'A LITTLE EXTRA EFFORT'
Biggie Munn is great. Protest as he will, he is convicted by his favorite maxim, a line of his own coinage that is to be found on the walls of his office, at strategic spots around Michigan State University's campus and above the autographs he signs in his book, Michigan State's Multiple Offense. It pops up in most of the speeches he makes. It is a simple line. "The difference between good and great," it runs, "is just a little extra effort." No one—and certainly not Clarence Lester Munn—can say that in his 40 years as player, coach and athletic director he has failed to make the little (large would be the better word) extra effort.
In the making of the effort down through the years (he is 54 now), Biggie has won for himself almost every honor that can come to a player and coach of collegiate football. As athletic director at Michigan State, he has done a superlative job of providing intramural sports facilities for the more than 25,000 students enrolled at East Lansing. And the best for Biggie may be yet to come. He seems almost certain to be invited to succeed 67-year-old Ike Armstrong as athletic director at the University of Minnesota. Many people say that an offer to return to Minneapolis and to his a'ma mater as top man would represent the realization of what has long been Biggie's secret dream.
One day recently Biggie Munn sat behind his desk in the enormous corner office that goes with his job at East Lansing. He accepted a cup of instant coffee from Dorothy Miller, who has been his secretary for 14 years. He took a sip and leaned across the desk and eyed the pilgrim who had come a thousand miles to see him. "I have not been approached by Minnesota," he said, "and so I see no point in making any comment of any sort. But I will say this. It's been a real pleasure being here at Michigan State while this athletic department has been built to its present level. I feel I'm part of this place. It would take a pretty darn good offer to get me away."
Dorothy Miller set a cup of coffee before the visitor and sat down at a corner of the desk with a cup of her own. She drew the telephone toward her and from time to time responded to the flashing lights with, "Biggie Munn's office. Biggie is tied up right now, but may he call you back?" Occasionally she would tap the keys of a stenotype machine, noting telephone calls or some remarks by Biggie that she considered worth preserving for the record.
The pilgrim squirmed in his chair and tried to hold the clear-eyed gaze of Biggie Munn, remembering another such audience in which another great name in collegiate football, Frank Leahy of Notre Dame, had confided, "I do not trust a man or a lad who cannot look you in the eye." In this case, it was too large an order. The pilgrim's eyes dropped to the monogram on Biggie's shirtfront. It spelled out "Biggie." His eyes moved to the clasp on Biggie's tie. Framed within it were the silver figures of a beaver and an antelope. The figures represented two separate awards to Biggie by the Boy Scouts of America for "distinguished service to boyhood." He has always found time for a wide variety of activities: for civic affairs, for the blood drives, for the Red Cross fund-raising campaigns, for the U.S. Olympic Committee, for the crusade of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Biggie Munn leaned back in his chair, and his sun-tanned face relaxed into the broad smile that is almost always there. He was the picture of rugged good health, all 230 solid pounds of him. (He plays golf three or four times a week, hunts pheasant in season, fishes at his summer camp in Canada, where he has MSU's president, John A. Hannah, as a neighbor.) He glanced around the walls of the great room. They were filled with plaques and citations and photographs of teams he had coached and individual players who had won fame on the football field (and, in many cases, fortune later on) as a result of his tutelage.
"Now," said Biggie, standing up behind his desk, "let's not talk about me. As for what we have been able to accomplish in our intramural program, the construction of three buildings at a cost of $6.6 million, the enlargement of our football stadium to accommodate 76,000 spectators, the building of our 18-hole golf course, the things I have been able to have some part in, shall we say, since I quit as head football coach and took over as athletic director nine years ago—well, that's something else again. I don't think there's a finer intramural sports program in the nation. Every boy and girl who attends Michigan State has an opportunity to experience sports competition. We have 14 varsity sports, and last year more than 17,000 students took part in intramural sports. There's something for everybody. We even have a sports program for the physically handicapped. Our budget for all this is $1,163,000 a year. We have to make most of that out of football, but we also receive a $10 fee from each student for the use of our facilities—the indoor and outdoor pools, the 40 tennis courts, the handball, paddle ball and squash courts, the touch football fields, so on and so forth."
