To appreciate how Coach Lee Corso of Louisville became the proud owner of a long-haired, beaded, barefoot punter and how that punter, hair and all, went on to become a tennis star and a cheerleader and a lot of other things, such as a shotputter and a fraternity man living at the Lambda Chi house, one must first try to appreciate Lee Corso. And to do that, one must put aside some of the conceptions he may be harboring about college coaches. How austere they are. How hidebound. How gray and rabbet-browed from worrying over whether to punt on third down or run off-tackle.
Imagine, instead, Lee Corso: young and curly-haired, standing on the sidelines waving a towel at rival Coach Spook Murphy as Memphis State runs up the score on Louisville's 1969 team, Corso's first as a head coach. The score is 42-12...49-12...56-12, etc. and Murphy still has his foot hard on the throttle, running back and forth over the body.
Corso is actually on the field, waving the towel and yelling, "Hey, Coach Murphy! We surrender! Hey!" And Spook Murphy is intently paying him no mind. (Spook is not out for blood, you understand. He just wants to go to a bowl game.) Finally, an official comes over and says to Corso, "Coach, I'm going to have to penalize you 15 yards if you don't get off the field."
"Sir, the score is 63 to 19," says Corso. "How is 15 yards going to hurt us?"
Memphis State, racing the clock, frantically ordering time-outs, scores again to make it 69-19 and Corso, with a flourish, throws the towel onto the field. In the long history of college football no coach has been known to do that. "I surrender!" yells Corso.
But he is not crying. He is not even angry. He's—laughing. ("What do I care if they want to make fools of themselves running up the score on my substitutes. What's the difference? You lose 69-19 or 20-19, you still lose.")
Four days later, after stopping off home to change clothes, the Louisville team is on its way to Tulsa for the Thanksgiving Day season finale. On the team bus, ululating over its restraining leash and ponderously ruffling its feathers, is a large white turkey with a bright red L painted on its side. The turkey is another Corso opuscule, such as Italian Night at the training table, when the players get spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread and all the spumoni they can eat. On a checkered tablecloth. By the light of wine-bottle candles.
Corso's inspiration has rebounded from the fiasco in Memphis.
"I'd been thinking before the season, 'What can I promote to tie in with Thanksgiving?' You got to have a gimmick in this got-to-have-a-gimmick world. In a flash it came to me. Thanksgiving! Turkey!" The turkey is made a regular at squad meetings and in coaching staff meetings. Corso suggests to Tulsa that it trot out a turkey of its own, painted blue and gold with a T on the side, for a confrontation at mid-field at the coin toss, but Tulsa turns a conservative ear.
Corso, unfazed, announces that the winner of the toss will get the option: receive the football or the turkey. The turkey, putting up a terrible squawk, resists going out for the toss, but it is kept there on the sideline waiting the disposition of its fate. Tulsa wins the toss—and, conservative to the end, elects to take the football.
It turns out to be a poor choice. Tulsa not only loses the turkey, it also loses the game 35-29. It is a big victory for Louisville, insuring its first winning season in three years. The team carries Corso and the turkey off the field on its shoulders.
Lee Corso, as one who did some enthusiastic quarterbacking at 150 pounds for Florida State a decade or so ago, believes that "nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." He admits to having borrowed that from a non-coach named Ralph W. Emerson. His inspiration otherwise is mostly original and he allows it to breeze around, generating spirit and gathering up publicity like dust particles.
Corso ordered paste-on American flags for the Louisville helmets—"to symbolize what I have been trying to teach the kids: teamwork, unity, pride, dedication, respect"—and sent a model of the helmet, mounted on a plaque, to President Nixon. Louisville's pregame team warmup is so flashy that Corso actually got a call from a Georgia Tech coach asking if Tech could borrow the routine. "It's the sharpest pregame warmup I've ever seen," the coach said to Corso.
"Gee," said Corso, "don't you want any of my plays?"
In order to pump life into the Louisville program, Corso has accepted speaking engagements for any time at any place. Before audiences realized how entertaining he was—he provides his own sound effects: "whhssssh" (forward pass), "krrrraaaack!" (tackle), "aaaggggh" (missed tackle)—he once drew a crowd of four to a 7 a.m. breakfast. "Four hundred?" he was asked. "No, four. One, two, three, four. Gave 'em a hell of a speech, too. The whole load."
