Hey, there's Frank Gusich, that nice quiet kid who plays linebacker for Michigan. Hi, Frank. Hello, sir. A real great kid. Baby-sits for one of the coaches. Must be flunking English, though; he thinks every sentence ends with sir. And there's Tom Darden, one of the defensive backs. I'd introduce you but he's kind of shy, doesn't say much. He is about as mean as a puppy. That tall, skinny kid with him is Jimmy Betts, the safety. He has the personality of a Christmas tree, nothing but love beads and laughter, a real sweetheart. And wait until you meet Mike Taylor, another linebacker. Nobody should be that jovial. And, say, there's Pete Newell, the defensive tackle. The good-looking fellow over there in the gray flannel suit and the button-down shirt. Suave? Shoot, he's got manners Emily Post never heard of. A real gentleman. The guy he's talking to is Henry Hill. Not very big for a middle guard, is he? Just 220 pounds of class, a real gem. He's out of a ghetto in Detroit, but he's got something going for him that money can't touch. You know what he said the other day? "My family never had much materially, but what we had we really appreciated. And we had the good things that aren't physical. We had love and happiness."
Now you take all those great smiling gentlemanly kids, put them in pads and turn them loose—and stand back. Way back. It's like witnessing an execution. Or a mugging. "I stand there on the sideline watching them work," says Reggie McKenzie, an offensive guard, "and I'm glad they aren't my enemies. That Taylor, he cracked some runner from Minnesota and the guy just flopped over and lay there shaking."
"You can't believe that Gusich," says Bill Cusumano, the assistant sports information director. "He's like Clark Kent. Here comes this nice mild kid—and then he slips into a telephone booth to put on his uniform. But instead of Superman, out comes a 190-pound Jack the Ripper." Last Saturday, Gusich and Coach Bo Schembechler's other assassins savaged Illinois 42-0—making it eight straight for unbeaten, speedy Michigan as it rolls toward its Nov. 21 date with Ohio State—and when it was over, Jim Valek, the beleaguered Illinois coach, surveyed the debris. "It was unbelievable the way our guys kept hobbling off the field. We had 17 injuries. We had a devil of a time staying in the game."
During the afternoon the Illini managed only 71 yards on the ground, 101 in the air. But, then, they were only allowed 44 plays, just 18 in the second half. All this evidence of Michigan's strength comes as no surprise, except perhaps to the voters in the various No. 1 polls who keep ignoring the Wolverines. The assassins have been raining the same havoc on everyone. They have allowed just a fraction over 90 yards a game on the ground. Opponents have found it a little easier to throw—averaging 163 yards—but they have been hit for 19 interceptions, which is less painful physically but frustrating. Michigan has allowed but 70 points in the eight games.
"Now that our offense is catching up to our defense," says Don Moorhead, the world's most underrated undefeated quarterback, "we're a pretty good football team." Yeah, and Attila the Hun had a pretty good army going for him.
Early in the season Michigan had its troubles putting points on the board. The Wolverines had lost Garvie Craw, a big fullback whose exceptional blocking was the key to last year's Rose Bowl team, and it was not until the fourth game that Schembechler, experimenting weekly, hit upon the backfield combination that has since scored 173 points. The crucial man was Fritz Seyferth, a 202-pound junior who proved to be the perfect complement to a pair of smaller, faster partners, Bill Taylor and Glenn Doughty. Against Illinois, Taylor scored twice on runs of two and seven yards, and Doughty twice on runs of three and four—all four over Tackle Dan Dierdorf. Moorhead, who throws well but only enough to keep his rivals worried, passed four yards for another score.
"I put most of the blame for our early problems on myself," says Moorhead, a 6'2" 199-pound senior coveted by the pros. "I was uptight, trying to live up to last year and trying to do it in a hurry. I felt we had to rush out and kill everybody. But our defense held us up until we found ourselves."
In similar cases, defenders have been known to become annoyed with their offensive brethren.
"Not our guys," says Paul Staroba, the senior split end and punter. "This is really a close-knit team. Everybody pulls for everybody else. We were working hard but we were blowing a lot of assignments. The defense would get us back the ball in good field position and when we'd go in they'd cheer us, try to pick us up."