Biggie," said the visitor, "there's another subject I've been intending to bring up. It so happens that on the newsstands right now are several articles denouncing college football. One of the articles says that big-time football should be de-emphasized to the point where all publicity directors would be fired and that the stadium press boxes would be eliminated altogether. Of course, this sort of talk comes up every fall, but it occurs to me that there's no man better qualified to defend college football than Biggie Munn."
Biggie reached down and opened a desk drawer. He pulled out a box of pipes, selected one and then put it down and picked up a package of cigarettes. He glanced at his empty coffee cup and then at Dorothy Miller, who promptly provided refills all around.
Biggie puffed on his cigarette and stared up at the ceiling. "All right. Let's begin with this idea. When a football player or any athlete walks out on a field, he usually has a number on his back. That alone identifies him. The people who have paid to see the game will judge him entirely by what he does. And what he does is out in the open for everyone to see. The player cannot hide behind anybody. His creed or color, what side of the tracks he was born on, how much money he has in the bank, his political affiliations—none of these things are involved. He is on his own. He cannot lean on anybody.
"I have always admired the boy who is willing to take part in a tough, combative game like football. This is competition of the highest order. It is true that not everybody is equipped for this kind of competition. Other people may take part in other activities—music, drama, debating and so on. They are not criticized for doing so. On the contrary, they are usually complimented. But sometimes those who are unable to take part in a physical contest resent the boys who do. They resent the crowds that cheer the athletes, they resent the publicity the boys receive. Well, publicity works two ways. It can build a man up, it can tear a man down. I know this all too well from my own experience."
Biggie took a sip of coffee and walked back and forth across the office. He took a deep drag on his cigarette and ground it out in the ashtray.
"College football," he said, "is the focal point of student spirit. It brings the alumni back to the university and draws everyone closer together. I cannot imagine Michigan State without its football team. It would not be the same place. You cannot tell me that the University of Chicago is what it used to be in the days of Alonzo Stagg."
Biggie slapped the desk with the palm of his hand.
"The boys who play football at Michigan State," he declared, "are not hired entertainers. They are students. They must meet the academic requirements that are set up by the Big Ten. They must compete in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. They live and work and study as part of the student body. They are not isolated in dormitories of their own. Now, I see no reason why these boys should not receive some help in return for their ability to play football. Scholarships are given for music, chemistry, the sciences and so on. It seems only fair to me. I recall the father of a boy, a man worth a lot of money. He came to me and said that although he was well able to pay his boy's way he wanted the boy to feel that he had earned something on his own through his efforts to become a good athlete. On the other hand, some boys have turned down help within the Big Ten regulations because their fathers were able to defray all their expenses."
Biggie drained his coffee cup and shook his head in response to Dorothy Miller's inquiring glance. She let her fingers play the stenotype machine for a moment and then reached for the telephone.
"Biggie Munn's office," she said. "One moment, please." She turned to her boss. "Biggie, this is Pete Waldmeir of the Detroit News. He wants one of those long telephone interviews for their weekly sports quiz. I think he tape-records them."
The pilgrim jumped to his feet, "I'll wait outside or roam around the halls for a while."
"Stay where you are," said Biggie. "Or roam around if you want." He reached down, pulled out a desk drawer and took out a fat scrapbook and some pamphlets. "You might like to look these over."
The pilgrim stared at the single scrap-book incredulously. "Is this the only scrapbook you've kept for all your years in college athletics?" he asked.
"Oh," said Biggie, "there are a few more at home. My mother kept them up. Later on we'll drop by the house and look at them if you want. I don't believe in keeping a lot of clippings. They're ancient history. But my mother was a great one for saving everything the papers said about me. You might get a kick out of looking at them." He chuckled and bent his head forward to exhibit a bald spot. "I would like you to see a picture of me when I had curly hair."
"O.K. I'll roam around while you're being interviewed by Pete Waldmeir. And I'll feel free to wander in and out, since I suppose you won't be saying anything off the record."
Biggie shook his head, picked up the phone and said, "Hello, Pete."
"Dorothy," said the pilgrim, following Biggie's secretary into her own office, "that call from Pete Waldmeir of the Detroit News. That surprised me. Wasn't there a time when calls from Pete weren't welcome around here?"
