Bruce Hardy might have been dreamed up, along with his cereal-box name, to remind the world what an old-fashioned high school hero looks like. He might have descended on Bingham, Utah, appearing in the narrow canyon in the chalk-colored Oquirrh Mountains as in a vision. Somehow it all seems too perfect: that Bruce Hardy should throw touchdown passes and hit home runs on playing fields carved out of hillsides; that he should do wondrous things with a basketball in a dim, splintered bandbox of a gym; that Utah's sportswriters should hymn the praises of "Bruce Hardy and the Mountain Men."
For Bruce Hardy to qualify as a Mountain Man, it was necessary that Bingham High first survive the bulldozers. The school remained open when Bingham itself, a storied mining town 30 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, died in the early 1960s, its saloons and frame houses torn down to allow expansion of Kennecott Copper's huge open-pit mine nearby. Bingham's residents scattered to the housing developments dotting the Salt Lake Valley to the east—but they still sent their children to the old school at the mouth of Bingham Canyon. A new Bingham High will open in the valley next year; for now, the school's 1,050 students continue traveling to be educated in a ghost town.
Bruce Hardy's father works in a welding shop in Salt Lake City, but the family's two-bedroom house is in West Jordan, a placid, virtually treeless community in Bingham's sprawling school district. Alan Hardy's boy, a senior, drives 11 miles to school each morning, passing boxy subdivisions and vast wheat fields, in a beat-up 1963 yellow Galaxie. Drawing on savings from a summer construction job, Bruce Hardy paid $200 for the clunker last year, only to have his friends facetiously refer to it as The Bomb. "The guys kid me about my car," he says. "I think it's pretty good."
If Bruce is assertive about so trifling a matter, it is because he has impressive appearances to keep up. He is a quiet, polite teen-ager who maintains a B-plus grade average at Bingham High and is popular enough to have been elected both junior prom king and president of the men's association. At whatever activity, from pitching pennies to climbing trees, he has excelled since earliest childhood. "People kind of look up to me," he admits. "They expect a lot from me, and I don't want to disappoint them."
April 28, 1974
Walking the crowded halls of Bingham High, hands casually tucked in the front pockets of his bell-bottomed jeans, Bruce is trailed by excited whispers of "Look, it's him!" His elders are scarcely more restrained. "Bruce has the respect of everybody," says Bingham Principal Tom Owen. "He's a modest, clean-cut, unbelievable young man." Basketball Coach George Sluga calls Bruce "a walking advertisement of what an athlete should be." Craig Rushton, an assistant coach, says, "He's such a terrific kid, you feel grateful to be around him." One of his teachers jests, "We ought to name the place Bruce Hardy High and be done with it."
The object of this unbounded adulation is not yet 18. He stands 6'4", weighs 205 and is wide of shoulder and narrow of waist. His features are strong and fair and the sleepy-eyed expression under his floppy hair suggests he is but vaguely aware of his own handsomeness. He looks, in sum, like the athlete he is. Lee Benson, prep writer for Salt Lake City's Deseret News, calls Bruce "possibly the most gifted and versatile athlete ever to perform in a Utah high school." Others would drop the word "possibly."
At a time when specialization in sport is becoming the rule even in high school, Bruce Hardy, in fact, is likely the best all-round schoolboy athlete in the U.S. His admirers argue endlessly over which is Hardy's best sport. Competing in AAA, second largest of Utah's four classes, he was elected first-team all-state as a junior in football, baseball and basketball. Completion of the current baseball season is the formality holding up his repeat of the sweep this year. He has twice been Utah's MVP in AAA basketball and once in football (the award is not given in baseball, or else Bruce undoubtedly would have won that). He won the local Thom McAn award and was a finalist in the competition for the top U.S. scholar-football athlete. He is a co-captain in all three sports and his name graces several prep All-America teams.
The stories of his exploits are breathless and many. Like the day on the football practice field that Bruce Hardy, a strong-armed quarterback, rifled a pass so hard it shattered the intended receiver's shoulder pad. Or how Bruce Hardy, an equally hard-throwing catcher, became the first batter ever to hit a ball out of three-year-old Century Field in the neighboring town of Tooele. Or how Bruce Hardy led the Bingham Miners to AAA state basketball championships in both his junior and senior years.