In one game last season Corso introduced to the home crowd a Nigerian placekicker named Francis Ayandele. Francis was not entirely familiar with the procedural aspects of his job, but Corso liked the idea of having a Nigerian placekicker. It had a nice sound to it. In Francis' eagerness, however, he kicked off without waiting for the referee's whistle, and with the opposing team still in its huddle.
"You shoulda seen them scrambling for the ball," chirped Corso. "It was beautiful. Bodies flying. Crash, zing, pow."
Enter Scott David Marcus, glib, handsome, hirsute son of a prosperous Manhattan shoe manufacturer and retailer (specializing in boots, buckles and square toes). He is 6'2" tall, 220 pounds, and he is sitting in a telephone booth, wearing one of the tattered gray-white T shirts that are the backbone of his wardrobe. That and the faded bell-bottom blue jeans with the peace symbol embroidered on the knee. And the love beads around his neck. And the lucky leather bracelet which (according to Marcus) works for tennis but doesn't cut it with much else.
His feet are bare and appear to have logged a lot of time on dusty roads. His beard is—or was then—full, and his coiffure is out to here, a sunburst of curly hair the color of plastic Band-Aids.
"I was walking out of the student union," says Corso. "I'd just made a speech to the freshman class, calling on them to rally behind our program, to dedicate themselves to the university. 'Follow football,' I said. 'Participate. If you can't participate, support!" And I'm walking out and I hear, Psssst. Hey, coach.'
"I turn around and I don't see anybody except this hairy guy in the phone booth, looking like maybe he was living in there. He says, 'Hey, pssst, over here.' I am captured by a vision of bare feet and beads and hair and I say to myself, 'No way. No way I'm going over there.' I don't have anything against long hair. I've known some crew-cut bums. But this guy is too much. I motioned him to meet me halfway. Maybe he just doesn't want to embarrass me.
"He says, 'Coach, I want to help the team. I heard what you said and I was impressed. I want to help the team.' Yeah. Right. Terrific. I said, "What exactly did you have in mind?'
"He says, 'I'm a punter. I punt barefoot. And I placekick. I can help you.' I looked at his hair. No way to get all that in a helmet. 'What about that?' I said, motioning.
"He says, 'Like I averaged 35 yards a kick in prep school. If I show you I can average 40, can I keep my hair?'
"Well, hell. I called for help and here's a guy wants to help me. I am willing to try anything. Especially when I've only got a 40-man varsity and a handful of freshmen and am desperate for bodies. I said, 'If you can average 40 yards a kick, you can have hair all over your body for all I care.'
"I told him to meet me at the office at 12:30 the next afternoon. I figured everybody would be out to lunch then. I didn't expect to see anything exceptional, but I wanted to see him kick barefoot. It would liven up the lunch hour. He comes out and, sure enough, he flubs the first punt. Wobble, wobble, wobble, plunk. Then—pow, whooossssh. He kicks one about 90 yards. All the way to the Ralston Purina sign behind the field.
"Well, I want to tell you something. Hair grows on you. I'm beginning to think Scott Marcus wouldn't look as good if he cut his hair short."
Marcus was indeed more than just a pretty head. He averaged 41.6 yards punting for the freshman team. He also kicked extra points. He resisted playing a position. "The coaches look at my size and say, 'Hey, I have a linebacker position for you. Hey. I've got a guard position.' I tell them, 'Save it, man.' " The curls cascaded out of his helmet. Corso asked only that he keep himself neat around the football office and that he wear shoes to the training table.
Before the season was over, however, Marcus paid Corso another visit. He said the school cheerleaders wanted him to come help them out.
"I'm a gymnast, too," he explained. "I forgot to tell you. Anyway, I was working out in the gym, like limbering up, and somebody said, 'Would you come be a cheerleader?' Cheerleaders do a lot of gymnastic stuff. I said O.K. It's for the varsity football games and the basketball games. Is it all right?"
Corso, though taken aback, gave his approval and Marcus punted for the freshmen and cheered the fall and winter away.