Dorothy arranged some papers on her desk. She smiled and said nothing.
But Dorothy—as well as everybody else on the Michigan State campus—knew very well that Pete Waldmeir had written the story that had brought the long-standing feud between Biggie and his onetime protégé, Head Football Coach Duffy Daugherty, to a bitter climax, noisy enough to drown out the bellows from the bull barn far across the campus.
The visitor strolled out of Dorothy Miller's office and looked out into the great lobby of Jenison Gymnasium. On the other side of the lobby, a rock's throw away, was Duffy Daugherty's office, smaller than Biggie's, but wood-paneled and scarcely less elegant. The lobby itself was filled with pictures of past Michigan State teams and individual stars and was dominated by a great sign bearing the Grantland Rice lines,
When the One Great Scorer comes
to write against your name
He writes—not that you won or
lost—but how you played the Game.
The Game between Duffy Daugherty and Biggie Munn was not yet over, but the story Pete Waldmeir had written a few years back had almost caused the one great MSU president, John Hannah, to blow the final whistle on the pair of them. The background to Waldmeir's story was as follows:
Biggie and Duffy were old friends. When Biggie was made head coach at Syracuse University he made Duffy his line coach. They came to Michigan State together in 1947.
In 1953 Biggie resigned as head coach of Michigan State at the peak of his coaching career and became athletic director. He hand-picked Duffy as his successor and (as he said in a talk at Flint, Mich, just recently) told Duffy that Biggie Munn's office door would always be open whenever he wanted to talk football. But Duffy, his own man now, did not take advantage of the open door.
Instead, as his own man, he got off to a horrible start. He won three games and lost six. Biggie's public image was bigger than ever and there were mutterings among the alumni. Biggie kept his door open, expecting Duffy to seek his counsel. But Duffy did not come to call.
Then came 1955. The Spartans won eight and lost one and beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Duffy Daugherty was named Coach of the Year and the newspapers and the national magazines began to write him up. Duffy became celebrated as a great natural wit. He made the cover of TIME magazine. All the while, Biggie went largely ignored, although he pitched into his new job with all the vigor he had given to coaching. But the magnificent intramural buildings, the plans for the golf course, the slow building of a great and worthwhile athletic program for all students are not the stuff of which big headlines and magazine covers are made. Biggie missed the spotlight.
Biggie and Duffy began to quarrel more or less openly. Everybody knew about the rift between them. Little things became big issues. Duffy would ask permission to take four assistant coaches on a trip. Biggie would rule that three assistants would do. Incidents multiplied.
Finally Dr. Hannah took note of the affair by appointing Harold B. Tukey, chairman of the horticulture department, to act as arbiter. (Dr. Hannah takes his football seriously; he was heard to remark at a cocktail party some years ago: "I would play against 11 gorillas from the circus if it would help Michigan State football.") Things went from bad to worse, and finally Dr. Tukey threw up his hands and said he had had enough. Dr. Hannah persuaded him to reconsider and then called Duffy and Biggie into his office and told them that if there were any more open hassles one or both would be invited to consider offers elsewhere.
Came 1958. Duffy's team opened the season by beating California, then stumbled through a 14-14 tie with Michigan. Duffy bounced back by beating Pitt. Then several regulars were lost, Duffy made wholesale changes and lost to Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. The next week was the big one with Minnesota—Biggie's alma mater. Biggie brought a lot of friends to the game and all watched in horror as Duffy's team got clobbered 39-12 by as poor a Minnesota team as ever ate a football.
Enter Pete Waldmeir. Or rather enter Biggie Munn into a Minneapolis restaurant where Pete Waldmeir was having dinner with a friend after the game. As Waldmeir remembers it:
"Biggie stopped by our table and leaned over. He said, 'I want to tell you fellows something. What happened out there today was terrible. I've never seen a poorer game. It really hurts to see something you've built, an empire you have made with your own hands come tumbling down. It's tough, I tell you, really tough to watch things go to pieces like this.' "
Waldmeir telephoned his office and dictated a story about the incident, figuring (he says) that it might make a sidebar feature for his story of the game. Instead, his editors yanked it out of the sports section and played it up big on Page One of the news section.
