The Ithaca College campus is a lovely collection of ultramodern buildings clustered on a hillside far above Cayuga's waters. On a clear day you can see Cornell, where there is this Italian kid who is supposed to be able to run some. But Ithaca also has a football team—and a pro prospect—of its own, and last Saturday, on the same day that Ed Marinaro played his last home game for Cornell, an enthusiastic crowd of 5,500 showed up at Ithaca's South Hill Field to see what promised to be one of the more interesting small-college games of the season. Ithaca's nickname is the Bombers, and their star, Doug Campbell, has been known to do some bombing of his own, but most of the explosives belonged to visiting C. W. Post and Quarterback Gary Wichard. They were strictly stuff for Amchitka Island.
Even without a program, it was easy to recognize Wichard. He was the big kid (6'2" and 217 pounds) with the thick mane of brown hair and the white Joe Willie game shoes. Wichard arrived in Ithaca leading the nation's small colleges in total offense, thanks mainly to some mighty fancy passing. In guiding Post to a 6-1 record, Wichard had completed 120 of 206 for 1,791 yards and 16 touchdowns. He could throw both bullets and bombs, and lately the pro scouts and the national media had been swarming the Post campus in Greenvale, Long Island to have a look. Everyone remembered that only two years ago the NFL's No. 1 draft pick was Terry Bradshaw of little ol' Louisiana Tech.
No such attention danced around Campbell. Oh, the pros were plenty interested in the blond, lanky Ithaca quarterback, all right, but with the idea of making him into a running back—or even a defensive back, which is what he played in high school. Where Wichard is a classic drop-back passer who takes full advantage of Post's pro-style offense, Campbell is a nifty runner with end-turning speed and tackle-breaking strength. He is unique among quarterbacks if for no other reason than he lives at the main fire house in Ithaca and earns his room by fighting fires in his spare time.
"Sure, I'm a real fireman," says Campbell. "When there's a fire I slide down the pole and jump on the back of the truck. All I do mostly, though, is move equipment and help hold the hoses."
November 15, 1971
Last season Campbell and Ithaca burned Post in a 20-17 upset, but it was sort of a hollow victory because Wichard missed the game with an injury. This season Wichard's health was fine, but Campbell had spent most of the week in the whirlpool because of a sore back. Even so, Ithaca Coach Jim Butterfield was loose and hopeful before the game. He felt the Bombers could beat Post by controlling the ball on the ground, thereby eating up large chunks of time. "If we don't let Wichard have the ball he can't throw the bomb," reasoned Butterfield, not unreasonably. "We're going to try to nickel and dime 'em to death."
Early on, however, it was apparent that Post was not to be shortchanged, at least not on this crisp, cool afternoon. While Campbell was able to get off a few of his twisting, dodging runs, Post's defense kept the Bombers from putting together a serious threat. Meanwhile, Wichard mixed his plays intelligently, using his running game—otherwise known as Tailback Ron Carman, who gained 216 yards for the day—to set up his passing. Midway through the first quarter he threw two quick touchdown passes—one to Flanker Jim Cara covering 41 yards, the other to Tight End Bill Cherry covering 46—and suddenly Post had a 14-0 lead and momentum which it never lost. "We wanted to score quick so we would get a lead and force them into passing," said Wichard later. "It worked."
And so it did. When Campbell was forced to go into the air, he underthrew three passes, and Post Safety Tony Faleston was there to grab all three. And when Carman broke a 58-yard TD run late in the second quarter, Post took a 21-0 halftime lead.
The Pioneers took the opening kick-off of the second half and quickly moved to another touchdown. That seemed to break what spirit Ithaca had left, and from there it was just a question of how bad it would finally be. The answer was 62-0. Wichard threw a third TD pass before Post Coach Dom Anile mercifully decided to lift him with a 41-0 lead.
It was not one of his more impressive days statistically, with only seven completions in 21 attempts for 147 yards, but Wichard made a believer out of Butterfield. "He's just out of our league," said the coach later in a corner of the quiet Ithaca dressing room. "He deserves better competition than what our kids can give him."
Neither was it one of Campbell's better days, although he gained 100 yards in 20 carries. "He was just about half-speed," said Butterfield. "He couldn't cut it loose out there like he usually does. But we were just outgunned. They shut off our running game, and when we tried to throw we dropped the ball. After that it was a comedy of errors."
Since there is a proliferation of running backs in college this season, and only a handful of strong-armed quarterbacks, it is safe to assume that Wichard probably will go higher than Campbell in the pro draft. He is a legitimate prospect, perhaps a great one, as the New York Giants found out as early as last July. The Giants hold their preseason training camp on the C.W. Post campus, and last summer Wichard and his good friend, Split End Lenny Izzo, worked there as security guards, complete with blue uniforms and badges. One day, when these two guards were shagging balls for Kicker Pete Gogolak, some of the Giants noticed that one of the security men was throwing the ball farther than Gogolak was kicking it. When it was discovered that the young man was Wichard, he was invited to work out one day with Y.A. Tittle, the old pro who now coaches Giant quarterbacks. After watching Wichard throw, Tittle issued the statement that has been quoted so much around Post that it should be carved in granite at the stadium: "He might have the best arm I've ever seen."
The scouts have been bird-dogging Wichard since Post's opening game (a 24-14 loss to Lehigh), and they have been so persistent that now Wichard feels sort of lonesome when he comes out to practice and there are not a couple of strangers hanging around with stopwatches and notebooks in hand. Usually all the scouts do is drag on cigarettes, make a few notes, ask some questions and disappear. "It's very frustrating," says Wichard, "because they never say much about what your chances are. They just kind of leave you hanging."
Nevertheless, all this attention is exciting for Wichard, his teammates and his coaches, because football at Post is no big thing. The Pioneers play teams like Adelphi and King's Point, and if they get out 3,500 for a home game they think it's a big crowd. Post has no massive stadium, no high-priced coaching staff and not even enough good footballs to use at practice. "No kidding," says Anile. "We have only two that I let my quarterbacks throw. The rest we use for kicking." Also, most of the 11,000 students at Post consider themselves too hip to get turned on by something as irrelevant as football, so Wichard goes largely unrecognized as he slouches around campus with his shirttail hanging out over his dungarees. "Look at him," says Anile, affectionately, "I ask you, does he look like a hero?"
Besides casual mod clothes, Wichard likes parties, hard rock, his steady girl and antique cars. His father, a painting contractor in Great Neck, N.Y., has a collection of about 35 restored automobiles—including such beauties as a '31 La Salle roadster and a '31 Rolls-Royce—that he exhibits in various shows. "He's really into that," says Wichard, "and my brother and I also are pretty interested." What Wichard doesn't like much is to run with a football; naturally his teammates call him Woo Woo.
But otherwise, Wichard seems to have it all—the size, the intelligence, the desire and, mainly, the arm. But will he be able to make it as a pro? Surprisingly enough, most scouts feel that playing at C.W. Post will be less of a disadvantage than people think. "He's getting the experience of running a pro-style attack and calling audibles, stuff like that," said one scout. "That's got to give him an advantage over these major-college quarterbacks who have been playing in the Wishbone. In looking at a kid like this you've got to see whether he dominates. If a kid only holds his own against a team like Ithaca, it's hard to imagine him playing in the NFL. But if he dominates his class, that's something else. And Wichard dominates. Believe me, he dominates."