Then one day, when he was still feeling unfulfilled, Marcus entered the intramural table-tennis tournament and won the school championship. Then he entered the intramural tennis tournament and won that, too. He came back to see Corso.
"Is it all right if I play on the varsity tennis team?" he asked.
Corso threw up his hands. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather be chairman of the board of trustees?"
After that, Corso said, every time he opened a school paper, there was a picture of Scott Marcus up to something helpful. His hair parted down the middle and tied back with a headband, Marcus played No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles on the tennis team. He won 14 of his 26 matches. Then he heaved the shot 51 feet in the intramural track meet. The track coach immediately offered him a scholarship.
Marcus went back to Corso's office. "I've been offered a track scholarship," he said.
"Forget it," said Corso. "I'm putting you on full football scholarship. From now on you belong to me. From now on you are my flower child."
In the stereoed bedlam of his room at the Lambda Chi house, Marcus sprawled on his single bed one afternoon and mulled over his various athletic metamorphoses. He politely lowered the volume on a rock group called Chicago to explain to his company that the otherwise pedestrian appearance of his room (nothing hippie or unusual about it) was due in part to the girl from the art department who hadn't showed up. "She promised to paint some nudes on the ceiling," he said.
Marcus had just come out of the shower. His hair was dripping wet. Sitting on the bed, he shook his head like a spaniel, the movement making a rustling noise as the water described a halo of spray around his hair. "That's the way to do it," he said. "I don't comb it unless I absolutely have to. Looks better that way."
He said his hairstyle—a kind of Jewish Afro—was something he just enjoyed. "It's no big protest thing or like that," he said. "That's bummer stuff. I hear people talking about living in communes and how corrupt the capitalistic society is, and I've got to get away, man. That turns me off. I just like to do my thing. Like when I was in prep school at Cheshire Academy. In the summer I'd wear a beard, then I'd have to shave it off for school. I liked the beard better."
He said what had happened was that he got bored. "I got bored with the pace. I didn't really know much about the South when I got here and I thought, 'Man, what a slow pace.' Things were going backward, it was so slow. I had planned to go out for the Louisville soccer team. I had played soccer in high school and prep school. I got down here and went out for the soccer team and discovered there was no soccer team. Like, what am I going to do now?"
At prep school he had punted, also barefoot, and once kicked a 52-yard field goal. For that he used a shoe. He lost some of his enthusiasm for punting at Cheshire when an opposing player (in cleats) ran across his bare foot and took out a divot that required seven stitches to close. It was left for Lee Corso to re-fire his enthusiasm.
"The fact is." Marcus said, "athletics turn me on. Besides being a grub at heart—you can tell by my clothes I'm a grub—I'm also a jock at heart. My father was the same way. He played everything at Lehigh—football, basketball, tennis. He still plays a lot of tennis. He was ranked sixth in the East in the 35-and-over class.
"He happens to be a pretty cool guy, my father. That's another thing I can't stand. People who always say, 'My father's a clod.' Listen, my brother has hair longer than mine. He wears a hair band all the time. My father doesn't let it bug him. Later on I'm going to join my father in the shoe business. Him and my uncle. My uncle designs the shoes. He sold 1,500 pairs to Jordan Marsh in an hour one day.
"What I'd like to do is be a professional kicking specialist in the fall and then sell shoes in the winter and summer. Cool. Coach Corso says I could be a pro kicker if the realization ever dawned on me. I don't know if it's dawned on me or not.
"The thing about athletics, though, is that they involve everything. Body, mind, spirit. You can be...you know, competitive. I dig it, that's all. I really dig it. I don't mind sitting around and rapping with the philosophy majors and like that, but I'm not hung up in one world or the other. I mean, I'm not a conformer and I'm not a nonconformer. Who is to say what 'the Establishment' really is?
"Some of the guys want to know why I'm not out with the freaks all the time. The freaks want to know how I can stand all this other stuff. I hear both sides. "Grass is great!' 'Oh, my, how could you take grass?' Hearing both sides is good."
