There is an offensive lineman named Richard Nixon on the football team at Wake Forest University. "That," said a rooter, "should have told us something about the kind of season we were going to have."
The Deacons' season has been absolute hell. Going into Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference game with Clemson, Wake Forest had lost all seven games played, some by stratospheric scores, e.g., Oklahoma 63, Wake Forest 0. As a matter of fact, Wake, as it is called on the Winston-Salem campus, had gone 22 straight quarters without scoring a single point.
Pep talks did not work. Before meeting Penn State, alumnus Arnold Palmer talked to the team. Wake lost 55-0. Prior to a game against Maryland in Washington (interestingly, Richard Nixon did not make the trip), the Wake players had a tour of the White House and a chins-up spiel from President Ford (father of Michael, Wake Forest '72). The President recalled that he had played hard for a Michigan team that went 1-7 his senior year. Wake lost to Maryland anyway, 47-0. The week before last comedian Bill Cosby spoke to the squad. At least that game was not a laugher; Wake lost to Virginia, but only 14-0.
There was no pep talk Saturday before the Clemson game at Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Instead, Baptist Pastor L. H. Hollingsworth's invocation over the P.A. asked only that the Lord "guard against defeat so that it does not become a lifetime habit." An ex-chaplain at Wake, Dr. Hollingsworth is the author of a book, God Goes to Football Games. "If He does," went the wry word around campus, "He must be sitting on the other bench."
Wake did not win but, mirabile dictu, it did score—twice. In the second quarter Joe Bunch kicked a 28-yard field goal ending the shutout string launched on Sept. 14 against William & Mary. And then in the final quarter just about the whole Wake bench joyously poured into the end zone after sophomore Corner-back Ed McDonald intercepted a Clemson pass and ran 48 yards for a touchdown, making the final score Wake Forest 9, Clemson 21.
At this point one might ask, what s a nice Baptist school like Wake Forest doing going up against the likes of Oklahoma, Maryland, Penn State and, for that matter, Virginia and Clemson? The answer is that Wake has been caught in a three-way squeeze, at least for this year and maybe next. For one thing, Wake scheduled the nonconference powers back in 1965 when, as Dr. Gene Hooks, the athletic director and little ol' schedule maker, recalls, "Oklahoma was 3 and 7." For another, Wake is fielding mostly freshmen and sophomores this season because recruiting essentially did not occur for a couple of years. The trouble began right after the 1971 season when Coach Cal Stoll, who had guided Wake to the 1970 ACC championship, just couldn't pass up pleas to return to his alma mater, Minnesota. Assistant Coach Tom Harper replaced Stoll, but recruiting went by the boards, and that continued the next year when Harper was let go and a long search for a new head coach began.
At about the same time Harper went, the NCAA compounded Wake's troubles by lowering grade standards for athletic scholarships. Opponents were able to sign on players Wake Forest refused to consider for admission. Last year, for instance, there were an estimated 35 "quality" high school players in North Carolina. Only 14 met Wake's standards, and Wake counted itself fortunate to recruit five of them.
None of this has been lost on Coach Chuck Mills, a winner at Utah State who was hired in 1973. He took the job at Wake because "there were mountains to climb." He might have had the Himalayas in mind. Historically, Wake's 244-357-31 record is the second worst of any "big-time" school (Kansas State's 264-388-38 is the worst). Wake students, administration and alumni realize Mills has a difficult job and have been supportive. The graduate school of management asked the coach to speak on the subject, Coping with Failure, and he did so with good grace. But Mills has lately taken to reading Never Give In, extracts of Winston Churchill's speeches.
If all this seems odd, it must be pointed out that Wake Forest University regards itself as a special kind of institution with a special kind of spirit. Now 139 years old, it has sought to live true to its motto, Pro Humanitate. As Wake struggled back from the ravages of the Civil War, one of its undergraduates began what is now the oldest college student-loan fund in the country, and in the 1920s Wake President William Louis Po-teat, "Dr. Billy," a man of marked conscience and eloquence, not only taught the theory of evolution in the face of statewide disapproval, but carried his views before the Baptist State Convention, which gives the school support.
Plunked down on the outskirts of the attractive city of Winston-Salem, Wake Forest has a handsome campus. Plunked down is the right term; in 1956 the school moved the 110 miles from Wake Forest to Winston-Salem as the result of a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. It has prospered in the new setting, with an endowment of almost $50 million, a well-thought-of medical school and law school and an undergraduate college of only 3,000. Wake seeks to be, in Dr. Hooks' words, "a good academic school with a small enrollment and a big-time sports program." The golf team won the NCAA championship last spring, the basketball team is strong, and there is hope that even football will recover without any pressure-cooker atmosphere.
For all the disasters thus far this season, the players have not given up. They actually talk of winning their remaining games. Mills had been concerned that maybe, just maybe, the few seniors on the squad might ease up. No way. Senior Linebacker Dave Mebs, who leads the team in tackles and assists, says, "The seniors who are playing want to leave on a winning note. The morale is really good." Says 18-year-old freshman Mike McGlamry, who shares the quarterbacking with freshman Ron Everett, "We hang in there and do the best we can." And against Clemson there was crisp hitting and generally alert play. But inexperience, and anxiety, hurt in the form of fumbled snaps from center and offside penalties. Maybe next week against Duke, or South Carolina the week after that, or against Furman in the closer, Wake will have its way. After all, as a quote from the late Brian Piccolo, another alumnus, printed on the back cover of Wake's football program says, "You can't quit. It's a league rule."