The candlepower in the Glass Bowl is so low that at night the place is more suitable for seances or Halloween parties than the home games of the University of Toledo Rockets. But they have this hobgoblin quarterback named Chuck Ealey who flits in and out of the shadows to elude tacklers, then zings the ball right on the button to one of his receivers, all of whom can see in the dark like owls. His teammates have an almost mystical belief in his ability to get them out of any jam. As one of them says, "The remarkable thing about Ealey is that he has positive thought waves." And well he might. In 57 games of varsity football in high school and college, Charles Ealey Jr. has never lost.
One good reason for all his success, says Ealey, is his habit of projecting mental movies for himself. He visualizes something positive—a gorgeous touchdown pass thrown over a defender—and somehow games usually turn out just the way he pictures them. Ealey started his string of victories at a high school in the town of Portsmouth on the Ohio River, where his teams were 30-0 over three years. At Toledo he has led the Rockets to two unbeaten seasons and two Mid-American Conference championships. And last Saturday night in the gloom of the Glass Bowl he completed 17 of 23 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns as Toledo beat Ohio U. 31-28. It was the team's 27th straight victory, the longest winning streak in the nation.
Along this victorious way episodes like the following ones have made Ealey the biggest hero in Toledo since Commodore Perry won that big naval battle out in Lake Erie.
Item: Two years ago, in Ealey's fourth varsity game, Toledo trailed by two points at Bowling Green but had possession of the ball on its own 32 with 49 seconds left. Somehow Ealey ran off seven plays in 47 seconds and got his team to the Bowling Green 21. With two seconds remaining on the clock and strong winds blowing through the open-end stadium, Ken Crots kicked the game-winning field goal.
Item: Last year against Miami of Ohio, Toledo trailed by six points in the final three minutes. Ealey hit four out of four passes and then, as most of the Miami line tackled decoys, he bootlegged around left end for a touchdown. That and the extra point gave Toledo the game.
Item: The Rockets opened their home season this year against Villanova, the team they had beaten to start the streak in 1969. The score was tied 7-7 with 29 seconds left and Toledo in possession on its own 29. So Ealey, seeing through the Glass Bowl far from dimly, combined with his roommate, Glyn Smith, on a 56-yard pass play that set up a 30-yard field goal. Of course, Ealey knew it was going to turn out that way all the time.
The coach at the start of the team's winning streak was Frank X. Lauterbur, who suffered through four losing years before getting the Rockets launched in 1967. They won or shared the MAC title three of the next four years, went to the Tangerine Bowl twice and became so respected the AP ranked them 12th nationally last year. This success caused Iowa to hire Lauterbur as its coach after last season. Lauterbur's successor was a former assistant, Jack Murphy, 40, of whom nothing much was expected except to win every game (including another Tangerine Bowl) and thus lengthen the streak to 35
"This is going to be Frank's team as long as we keep winning," said Murphy. "When we finally lose, it'll be mine. I don't know exactly how you handle a situation like this and there is no one to ask because I don't think anybody ever took over a team with a 23-game winning streak."
Murphy did inherit some good athletes besides Ealey—northwestern Ohio boys who somehow had been overlooked or spurned by Ohio State's Woody Hayes and other Big Ten coaches. One was 230-pound Mel Long, the heaviest man in the Rocket defensive line and the No. 1 reason Toledo has led the nation in defense two straight years.
Long was a so-so player at a Toledo high school and was not recruited by anybody. He joined the Marines, went to Vietnam and won the Navy Cross for singlehandedly killing six of the enemy in one confrontation. When he got out he went to work as a machine operator in a Toledo steel mill and enrolled at the university. He went out for freshman football unasked, as if it were some fraternity team, and developed into what Lauterbur called "the best defensive tackle I've seen in 21 years of coaching." It helped that Long could run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 in pads and leap high enough to dunk a football over the crossbar.
Long, who is as reticent as Ealey is smooth, nonetheless takes the spotlight in the locker room after each victory and acts as choirmaster for a dirty ditty the team has been singing for four years. The first line is, "We are the Rocket gridders," and not one line after that is printable.
None of the Rocket gridders seemed to doubt that they would be singing as loudly and lewdly as ever after the Ohio U. game. The cockiest of the bunch, Middle Guard Steve Schnitkey (one of the team's four players from little Archbold, Ohio), was asked what he would do if he were an opposing coach and had to figure out a way to attack the Toledo defense.
"I don't know what I'd do," he said. "I think I'd just give up." And he added, "It's not whether they are going to beat us or not, but how bad they are going to get beat. That's the way I feel, anyway."
Ohio U. had no intention of giving up, however, especially since it had in its backfield a MAC truck, Bill Gary. The first time the Bobcats got the ball Saturday night they behaved as if they intended to make Schnitkey eat his attitude. Giving the ball frequently to Gary and avoiding Mel Long's side, they smashed 85 yards down the field in 13 plays for a touchdown. If the Glass Bowl record crowd of 21,984 couldn't see too well, it didn't need to. It could hear the hitting.
Toledo's defense stiffened after that, and Ealey went to work. The Rockets moved ahead 17-7, only to have Ohio close to 17-14 just before the half. An Ealey-to-Don Fair touchdown pass and an 80-yard burst by Tailback Joe Schwartz on a basic trap play shot Toledo out again 31-14, but again Ohio wouldn't die. It scored twice more to close within three points and was driving in Toledo territory with a little more than three minutes left. Plenty of time to end a win streak. But with fourth down and three to go on the Toledo 37, Ohio fumbled the snap from center and that was it. Ealey, who denied he had visualized that foul-up while watching from the sideline, ran out the clock for his victory No. 57.
Will any opponent—say, undefeated Bowling Green this Saturday—be able to beat Ealey and the Rockets this year? After all, an Ealey team did lose once—to Michigan when Ealey was a freshman and was injured in the second half. "Well," he said, "some negative thoughts do protect you from becoming overconfident." Then he smiled, and the positive thought waves shot out of him like gamma rays. You knew that inside his head he really couldn't picture such a thing.