There was hell to pay. Biggie's loyal friends rallied around and assured him of their support. Duffy's friends were out in force, too, and many influential ones demanded that he make this incident the final showdown. They pleaded with him to go to President Hannah and say, "All right. This is it. Who do you want—Biggie or me?"
But Duffy said nothing at all. He was summoned, along with Biggie, to President Hannah's office. What was said within that sanctum only the three men know. Duffy and Biggie emerged from the judgment chamber arm in arm. They haven't been arm in arm since, but the situation is stabilized. In public, strangers would take Biggie and Duffy for reasonably good friends. They attend all affairs involving the football team—luncheons, dinners, buffet suppers. But Biggie does not go to parties at Duffy's home and Duffy does not frequent the basement bar in Biggie's new five-bedroom house. "They've learned to live with the situation," a friend of both has said. But in the saloons of downtown Lansing, the betting is that Duffy would think long and hard about an offer from Notre Dame and that Biggie would put his handsome new house on the market tomorrow if the expected offer from Minnesota should come tonight. And perhaps President Hannah would be on the phone trying to find out if Ringling Brothers' gorillas had an open date on next year's schedule.
The pilgrim, returning to Biggie's office, sat down and opened one of the pamphlets Biggie had given him. It was entitled: "Have good courage." The text began:
"After serving as a football coach for 22 years, Director of Athletics, Health, Physical Education and Recreation for seven [now eight] years here at Michigan State, I have arrived at the conclusion that if a coach sets out to build men as his number one project, he will win games. I have seen evidence throughout the sports world where I am sure Christianity was the difference between winning and losing. For example, at Michigan State for the last 15 years and long before that at other schools, our teams would say a prayer before the game. There was only one rule, and that was that they couldn't pray for victory; they had to go out and earn it. It was a great sight to see these young men kneel down along with their coach and say a silent prayer in their own way.
"In 1951 we played Ohio State at Columbus and won the game 24 to 20 in the last few seconds. As I was walking across the field, a very fine young man, who was our linebacker, by the name of Bill Hughes, walked up to me and said, 'If it was good to say a prayer before the game, why don't we say one after?' So from that time on a prayer was said, whether the team won or lost...."
It was a typical Biggie Munn pronouncement, after the fashion of such other great leaders and persuaders as Frank Leahy, Branch Rickey, Billy Graham and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Biggie's friends love his little sermons.
The Pete Waldmeir telephone interview was drawing to a close. Biggie was saying that present-day head coaches have too many assistants (Duffy Daugherty has seven) and are in grave danger of turning into directors of coaches rather than players. He denounced the modern football helmet as being top-heavy and resembling a birdcage. He said he never wore a face guard on his helmet, nor did any of his players. ("Some people who didn't wear face guards," Duffy Daugherty said one time, "haven't got teeth.") Biggie held the phone away from his ear for a moment and grinned at the next question. "Duffy?" he said. "Oh, a lot of things that have been said about us have been exaggerated. Things are going very well between Duffy and me. I think that—well, suppose we just change the subject."
The interview over. Biggie swung around in his chair and looked out over the thickly wooded campus, brilliant with red and gold leaves fluttering down in the bright sunshine. He got up and walked away from his desk, scanning the pictures and plaques on the crowded walls.
"As I told you at the beginning," he said, "leave me out of all this. Put the emphasis on the intramural aspects of our athletic picture." He stopped and looked up at four certificates framed side by side. "But here's something I might mention just in passing. These four citations here. All-America guard at Minnesota 1931. Unanimous choice. Christy Walsh's 25-year All-America covering the years 1924 to 1948. Coach of the Year 1952. National Football Hall of Fame 1959." Biggie took a deep breath. "Now, the point is," he said, making an apologetic gesture with one hand, "the point is that no other man—living or dead—has all these citations."
The pilgrim rummaged through a lapful of material he had accumulated. He found his Michigan State Football Facts Book and flipped through the pages to Biggie's biography. "Plus," he said, looking from the Facts Book to Dorothy to Biggie, "all sorts of other honors. Captain of Minnesota 1931. Unanimous choice for all-Big Ten. Winner of the Chicago Tribune's award as the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player. Elected to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S first Silver Anniversary All-America in 1956."
