That ancient amphitheater, Soldier Field in Chicago, was all gussied up for the annual College All-Star Game last week with a fresh coat of paint, new seats and AstroTurf. About the only thing that remained unchanged was the script—the All-Stars lost to the pros, the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Colts, 24-17.
Despite the defeat, these All-Stars were different from their predecessors. At least they looked or sounded different. They had a jazzy, brassy air both on and off the field, and Receiver J. D. Hill—late of Arizona State, soon of the Buffalo Bills and at the moment offensive captain of the All-Stars—was the brassiest of the lot. "I take the game seriously all the time," he said, "but I've got to relate it to fun. Victory is beautiful, but it's extra beautiful when you relate it to fun. When you're winning and having fun, you can do anything. Man, there's too many other things in the world that aren't fun, so why take it out of this?"
Ultimately, the Colts did take some of the fun away, but not because the Stars failed to take their pro initiation seriously. The Stars hit hard, very hard, particularly the defensive line and linebackers, yet at the end Baltimore's Tom Matte offered a simple reason for his team's victory. "They were just kids," he said.
Earl Morrall, at 37, knows how to handle kids. Subbing at quarterback for injured John Unitas, he completed 20 of 30 passes and three embarrassingly easy touchdowns. The practiced Colt defense kept the Stars back behind their 37-yard line for the entire second half, and Quarterbacks Jim Plunkett and Dan Pastorini could complete only eight of 24 passes.
August 8, 1971
On defense, however, the Stars enjoyed their own moments of exuberance. Coaching the rookies for the first time, Blanton Collier ran the toughest, best organized All-Star training camp in years, much as he used to run the Cleveland Browns. He had a first-rate staff that included Green Bay's former All-Pro defensive end, Willie Davis, and Davis' cunning was particularly evident in the sophisticated tactics used by Linemen Julius Adams, Rich Harris and Jack Youngblood and Linebackers Isaiah Robertson and Charlie Weaver. These Stars helped trap Morrall four times and held the Colts to 60 yards rushing.
The Stars scored 10 of their points on a 40-yard field goal by Bob Jacobs, set up by a long penalty against the Colts, and on a 47-yard run of a recovered fumble by Linebacker Jack Ham. Their only sustained drive, 50 yards in nine plays, briefly tied the score 7-7 in the second quarter. In that march former Ohio State Fullback John Brockington carried six times, gaining ground to his right as Blockers Henry Allison, Vern Holland and Bob Moore sealed off the Colts' left side of Bubba Smith, Ray May and Charlie Stukes. Plunkett, who will see action soon for the New England Patriots with Joe Kapp on the lam, threw two important passes, one a short dump up the middle to stumpy Running Back Mike Adamle for a 22-yard gain, and the other a 15-yard bullet to Hill on the goal line that drew an interference call on the desperate Colt cornerman, Jim Duncan.
The interference was only slightly less in the lobby of the Orrington Hotel in Evanston where the Stars roomed during their three weeks of practice at Northwestern University. The Orrington is one of those places with a plastic lobby—flowers and upholstery—and a branch of Harris, Upham & Company, Inc., members New York Stock Exchange, off to one side. All the Social Security types who sit for hours in a theaterlike section just inside the glass door of the brokerage rarely blink, much less twitch a neck muscle, as the quotations trickle across the screen in luminous green. While the Stars were in residence, the old folks would have been in immediate need of Medicare had they taken their eyes off AT&T long enough to observe the crowd in the lobby.
Meandering through the clusters of tiny autograph-seekers and nubile things tightly wrapped in red mini-pants and shrunken jeans were the Stars, wearing all manner of beard, burn, 'stash and Afro. One immense lineman's wardrobe apparently consisted solely of a washed-out pair of bib overalls, but most of his teammates were resplendent in multicolored jump suits, knitted shirts and close-fitting stretch shorts which, had girls been wearing them, would have been called hot pants.
