What the Coaches All-America Game is supposed to do is match the best graduating seniors in the East against the best in the West and prove that all the young men can survive the heat of a June night in Lubbock, Texas. Which they did, the West slightly better than the East, since it won 20-6. What the game does even more is illustrate the increasingly testy relationship between the college game and the pro football world.
The players are in a tricky transition period from alma mater to the NFL—they "owe it to the coach" to play in his game, and yet they are technically the property of the pros. On the two 30-man squads, only four players had not been drafted by the NFL and of the 56 who had, only eight had not signed contracts. A few of the pro teams—notably Baltimore, Philadelphia and Cincinnati—fearing injury to their merchandise, had suggested their men catch a plane for Acapulco instead of Lubbock.
The rival East-West coaches, Shug Jordan of Auburn and John McKay of USC, addressed themselves to the college-pro rivalry in the days before the game. Jordan said, "We always cooperate with the professional people when they come to Auburn. If they don't have a movie projector, we lend them one. But if they interfere with the availability of players for this game, I think we should cease to cooperate with them."
McKay listened to Jordan's smooth Southern version and translated it into L.A. vernacular: "If they don't let the kids play, I'd kick them off our campus."
July 1, 1973
McKay was told that Philadelphia had pressured his AU-Everything tight end, Charles Young, to skip the game. The exact advice was that Young "should rest up for his honeymoon." McKay said, "He'll get plenty of rest in Philadelphia. Unless he plays defense, he'll be on the bench 90% of the time."
And that is how things really are in the netherworld between the colleges and the pros. This battle tempo was heightened still more at Lubbock with the introduction of Duffy Daugherty as the third voice on ABC-TV's 1973 college telecasts, an addition of the "blarney factor" to help connect Chris Schenkel with Bud Wilkinson, a dialogue in which something long has been missing. (Wilkinson: "Chris, I have a bulletin here that Russian ICBMs have wiped out the East Coast." Schenkel: "O.K., Bud.") The former Michigan State coach passed up offers to be a TV commentator with the pros this season because "the college game has more action, more plays and more charm."
Daugherty explained that Roone Arledge five or six years ago had asked him to join the ABC-TV team whenever he decided to give up coaching, which he did at the end of last season, though "some of the alumni," Daugherty said, "thought I gave up coaching years ago." Daugherty was in the tow of Chuck Howard, an ABC-TV vice-president, and both were pushing for college football playoffs to a national title. Daugherty advocates starting the season early enough in September so that 11 games can be finished by the second Saturday in November. A coaches' panel would then pick eight teams and the playoffs would be over by the first Saturday in December. After that would come the bowl games, even as now. Howard, who wants any kind of playoff system, said, "It makes me sick to see the college season end at its peak and the pros take over. I'd love to go head and head with Pete Rozelle's phony playoffs. We would beat the professionals. And let's face it, that's what we have to do—there's only so many entertainment dollars."
The objective of "beating the professionals" had a lot to do with McKay's presence in Lubbock. He will be the coach of the College All-Stars next month in Chicago when they go up against the perfect-record NFL champions, the Miami Dolphins. The game plan has it that McKay could familiarize himself with the nucleus of his squad at Lubbock, teach the players something of his offense and be ready to let it rip when it counts—against the pros. McKay has already made one tactical decision on this front; there will be no "traditional" scrimmage against the Chicago Bears in preparing for the game. "They say they want to see us scrimmage the Bears," McKay said, "so they can find out if their draft selections can block the pros. They spend $10 million drafting them, and they want to find out in one session if they can block! To hell with that. I'm going to send 'em in the game and tell them if they can't block 'em, hold 'em."
As it turned out, McKay had 20 players on his West squad who will be with him in Chicago, and on the East team there were a dozen. Most notable among the missing was Bert Jones, the LSU quarterback drafted No. 1 by Baltimore, who will probably be McKay's starter against Miami. LSU Coach Charlie McClendon explained, "I had Bert in this game, but at the last minute his daddy talked him out of it. His daddy [Dub Jones, Cleveland, 1950s] was a pro."
What McKay did have was Ty Paine of Washington State and the New York Giants and, for a brief moment, Dan Fouts of Oregon and the San Diego Chargers. But on his first pass of the game Fouts was crunched by John Wood of LSU and exited with a broken left collarbone. The coaches association has hedged against such disaster by booking an $18,000 premium with Lloyd's of London and other bettors to guarantee against the athletes' season salaries, but you could still hear the pros muttering we-told-you-so-type things.
McKay also had a record-breaking running attack, powered by his own Sam (Bam) Cunningham, Oklahoma's Greg Pruitt and a spectacular added starter out of Long Beach State, Terry Metcalf. Jordan's East squad, quarterbacked by Terry Davis of Alabama (a non-draftee) and Don Strock of Virginia Tech, marched up the field and down the field for 24 first downs, but despite the talents of Purdue's Otis Armstrong and Miami's Chuck Foreman, the East could only score with field goals by Southern Mississippi's Ray Guy, the Oakland Raiders' first draft choice who may well press George Blanda into retirement.
Pruitt and Metcalf broke loose for the long runs that set up West touchdowns. "It's not so much the way Metcalf runs by you," said Tennessee Tech Linebacker Jim Youngblood, "it's the embarrassment. What you do when he steps around you in the open field is rush back into the huddle and get lost in the crowd before anybody sees your number."
Metcalf, a third-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals, got on McKay's roster for this game and the next when Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers signed to play in Canada. Metcalf gained 135 yards through the East, scored one touchdown and set up another to earn the game's MVP award. He is 5'10" and 190 pounds, and he runs the 100 in 9.7. "I haven't signed with St. Louis yet," he said, "but this may help me. I'm counting on the All-Star Game to help, too. I'm going to swing in Chicago."
Metcalf had a rough senior season with a Long Beach team that was 5-6, but McKay had noticed that he scored 16 touchdowns and gained 779 yards. "He is a super runner," McKay said, "but I think you also saw a super blocker out in front of him. Sam Cunningham was knocking down a few cornerbacks on those plays."
McKay complained that although he had tried to keep plays simple for this game there were still problems. "We reduced things to where we had one play called 'fullback run strong,' which meant to the side where our tight end is. Charley Young is 6'4" and 230, but we've got one back who hasn't found him yet."
McKay regarded it all as a tuneup for the Dolphins. "We'll do a hell of a lot more in Chicago," he promised. Said Charley Young: "The idea here was to get acquainted and get all the cadence down, then go up there and really put it on the pros."
The East's Youngblood, who will join Young and Metcalf and Pruitt and the rest at the All-Star camp, was half fearful and half kidding when he considered the two-touchdown defeat by the West. "Boy," he said, "I hope the Dolphins aren't tougher than these guys."