Meanwhile, Betts and Dierdorf, a 6'4" 250-pound offensive tackle who ranks with the best in the country at his position, tried to keep everyone loose with a running string of gags. "As Bo says, he runs a tough football program," Dierdorf explains. "Run and run and run. The track team doesn't run as much as we do. And their coach isn't as mean, either. But this team has a sense of humor. Practice is serious but there is always time for a laugh."
When something goes wrong during a practice a whistle blows and Schembechler roars in, wielding words like whips. Betts waits until the point is well made and the rage has ebbed. Then: "Coach Bo, you keep hollering at us like that I'm going to tell everyone you're a racist. And us blacks are going on strike." Upon which Betts breaks up. Or: "Coach Bo, have you ever seen a prettier black man than me?"
"I have been known," says Betts, "to get away with a lot of smart remarks. I guess I just know when I can be smart and when I had better shut up."
What happens if Bo isn't amused?
"Then I'm in deep trouble," says the 6'4" 185-pound safety, who doubles as reserve quarterback and is the team's best athlete. When it became apparent last spring that Moorhead had won the quarterback job, Schembechler decided that Betts, a senior, was too talented to ride a bench. He moved him to safety and then worried that he might not be a hitter. He worried until the first play of Betts' first scrimmage at the position. Lance Sheffler swept right end and Betts moved up to meet him. Scheffler didn't play for the rest of the day. "As a quarterback I built up hostilities," says Betts. "Now I'm getting my revenge. After a while it gets to be fun. That Darden really cracks people—a nice quiet guy like him. He really lays the wood. He's the worst of us by far. But Gusich is just a half-inch behind him. I suspect there is a little animal in Gus and it comes out on the field. Mike Taylor is like that. Off the field he's real jovial. But he laughs about once a practice, when somebody is getting chewed out. Those guys love to rock people."
Which is just the way Bo Schembechler wants them. For a full four quarters. He's of the Vince Lombardi school: work until you hurt and then work some more. Nobody is tougher than Michigan in the fourth quarter.
"This is a rough tough hard-nosed football program," says last year's Coach of the Year. "We run their tails off. Maybe three miles of sprints on Mondays. Then Tuesday and Wednesday we really hit. We bring the freshmen in and we go after them for a full two hours. But this is an easy team to coach. They are bright kids and we have some fun. If they don't like something, they know they can say it. That doesn't mean I'll change. But if I don't, I'll be sure they know the reason why."
Except for his open-door policy, Schembechler might have lost it all last year when he arrived from Miami of Ohio to replace Bump Elliott, who became assistant athletic director. He called in the team and said there was nothing ahead but hard work, a lot of hard work.
"And he changed everything," said Newell. "I remember I didn't like that and I didn't like him. I thought it was cool the way Bump ran things."
The Monday before 1969's opening game with Vanderbilt, Schembechler called in his defense. He wanted to know what was wrong. There was a lot of talk but nobody really said anything. Players began to leave. Finally the only player left was Newell.
"Pete," said Schembechler, "for 15 minutes you've been standing there telling me everything would be all right. But you're lying to me. What is the trouble?"
Newell looked at him. As he remembered later, he was sweating like a soaked sponge. "O.K.," he said, "I'll tell you. I think you are an s.o.b."
"Fine," said Schembechler. "Now tell me why."
Last week before the Illinois game Newell sat in one of the athletic offices and thought about that conversation. He shook his head and laughed. "Boy, I thought I was gone. I was scared stiff," he said. "You know how many coaches would have thrown me out? But not Bo. He just wanted to know why. And when I gave him all my arguments he answered every one. He explained why he was doing this, why he was doing that. Discipline is a lot easier to take when you know the reasoning behind it. When I walked out of that room I'd have cut off my right arm for that man. I feel that even more now. The whole team feels that way. Last year when he had that heart attack our world just fell apart. We were all terribly frightened."
Well, that's over. Bo is watching his diet now and taking naps, and he says he feels better than he has in years.
"Yeah, he's fully recovered," growls Newell. "And he's just meaner than ever."