The first of these titles was the more memorable, if only because Bingham won it after compiling a regular-season record of 7-10. But Bruce got going in the tournament, putting on the sort of powerful yet seemingly effortless performance that is his style whatever the sport. Against Judge Memorial High of Salt Lake City in the finals, Bruce repeatedly emerged from heavy going under the backboards clutching crucial rebounds. He hit turnaround jumpers with two or three men on him. Ordinarily a forward, he brought the ball upcourt against Judge's fullcourt press. He scored 34 points and then, following Bingham's 77-69 overtime win, he shuffled his feet and declared, "There are no glory boys in this dressing room."
Though Bruce obviously deports himself well, he is not always at ease in his Jack Armstrong role. The pressures of being a great athlete can be as severe in high school as they are later. "Some of the kids probably think I'm stuck up because I don't always say, 'Hi,'" Bruce frets. "But I can't say 'Hi' to everybody. I enjoy being a good athlete, but sometimes I wish I could just be one of the crowd."
There are moments when Hardy does seem to be just another teen-ager. Notwithstanding his good grades, he confides, "I really don't study very hard." At lunch hour he and several cronies perch on a railing in a Bingham High hallway and watch the girls go by. With two or three buddies he enrolled in a home economics course for senior boys known as "bachelor survival." Levity reigned. There was Bruce, seated one morning behind a sewing machine, back-stitching an apron and cheerfully admitting, "A seamstress I'll never be." (When Owen, the principal, says that "Bruce can really thread the needle," he is referring to the boy's accuracy at throwing a football.)
But there also is a serious, even brooding, side to Bruce's nature. Bingham's student body is three-fourths Mormon, and Bruce observes the faith enough to attend Sunday priesthood meetings and once noted in an English theme that drinking and smoking were "less desirable forms of escape" than athletics. At home he used to share a bedroom with his younger brother Axel, but last summer he moved his bed to the basement, where he sleeps in dank, cement-block solitude. "It's quieter down there for reading and listening to music," he explains.
In temperament Bruce and his 16-year-old brother are vastly different. A Bingham sophomore, Axel stands 6'2", throws and shoots left-handed but is otherwise a lookalike for his brother. An emerging three-sport star in his own right, he quickly became starting halfback on Bingham's football team, first-string guard in basketball and pitcher—and Bruce's batterymate—in baseball. But he is more the happy-go-lucky type. "I keep telling Bruce to relax," says Axel.
Despite such advice, however, Bruce worries about the future. He has had feelers to play basketball from as far away as Villanova and Florida State. Big-league baseball scouts have hovered near. But his ambition is to be a pro quarterback and he plans to concentrate on football in college. This decision touched off a lively recruiting war that ended when he signed a tender last January with Arizona State.
It was an obvious coup for Frank Kush, the Sun Devils' coach. Bruce throws a football 65 yards with accuracy, and since ASU's All-America, Danny White, has used up his eligibility, Kush is encouraging about Hardy's chances of starting at quarterback as a freshman. "He's got everything—ability, intelligence and attitude," Kush says.
Still, it is no more certain that the best schoolboy athlete will star in college or the pros than it is that the smartest schoolboy will ever become president. For all his gifts, Hardy is not exceptionally fast afoot and has trouble throwing on roll-outs. This should be no real handicap in Kush's pro-style offense, but even his most ardent admirers worry about how easily Bruce can step into the glamour role of college quarterback.
"I hope these mountains haven't sheltered him too much," says Coach Sluga. The fear is that Bruce might be too much the country boy, too much the product of a thinly populated area where a lot of folks drive pickup trucks and say, "You betcha." There is the hint of a twang in Bruce's voice, and his speech contains roughhewn constructions like, "I done good in that game." Until he flew off to visit Colorado State, one of three Western Athletic Conference rivals vying with Arizona State for his football services—the others were Utah and Brigham Young—Bruce had never been inside an airplane. Did he have a window seat? You betcha.
