The football blast furnaces are silent along the Red Cedar, that pastoral creek that winds through the Michigan State campus. Now and again a visitor can hear the thud of plastic helmet against fiber shoulder pad, but it is mixed with the sounds of children laughing among the maples and oaks, flowers in their teeth. The students no longer gather at the feet of the bronze statue of Sparty, which commands the tricornered intersection outside the Michigan State football stadium, shouting slogans like "Kill, Bubba. Kill!" and "Crush the Irish!" Instead, they are measuring Sparty for an olive branch. Sad to say, the Spartan football factory has gone on short shifts. Well, comparatively short.
"The era of the fantastic athlete at Michigan State is over," says Duffy Daugherty. "We had a windfall of exceptional individual stars that made us an outstanding team for two years. Now they're gone and we're back to playing the boys again."
The prospect is enough to make a grown man cry—especially if you happen to be Duffy Daugherty. Michigan State has won two Big Ten football championships in a row and Duffy would love to become the first coach in conference history to make it three. He has missed winning the undisputed national title the past two years by a neck and a nose while breeding more prize studs for the pros than Calumet Farm. The Spartans have lost only one (the Rose Bowl to UCLA) and tied one (against Notre Dame) in their last 21 games, and they received the ultimate compliment when Bubba Smith and Clinton Jones were the top two choices in the NFL draft and two others (George Webster and Gene Washington) were taken in the top 10.
Duffy has lost 18 seniors in all, including four legitimate All-Americas and a couple of marginal ones, and where they will be missed most is on defense. Michigan State scored 41 touchdowns while yielding a mere 13 last fall. The rushing defense was the best in the Big Ten and ranked among the top three in the country. But seven of the team's 10 leaders in tackles have departed, and an eighth—Jesse Phillips—remains doubtful. Phillips likes to write. Not novels. Not poetry. Overdrafts. He scattered a few around Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, Mich., and bounced into trouble.
Minus Phillips during spring practice, the Spartans were as vulnerable from the air as a hospital ship. The reserves hit the No. 1 secondary for 323 yards and a touchdown, and the defensive unit as a whole sorely missed the ax-handle diplomacy of Smith and Webster. Only two regulars, Tackles Charles Bailey and Nick Jordan, return up front, and rugged Charlie Thornhill is missing from one of the linebacker spots. Bob Lange will take over for Thornhill, and George Chatlos and Rich Saul, the only sophomore sure to start on defense, will be the ends. Bubba's size 15E shoes just may be filled before the season is very old by his unpredictable 6'6", 275-pound brother, Tody. Replacing Webster at rover back is impossible, but Duffy tried, coming up with a super-substitute—Bob Super, a converted quarterback. Co-Captain Drake Garrett, the team's best pass defender, returns at one defensive halfback, but he is prone to make mistakes. Steve Garney, a sophomore, has promise but no experience. Hopefully, Phillips will be around to discourage some of the passing that this MSU team is sure to face.
The offense has no such worries. Last year Duffy stalked the dressing room before every game, taunting his attackers to be merciless. With Clinton Jones on the move the motto was, "Don't take any prisoners." Now Jones, the team's best ballcarrier, is gone, but the next 10 rushing leaders behind him are back. The Spartans are at least two deep in veterans at every position except right halfback. Dwight Lee, a tough, 200-pound left halfback who hits like a rocket sled, is expected to pick up much of the yardage that Jones had been getting for the Spartans. Bob Apisa is another of Duffy's moody Hawaiians, but he is also just about the finest fullback in the Big Ten when healthy and eager to play. Bothered by a bad knee throughout his career, Apisa had more surgery over the winter, missed spring practice and got married. "I want to play, and I know the leg will be all right," he insists. Daugherty may move Regis Cavendish, Apisa's substitute, to right half. If not, Frank Waters, a 190-pound junior, is the most likely candidate, but he will be pressed by LaMarr Thomas, a sophomore. Jimmy Raye is the 5'10" quarterback everybody said was too small, but everybody was wrong. Now the talk around the circular bar at Paul Revere's and amid the drumpounding din of the Coral Gables basement discoth√®que is that Raye is even better than his predecessor, Steve Juday, who was an All-America. Raye is smart, he can throw and he is the first Michigan. State quarterback in 25 years who can run. With Gene Washington gone, his primary target will be Al Brenner, a tight end who caught 22 passes last season and is the fastest man on the team. Tackle Joe Przybycki, State's best offensive lineman, missed spring drills in order to get himself scholastically eligible. He and Co-Captain Tony Conti are the cornerstones of a slightly questionable offensive line, but one that should be more than adequate.
"It's the defense," says Duffy, "that will make or break us." But the schedule could, too. The Spartans play three of their biggest games—Minnesota in Minneapolis, Notre Dame in South Bend and Ohio State—in succession. They still have to be favored to win the Big Ten, but it won't be a year like "Kill, Bubba. Kill!"