The Cavaliers of the University of Virginia flew down to Columbia, S.C. last Friday and lost to South Carolina 26-0. It was Virginia's 28th consecutive defeat, and it tied a national record once set by Kansas State. Since Virginia's season mercifully ended with the South Carolina game, the team will have to wait until 1961 to break the record.
For a few moments in the game it looked as if an obstinate South Carolina might prevent Virginia from even tying the record. Carolina fumbled three times in the first period. Virginia displayed a surprisingly stout defense and by half time the score was only 6-0. But all during the long losing streak Virginia has been a second-half team. Last year against South Carolina, for instance, Virginia was actually ahead at the half before it caught hold of itself and allowed 24 points, enough to be beaten. This time it was much the same. Virginia looked anxious to get it over with and would have been fair game for any aroused high school team.
While Virginia was behind only 6-0 and then 14-0, Coach Dick Voris paced the sidelines, huddled with players and spoke on a phone to an assistant sitting on top of the press box. But as the score mounted, to 20-0 and finally 26-0, his movements slowed. With two minutes to go and South Carolina threatening once more, Voris stood behind several rows of substitutes, staring at his shoes. Moments later it was over, and Virginia's record was secure.
The doleful streak began with a 26-14 loss to North Carolina State in the third game of the 1958 season. The Cavaliers had lost their first game that year under new Coach Dick Voris, but they came back the next week with a 15-12 win over Duke. There were some who envisioned a glorious season and perhaps an Atlantic Coast Conference title. But then the losses came—eight in 1958, 10 last year and now 10 more.
It was not until the fourth loss this season—against VMI—that a move to get rid of Coach Voris began. Influential alumni, who always seem to get more excited about such things than the students, began exerting pressure on President Edgar Shannon. Voris was not hanged in effigy—"No one cares that much," said one cynic—but he did receive a few early-hour phone calls. "Is this Duffy's Tavern?" began one. "No? Then it must be Coach Voris. Why don't you get the h—-out of town."
Laughs it off
To suggestions like this, Voris has turned the other cheek. "Call me any time," he says, "but better not make it after 3 in the morning. The phone's likely to be busy."
Several weeks ago, shortly after the Maryland game (44-12), President Shannon issued a formal mimeographed statement, declaring that Coach Voris' contract, which runs through next season, would be honored in spite of a group of "deeply interested alumni" who were asking his dismissal. "The University of Virginia does not break its contracts," Shannon concluded.
This action produced a batch of mail, the majority of it endorsing Shannon's decision. "It makes me proud to have attended an institution with such high morals..." was a typical attitude. A few letters did start with something like this: "Sir, I have seen my last Virginia football game until Coach Voris...."
Dick Voris, the center of this Virginia storm, is a compact, ruddy-looking man of 38. He came to Virginia from Army, where he was line coach under Earl Blaik. His office, which overlooks a few of the playing fields, is sparsely furnished and the walls are almost bare. One small tarnished plaque hangs near his desk. It says "Virginia 15-Duke 12." ("That was his moment," says one student. "We had a rally the night before and Voris stood up on a platform and said, 'What I want to know is, who the hell is Duke.' Everybody yelled his head off and the band played Dixie, and sure enough we beat Duke. But that's been a long time.")
Sitting at his desk last week, Dick Voris defended his record. "How are we supposed to compete against the other schools in the ACC? We gave out only 16 scholarships this year. Only 32 last year. The average in this conference is 38. Clemson was able to give out 50 this year.
"Another thing. We have 30 sophomores on our team, 12 of them on the first two units. That's one reason we've been so bad on defense."
But, as is always the case with losing coaches, there are those who will contradict Voris. Later on I talked to a variety of his critics. An alumnus said, "I'm sick of hearing about sophomoritis. Everybody's got sophomores. Army has and they do O.K."
In his office Voris continued: "I thought we might win two games this year. Next year I'm sure we'll field a representative team. We'll win four, five, maybe six games."
"He said that," bellowed a university official, rising from his chair. "That's the problem right there. I can show you a piece of paper where he said he'd win five this year. He once said Virginia had a young passer who could throw a football better than Johnny Unitas."
"Dick is a fine coach," said Ralph Harrison, one of his assistants. "Pro coaches are always calling him up asking him about things. [Voris was line coach for the Los Angeles Rams one year.] I've learned a lot from him. I wouldn't stick around if I hadn't."
Virginia is an Atlantic Conference school and would very much like to remain one, first for reasons of prestige, second for money. The school gets a kickback from television coverage of conference football and basketball games. And when a conference team goes to a bowl, as Duke does soon, every school gets a dividend.
Those who seem the least concerned with the small crowds, the losing streaks and ACC headaches are the players themselves. The day the team departed for South Carolina, a rally at the airport was planned. Later the Roanoke World-News headlined, STUDENT BODY GIVES TEAM BIG SENDOFF. Below, it pictured three players with captions such as "got to win it" and "our last chance."
But when the team arrived at the airport, there were no students present, just President Shannon and his wife, a few friends and some alumni. A keg of beer sat neglected on the grass. The players walked out to the two chartered planes and waited. Then the band arrived on a bus and with it a few students. The keg of beer was opened. After a while the band broke out with the alma mater. Then they played a rousing version of Dixie.
"They must be getting high," said one player. "One more loss and then we can get drunk."
"I was scared all that beer would go to waste," said another player.
"Beer go to waste around here?" came the answer. "Buddy boy, you just don't know."
"Kansas State has sent us a telegram wishing us luck," said one boy.
"We better not fly over Lynchburg," Coach Voris said. "The alumni are likely to shoot us down."
There are nine seniors at Virginia and after three seasons they have had the joy of playing on a winning team exactly once in 30 games. The players are understandably cynical. Some time ago a Washington paper, as a public service, reprinted an account of the team's last football victory, the 15-12 win over Duke at Scott Stadium on September 27, 1958. After the game Coach Voris said: "It is the most important victory of my career." Unfortunately for poor Dick Voris, it still is.
BELEAGUERED COACH DICK VORIS (CENTER) RALLIES LOSING TEAM WHILE ASSISTANT COACHES REFLECT HOPELESSNESS OF IT ALL