Marcus says his extravagant image has actually caused him very little grief. "The players don't hassle me. They gave me the up-and-down the first day—those animals lined up looking at me, like 'What have we here? The supreme bummer'—and they call me Harpo and Lion and like that, but they don't hassle me. I mean, I don't go out of my way to embarrass them. When we take a road trip I break out my John Dillinger outfit, the three-button brown suit with 1920 tie-up boots and the wide-brimmed Capone hat and the elephant-leg bell-bottoms. I make an appearance. They like that one.
"Everybody said I'd have to conform at Lambda Chi, that frats make everybody the same. It's not so. They don't hassle me either. I hear at some schools they take you and hold you down and cut your hair off. That's like childish. They had a cheer for me at Southern Illinois when we played up there. 'Cut your hair, 67, cut your hair!' It was a pretty good cheer, actually."
Marcus said he didn't take to Louisville at first.
"My first date, I took this chick out and we're in this place and she says, 'See that guy?' And I said, 'Which one? The black-haired guy with the big nose?' 'Yeah.' She says, 'He's Jewish.'
"I tried to be clinical about it. I said, 'How can you tell?' 'Well, just by looking at him.' I said, 'Gee, I hope this doesn't upset you too much, Alice, but I have a terrible confession to make. I don't look like that and I'm Jewish.' One of the players I told the story to said, 'Gee, I didn't know you were Jewish, either. You don't look....'
"After awhile I began to notice the good things. You bump into somebody in the street in Louisville and they say 'Excuse me' instead of 'Get the hell off my foot, you dumb bastard.' And I like the coaches. Coach Corso is wild. He goes nuts on the sidelines. He jumps around. He's young. The whole staff is young. They communicate with you. They changed the whole place around. They brought in a pretty young secretary. Very nice."
Marcus had to beg off at that point to go to Rosh Hashanah services. He said he always went to the services, though it was mostly a reflex action from his childhood. He wasn't sure what his conclusions were about God, except that Coach Corso, an Italian Catholic, is a strong believer, "and listening to him every week leading the team in prayer must be getting tome. I find myself praying right along. "Dear God, let us play well. God, let us not have any injuries. And please, God, let me get in to punt one time today.' "
Scott Marcus, Lee Corso's flower child barefoot punter, made his first start as a varsity player in Louisville in the game with Tulsa. As a substitute, Marcus had punted four times with indifferent success in the opener at Florida State. He punted only once in the next three games. Corso explained that he was "saving Marcus for the right moment."
On a clear, cool day, before a homecoming crowd, Marcus' moment arrived. He punted four times against Tulsa. His average was a whopping 44 yards.
There was less than a minute to play when he was called on to punt for the last time. Corso stopped him on the sidelines. Marcus said, "O.K., coach, what do you want me to do?"
"I want you to punt to the right, over there, beyond the hash mark."
"Be alert, now. They're gonna try to bust you. They're gonna give you a 10-man rush. The pressure is on. It's up to you. You see where I mean? To the right over there."
"Coach," said Marcus calmly, "they've been watching you talk to me. They see you pointing down there. I think I'd better kick it to the left."
"Now listen, Marcus, just—" Corso changed his mind. "Please, just go in and kick the damn ball."
Marcus punted—to the left—48 yards to the Tulsa 11. The game ended shortly afterward, Louisville a 14-8 winner. Corso said he was not surprised. "Marcus was ready," he said. "I had him primed."
The next Saturday Marcus kicked three field goals against Marshall. Louisville won 16-14.
About the hair, Corso can relax a little. It is shorter now and the beard is gone. "The mother of a girl I date had told me many times that she could cut hair," says Marcus. "I said mine was getting raggedy at the ends. It was bothering me, because of trying to get it all inside the helmet. So I said, 'How about if you just trim the ends?' She started cutting. When I got up I almost fell through the floor. She had cut off two inches. The beard and mustache I shaved off myself. Since then I'm growing a goatee and another mustache."
So Corso is delighted with Marcus and can hardly wait for the proper moment to spring the new play he has devised. The play calls for Marcus to enter the lineup as a flankerback. When the huddle breaks, Marcus careens toward the sideline, doing cartwheels and flips. And while the unsuspecting rival players and everybody else watches what appears to be a hippie football player gone mad, the Louisville quarterback quickly takes the ball and....
COACH LEE CORSO, says Marcus, is wild but can communicate. Here he communicates ire.