Those good old short-haired boys named Billy Don are not being selected for the Stars anymore. The only major conferences where black players remain oddities, the Southwest and the South Eastern, are usually heavily represented at this game. This year the SWC and SEC contributed a combined total of three players, equaling Grambling's delegation. Of the 52 All-Stars, nearly all of whom were first- or second-round pro draft choices, 31 were black.
The composition of the team, which included players from such unheard-of schools as Dallas' Bishop College, Yankton (S. Dak.) College, William Penn and Northeast Louisiana, also reflected the effectiveness of the NCAA's 1.6 rule. This season's pro rookies were high school juniors when that rule was enacted, and it was no coincidence that nine Stars came from small colleges not bound by NCAA requirements.
Standing amid the swirl of change at the Orrington, wearing a black plastic facsimile of a World War II Wehrmacht helmet with the close-cropped curls of his `beard partly obscured under the low-slung earflaps, was the magnificent wide receiver and kick returner, J. D. Hill, epitomizing the team's flamboyant mood. Hill is a hat freak whose collection for the All-Star camp included not only his helmet but an array of Stetsons, floppy velvet Big Apples, a striped train engineer's cap and a gray knitted hat in the style of Sly of Sly and the Family Stone. The last was saved for game night to top off a gray and green knit jump suit and cape outfit Hill wore simply for the psychological uplift of fine threads.
"My philosophy is, when I go to a game if I got something really outtasight on, it makes me feel gooood," he said, relaxing beside his bright blue, customized and wired-for-sound Continental Mark III, easily the plushiest set of wheels among a colorful collection of Mark IIIs, Eldorados and T-Birds parked in front of the Orrington. "It makes for playing gooood. If you've got on sloppy clothes that don't fit real gooood, you play sloppy. But if you get some fine, snug-fitting things that look gooood, man, then you feel gooood and play gooood."
Jim Wiggins, Hill's tailor in Scottsdale, Ariz., must have cut his clothes perfectly, because that was just about the way Hill had played in his most recent games. He was the Most Valuable Player in the Senior Bowl and runner-up for the same award in the Coaches All-America Game. In a warmup scrimmage against the Bears, Hill caught four of the seven passes completed by the All-Stars.
Against the Colts, however, Hill's performance was as uneven as his team's. He bolted offside on a crucial third-down situation in the second half when the Stars might have tied Baltimore. Like three of his teammates, he caught two passes, one of them a leaping grab after cutting across the middle where he prefers to run his patterns, but his best play of the game came on a pass he did not catch. "One of the things that makes it great to throw to J. D. is the way he comes back to you so hard on curlins," Plunkett said. "He gives the quarterback a great target." On the key play of the Stars' lone touchdown drive Hill sprinted to the goal-line flag and curled in front of Jim Duncan, who had no choice but to interfere to prevent the touchdown. The play gave the Stars a first down on the Baltimore one, and Brockington swept right for the score on the next play.
Hill's hard curls and high style are part of his attempt to catch up in a life that began as a poor kid in Stockton, Calif. and was set back further when he sat out a year at Arizona State for stealing shoes from a salesman's car. Even his names, first and last, are a source of confusion. "My initials don't mean anything," he explained. "When I was born, it was just something going around among black people. There were L. D.s and G. K.s and I'm just J. D. It's on my birth certificate. And my real name is J. D. Clark. I was the seventh of 18 kids and my mother had TB and my father never had much of a job. I lived most of the time with my grandparents, and after a while I took their name, Hill.
"There were so many people who said I'd never make anything out of myself. They'd never have thought I'd be a captain of the College All-Stars. I never see the other kids in my family; I don't even know if any of them play football. That's one thing I'd like to do is get them all together so I can show 'em what I've done, so I can be proud and they can be proud of me. Some people in my family probably read about J. D. Hill and don't know he's me."
Some of the pros now know, and more will be finding out soon who he and a bunch of other strange names are. They are really gooood.