George Lindsey, who played Goober on The Andy Griffith Show and, before that, quarterback at Florence (Ala.) State Teachers College, tells one—and only one—football joke these days. A coach, holding a ball, asks his quarterback, "Son, can you pass this?" The player says, "Coach, I don't even think I can swallow it."
Cody Gross, who plays quarterback at North Alabama (formerly Florence State), has often held a football and wondered the same thing: Can I pass this? Please, Coach?
In 15 starts before last Saturday's Division II title game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Gross, a 5'9", 159-pound sophomore from Rogersville, Ala., had thrown only 8.6 times per game. Of course when your team has gone 13-0 using an offense that averages 372 yards on the ground—heck, when your tailback is named Tyrone Rush—the notion of being a pass-free quarterback is easier to digest.
Two days before the title game Gross explained that North Alabama's offense was not designed to showcase his arm. "We use our running game to set up the pass," he said. And how long might that take? "Sometimes 60 minutes."
So it was that on Saturday, Lion fans filled Florence's Braly Municipal Stadium anticipating Rush-hour traffic. Rush, a senior who ran for 106 yards per game in '93, was one of three finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is given to the best player in the division, before running back Roger Graham of New Haven won it last Friday. The real Harlon Hill was an All-America receiver at Florence State in the early '50s and became an All-Pro with the Chicago Bears. Lindsey was one of his college quarterbacks. "We ran the single-wing, so the tailback was the passer," says Lindsey. "Still, our favorite play was 'Harlon, go long.' "
A few locals assume that Hill, who lives just outside of Florence, has gone further than long. "Ever since they named that award after me in '86," says the 61-year-old Hill, "folks see me on the street and say, 'I thought you was dead.' "
Folks felt much the same way about his alma mater's option offense with slightly more than 12 minutes remaining in Saturday's game. Indiana was leading 24-14, and the Indians had been overplaying the option pitch all afternoon, preventing Gross from tossing the ball to Rush. Two plays after North Alabama's Israel Raybon blocked a punt, Gross faced third-and-six on the Indiana 24. Can I pass this? Gross faked a dive to fullback Brian Satterfield and threw a TD strike to wideout Demetrea Shelton.
The game then became as frenetic as Barney Fife. Satterfield, who gained 180 yards on 23 rushes, scored two touchdowns to make the score 34-24, but Indiana answered with a TD. A 34-yard field goal by the Indians' Michael Geary tied the score with 0:45 left.
The stage was set for Gross to win one for the Goober. (Lindsey, alas, was in Mars Hill, N.C., as grand marshal of a parade.) On the second play of the drive Gross rambled for 28 yards. Two plays later he rolled left, pulled up and lofted a 38-yard floater to Shelton, who hauled it in at the one. With 10 seconds to go Gross plowed in. "I'll be honest," he said afterward. "I was worried when they tied it."
But perhaps Gross had forgotten that he could throw. Lindsey, who played a gridder named The Wreck in the musical Wonderful Town in the early '60s, could have reminded him. His show-stopping number? Pass That Football.
Shelton scored the first of his two TDs on a five-yard dash off a fake field goal.