But the big time may not overwhelm him so easily. Going to school in Bingham has not left Bruce entirely untouched by cosmopolitan influences. In its heyday Bingham was a brawling, wide-open place picturesquely nestled in a canyon so narrow it was said that dogs had to wag their tails vertically. Its 8,000 residents, an ethnic mix including Greeks, Poles, Slavs and Japanese, all lived on a single thoroughfare, a four-mile-long Main Street that wound its way between steep canyon walls. Its menfolk worked in the open-pit mine, a hole in the ground two miles in diameter and five city blocks deep.
There is obvious symbolism in the fact that the terraced mine resembles a surreal stadium. Bingham was a sports-mad town whose youth thought nothing of playing tackle football on boulder-strewn fields. When Bingham High won the state basketball championship in 1960 Mayor Joe Dispenza shouted himself so hoarse that he spoke in a near-whisper for years. And it was a source of pride when that humble crewman in Bingham's mine, Gene Fullmer, became world middleweight champion.
But when Bingham began to fade, sports declined. The skid ended with the arrival of Bruce Hardy. Bingham figures to keep on winning with kid brother Axel, who may well become Bruce's equal as an athlete.
Two or three more Hardy boys would have been all right with Bingham fans, too, but nobody can accuse Alan Hardy of not making the most of what he has. A slender, rawboned man with slicked-back hair, the elder Hardy has a folksy, Gomer Pyle manner, yet is purposeful enough to have set out to make his firstborn son "the athlete I never was." He hit fly balls to Bruce for hours on end, organized a kids' football team for him to play on and put him through shooting drills on the backboard on their driveway. To sharpen his son's outside shot he used his welding tools to fit a smaller hoop inside the regulation rim, making it harder to score. "I read somewhere that Adolph Rupp recommended it," says Alan Hardy. The father demanded perfection of the son, harshly upbraiding him for striking out or dropping the ball. "If he's going to play, he should play right," Hardy said. "Besides, that's the only way he'll ever get to college." His wife intervened only occasionally. "Sometimes he was a bit rough," recalls Louann Hardy. "But I could see where it was paying off."
Looking back, Bruce agrees. "When clayed bad, I knew I was going to get when I got home," he says. "My father would yell at me, and I'd beg him leave me alone. Sometimes I'd cry, and my mom would, too. But it wasn't as bad it sounds. I'm glad he pushed me. Other guys had ability, but they never became good athletes because they weren't pushed."
As good as Alan Hardy's boy became, Bingham High did not completely shake its losing ways during his sophomore year, and Bruce, nicknamed "Super Soph," settled for all-region honors in every sport. For Bruce's junior year Foot-ill Coach Roy Whitworth installed a pro-type offense to take advantage of his quarterback's arm. Leading Bingham to a 5-4 record, its first winning season in eight years, Bruce threw for 1,409 yards id 20 touchdowns, including several bombs of 50 yards or more. On defense he played safety, leading the team in unassisted tackles and interceptions.
Next came the unexpected state baseball championship—Bruce averaged 21.6 for the season—and then, as night follows day, similar heroics in baseball. Bingham was 10-6 in Bruce's junior year and he hit .480 and played five different positions. He was the starting pitcher in 4-1 win over Morgan, striking out 12 in five innings before driving off to attend an all-state banquet. After a rival team stole nine bases against Bingham, Bruce told Coach Son Sudbury, "Let me catch. I can do better than that."
Sudbury agreed and his new catcher delivered. In a 2-1 loss at Tooele, witnessed by a Cincinnati Reds scout, Bruce threw out two men trying to steal. But he also went hitless, striking out twice against a pitcher the Reds signed for a fat bonus. Cincinnati's book on Hardy: "Tremendous arm but he's got to hit better." Angelo Cerroni, a local scout for the Oakland A's, admits to no reservations about Bruce's baseball potential, calling him "the best high school athlete I've seen in 20 years."
