned into late-hour losses by a defense that finally gives out after afternoons and evenings of heroic performances.
To fully appreciate the terrible things that have been happening to Dummit—and happened again last week when Stanford placekicked its way past the Bruiins 9-7—let's go back a bit. Last season Dummit has USC beat 12-7 with 1:32 to go, but USC throws a pass and wins. This season he has Texas beat 17-13 with 12 seconds left, but Texas throws a pass and wins. He also has Oregon beat 40-21, but Oregon throws several passes and wins in the last 30 seconds. Now comes Stanford. Dummit has Stanford beat 7-6, but with 4:57 to go Stanford kicks its third field goal of the night and wins. Dummit thus loses four games in his varsity career while wearing headphones on the sidelines. The only four losses.
As so often happens when all of the buildup insists there will be wild, hellacious scoring because of the presence of a couple of gunslingers like Plunkett and Dummit, you get a 9-7 ball game that hurls everyone back to the late 1950s. They did their share of pitching, but the defenses of both teams dominated the evening, UCLA's by holding Stanford to no touchdowns for the only time in Plunkett's life.
Statistically the two passers wound up about even. Plunkett, the big dark guy from the North (San Jose), hit on 18 of 37 throws for 262 yards. Dummit, the medium-sized blond from the South (Long Beach), hit on 18 of 35 for 244 yards. More of a crucial nature was Steve Horowitz' record. He hit on three of live field goals for Stanford. Seeing as how it was Horowitz who had a field goal blocked last year that kept the Indians and Bruins in a 20-20 tie, it was appropriate that the placekicker should wind up the biggest hero of the night.
Stanford Coach John Ralston, though, either lacked faith in Horowitz or had an abundance of faith in Plunkett. In any event, Ralston rarely could bring himself to watch the game. Nervously, clipboard in hand, he paced behind his team and let his assistants dictate strategy. Never before had he won in the Coliseum and perhaps he feared that somehow, some way, the sky would again fall in on him. In fact, he looked as if the sky had already fallen in on him, dressed as he was in navy blue blazer and sky blue slacks.
Going into the game, the best reading material anyone from Stanford could get his hands on was a four-page 8-by-10 pamphlet entitled Stanford University's Heisman Trophy Nominee. There on the cover was a portrait of Plunkett, the 23-year-old, 204-pound, 6'3" Mexican-American. And the opening statement, as penned by that noted writer Bob Murphy of Palo Alto, the Indians' publicity chief, said: "Jim Plunkett is unquestionably one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play football."
In the pamphlet, along with just about every known and unknown statistic pertaining to Plunkett as a passer, were quotes from a handful of leading authorities—USC Coach John McKay, Bud Wilkinson, Frankie Albert, Cowboy Scout Gil Brandt and UCLA's Tommy Prothro, among others—testifying that Plunkett was the greatest thing since frozen dinners.
For the Heisman voters who might fall for the sympathy bit, there was a paragraph reminding everyone of what kind of a "person" Jim is. He had worked "long" hours as a grocery clerk, gas-station attendant and paper boy to help earn a living for his legally blind father, who passed away last year, and his mother, who is totally sightless. And there was a reminder of what kind of "student" Jim is. He carries a B average as a political-science major.
All of this was in the pamphlet with photographs and tables of record-breaking performances and the further reminder that Plunkett could have gone on to the pros after last season had he not forsaken riches to hang in with Ralston just for one more shot at USC, the Rose Bowl and the Whatsitsname.
Plunkett's keepers had been thoroughly frustrated during the early part of the season by the uproarious Mad Ave. campaign being waged by the backers of Mississippi's Archie Manning. Archie had a big head start, Stanford felt. Stanford, for one thing, hadn't thought of Jimmy buttons. Or Jimmy bumper stickers.
The pamphlet was what they finally came up with after Jim had succeeded in achieving one of his goals, the beating of USC. Then came what Bob Murphy decided was the perfect time to unleash it on all of the 1,300-odd Heisman voters, most of whom, it should be pointed out, would never get to see any college player even remotely in contention. The perfect time was when Archie Manning got dusted off by little ole Southern Mississippi.
"Archie Who? got beat by Southern What?" said Murphy, licking the stamps for the envelopes dispatching his Plunkett material to all the ships at sea. "How can anybody win the Heisman who gets beat by Southern Mississippi?" Murphy asked with the full approval of John Ralston and most all followers of West Coast football who were not Dennis Dummit fans.
What then made the confrontation with UCLA all the larger was the thing that happened Saturday afternoon to USC. The thing was, USC got shocked by Oregon, the biggest upstart in the conference, the team that had also upset UCLA and, in fact, had led Stanford at halftime. Suddenly Oregon was in the Rose Bowl picture and still is, despite the fact that Plunkett and his Indians survived UCLA. Oregon's only remaining conference games are against Washington and Oregon State. Stanford has three to go, against Oregon State, Washington and California. Mathematically, UCLA and USC are still in it, too, but Stanford is safely past the teams that looked the most frightening to John Ralston. And the only question is whether Plunkett and his friends can avoid a letdown, or get too preoccupied with the Heisman business.
One of the most impressive things about Plunkett is that the Stanford offense almost never fails to move with him. He gets a few first downs, enhancing his field position, on virtually every possession. Either by hitting his backs in the safety valve or blowing out a long one to Randy Vataha down the sideline, he keeps the ball. Against the Bruins this resulted in Stanford running 95 plays to UCLA's 63, and the valiant Bruin defense, which had forced a fumble to set up its go-ahead seven points and also had grabbed two interceptions, just couldn't keep staving him off.
It was a long Plunkett pass to Vataha, a 42-yarder on third down—yeah, one of those we-gotta-have-it situations—that set up the winning field goal. So in the final analysis it was Jim Plunkett who kept all those Stanford pamphlets from going the way of the Edsel and the Archie button.