"Dorothy," began Biggie.
"Furthermore," the visitor rushed on, reading from the Facts Book, "between 1950 and 1953, your football teams here at Michigan State ran up a 28-game winning streak. Your 1952 team was rated national champion. Your 1953 team beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl."
Biggie turned to his secretary: "Dorothy, am I right about being the only man—living or dead—who was awarded those four citations up there?"
"Well," said Dorothy, pondering, "did Bennie Oosterbaan of Michigan get all four?"
Biggie snapped his fingers. "Forgive me. You're perfectly right, Dorothy. But wait a minute here. I wouldn't forget Bennie unless there was some reason for it. I wouldn't have said I was the only man—living or dead—-unless there was some basis for the statement in fact. Give me a minute here." He paced the office, scanning the team photographs.
The memories crowded in on him. "There's the team," he said, pointing, "that beat UCLA 28-20 in the Rose Bowl game of January 1, 1954. There's Billy Wells. He was something special. He had some problems when he came here and I sort of took a special interest in him. I won't say I was like a father to him, that's not the word, but maybe more like an uncle to whom he could turn for counsel. I got him to mix in more with his teammates and his classmates. And, if you recall, he made that 62-yard run for a touchdown in the Rose Bowl. What people don't know is that Billy ran by the bench after the play and pointed a finger at me and said, 'That was for you, Biggie.' "
Biggie walked along, examining the pictures. '"There's 'Little Dynamite' George Guerre in 1947."
"Say," exclaimed the visitor, "I met George when you and Duffy Daugherty and I were standing outside the Jack Tar Hotel in Lansing before the Rotary Club luncheon. I recall your saying that George played for you, and that although he weighed only 155 he had the legs of a 190-pounder. And then Duffy said, "Yes, George was small, but he was slow.' "
"I give George Guerre credit," said Biggie solemnly, "for keeping me in coaching. Back in 1947 I was rather discouraged and just about ready to quit football entirely. Then a game came along and George Guerre broke a leg. Some time later he was speaking at a Quarterbacks luncheon in Flint. Somebody came up to him and said in a rather sarcastic way, 'What kind of guy is this Biggie Munn anyway?' Well, sir, George—still on crutches, if I remember correctly—looked the fellow right in the eye and said, 'Biggie Munn is the kind of a guy you're glad to break a leg for.' Well, I said to myself, if a coach can win this kind of respect from his players, I'm staying with this game."
Biggie walked back to the four framed citations. He studied them closely. Then, suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "I've got it," he cried, striding back to his desk. "Bennie Oosterbaan did get those same four citations. But here's the difference. Bennie chose to go into the Hall of Fame as a player. I chose to go in as a coach. That's the difference. So my original statement still holds good. I'm the only man to hold these four citations exactly as they appear here. Do you follow me? The only man—living or dead!"
Biggie squared his broad shoulders and held his head high in honest pride. He had come a long, long way since his boyhood in Grow Township, Minn. When he was 8 years old, he had lost his father and had seen his mother go out to work to support the family. He himself had worked for as long as he could remember. He had put in four hours a day at an outside job while attending the University of Minnesota; he received no athletic scholarship, no help of any kind from the alumni. Now, as his eyes swept around the big office, lingering here and there on a testimonial he especially cherished, he could count his friends in the thousands.
One of them recently expressed the way most of them feel. "Biggie Munn," said George S. Alderton, soon-to-retire sports editor of the Lansing State Journal, "is the greatest man I have ever met." Not surprisingly for a man of his prominence in the world of sports, Biggie also has a considerable number of articulate critics. One critic (and not, as some may suspect, Head Football Coach Duffy Daugherty) put it this way: "Biggie Munn is a man after his own heart."
In between these extremes of opinion stand a great many people who like and admire and get along with both Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty. They do not find it difficult. They find that all it takes (as Biggie says in his favorite maxim) is just a little extra effort.
Biggie and Duffy meet in the lobby of Jenison Gym below a famous sign.