Lest The Adventures of Bruce Hardy be confined to only three sports, Bruce took up tennis last spring for the first time "just for fun." He played a few times, then beat the No. 1 man on Bingham High's team in straight sets. While that embellished his reputation as a natural athlete, any trace of doubt about his competitiveness vanished when Bruce, playing volleyball in a coed gym class, became vexed by the indifferent efforts of the girls on his team. As he grumbled at the girls, one of them, a diminutive sophomore, assured herself a permanent place in the lore of Bingham High. "Damn it, Hardy," she snapped, "it's only a game."
There were similar tensions during football season last fall. Bingham's team was riddled by graduation, forcing Bruce to operate behind a small inexperienced line. In the opening game, a 28-6 loss to Brighton, he was repeatedly dropped for big losses. Doing some unaccustomed scrambling, he was intercepted five times. He had no time to get off long passes, and Whitworth wisely had him rely on flares and screens the rest of the year. But the receivers were also green—and the season became a nightmare of dropped passes and other misplays.
That Bingham still produced a 6-3-1 record is a tribute to Bruce. "We would have won two games without him," says Whitworth. Forced to run more, Bruce also kicked PATs and field goals and was ubiquitous on defense. But his passing statistics slipped to 14 TDs and 1,125 yards, and the frustrations got to him. "I dropped a pass in the end zone," says Wayde Groves, a split end. "Bruce was good and mad. He didn't say anything but in the huddle he just stood there hitting his hands together."
Conscious that college recruiters were looking on, Bruce was often unhappy with his own play as well. So was his father. Alan Hardy claims to have mellowed, saying, "My boys have become so good that I can't teach them much anymore." But Bruce's erratic performance in a 35-12 loss to Davis was too much for him. "You played pathetic!" he shouted when Bruce came home. "What college is going to want you?" Bruce left the house in tears.
But colleges did want him and Frank Kush and the other coaches who came to Bingham had the glint in their eyes of the prospectors who once arrived in quest of gold, silver and copper.
In finally deciding on Arizona State, Bruce chose a college that a girl friend, for one, had disapproved of ever since Bruce visited Tempe in December. "He told me it was so warm there that the girls didn't wear much clothes," she said, grimacing. Weather, in fact, did influence Bruce, who liked the idea of throwing the football in a warm climate. He also was impressed by Kush's winning record. "He's like my dad," Bruce says. "He's a pressure-type guy. If you're super, he expects you to play super."
Never in any sport has Bruce played more super than during the past basketball season. Bingham won the state title more convincingly this time, rolling up an 18-2 record, the highlight of the regular season being a 100-66 rout of Judge Memorial, the team Bingham had upset in the state finals the year before. As 2,700 fans whooped it up in Bingham's gym, Bruce Hardy and the Mountain Men jumped to a 10-1 lead. With Bruce blocking shots, triggering the fast break and scoring at will, the thankless job of stopping him fell to Judge's Tad Mancini, a 6'6" bean pole with choirboy features and mischief in his heart.
As his frustration mounted, Tad leaned on Bruce, and tattooed him with hands and elbows. Annoyance flashed across Bruce's face. With two minutes left, Tad pulled Bruce's jersey, stretching it out as if it were a tent. In sudden fury. Bruce wheeled and caught Tad with a sharp right. The punch caused no real damage, but both players were ejected from the game.
The excitement did not end there. With four seconds to go, Bingham called time to present the game ball to Bruce, whose 29 points put him eight over the 1,000 mark for his career. As Hardy rose from the bench to which he had been banished, Judge Coach Jim Yerkovich angrily led his team off the court. "Why didn't they hold the ceremony when he actually got the points?" Yerkovich demanded. The last four seconds were never played.
Afterward Bruce was subdued. "I shouldn't have hit him," he muttered. "I should have controlled myself."
Considering the demands of being an old-fashioned high school hero, it might be said that Bruce Hardy has controlled himself, in general, rather well. He was calm enough, certainly, the night last October that somebody broke into his Galaxie and swiped his letterman's jacket. It happened while Bruce and a date were watching American Graffiti in a Salt Lake City theater and, fortunately, he was able to buy a new jacket a few days later.
The culprits might have been overzealous trophy hunters, and Bruce might even be right when he says, "They probably know me." His jacket evidently had high value for the thieves. They left behind Bruce's tape deck and his date's purse, both of which were also in the car.