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A sudden abundance of big lines in the Big Ten
Dan Jenkins
November 04, 1963
Almost everybody has heard the old story. This football coach was driving through the Minnesota farm land one day. He saw this big, raw-boned kid plowing in the field and asked him which way to the city. When the kid picked up the plow and pointed with it, the coach knew he had found another Big Ten tackle.
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November 04, 1963

A Sudden Abundance Of Big Lines In The Big Ten

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Almost everybody has heard the old story. This football coach was driving through the Minnesota farm land one day. He saw this big, raw-boned kid plowing in the field and asked him which way to the city. When the kid picked up the plow and pointed with it, the coach knew he had found another Big Ten tackle.

If the story was amusing 30 years ago when college football's linemen stood a strapping 6 feet 1 and weighed a ponderous 215 pounds, it now should be the most hilarious anecdote on the whole roast-beef circuit, because Big Ten linemen today are big enough and strong enough to point with tractors.

There are a lot of theories about why people are getting bigger. Shoe and suit and theater-seat manufacturers are all supposed to be concerned about the trend. Some believe the reasons lie somewhere within or among better prenatal care, better medical care in childhood, better diets, more athletic activity and vitamins. Pragmatic Big Ten recruiters don't care what the reason is as long as they manage to get their share of the big people. The evidence is that after a hiatus of some six years they have done so, and now the Big Ten is back with a firm hold on many of the best interior linemen of the country (see cover).

Before 1957 it was considered almost natural law that the Midwest had the good lines, but in that year the Big Ten instituted its "need program," an attempt to regulate athletic scholarships on the basis of a student's finances, or lack of them. The program remained in effect through 1961, but it resulted in a modest de-emphasis. Most Big Ten coaches feel they are just now getting over the experiment that profited Big Eight schools—notably Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, who recruited in Big Ten territory—more than it did their own conference.

But that is done with now. While last year was distinguished in the Big Ten for the quality of its top linemen—among them Ed Budde and Dave Behrman of Michigan State, Bob Vogel and Daryl Sanders of Ohio State, Bobby Bell of Minnesota and Don Brumm of Purdue—this season there is quantity. Wisconsin Coach Milt Bruhn, who has the best won-lost record in the conference over the last five seasons and whose team, while upset Saturday by Ohio State 13-10, may still win the title, says, "The material is everywhere. It's bigger and faster."

His center and co-captain, Ken Bowman, one of the Big Ten's outstanding linemen, is more explicit. "Last year," says Bowman, "I played at 212 and no one pushed me around. Now I'm 230, and I'm getting pushed plenty. Even the dark-horse teams are big and tough."

At the start of the season there was no bigger dark horse than Illinois. Coach Pete Elliott's team had won but two games in 1962, and the year before had lost all nine. But Elliott had done the best recruiting job in the conference in the past two seasons and suddenly the word went around: he had animals. If Elliott could harass them enough to make them angry, look out.

The most ferocious of Elliott's linemen are 6-foot-3, 237-pound Center Dick Butkus, the best linebacker in the country, and 6-foot-4, 260-pound Tackle Archie Sutton. He also has a swarm of Goliathlike sophomores and juniors who seem likely to complete Illinois' resurgence as a power. Mostly Pete Elliott recruited in Chicago and its suburbs, which, with 200 high schools, is one of the great reservoirs of talent from which all Big Ten schools—and Notre Dame—draw.

If Chicago had provided no other player than Dick Butkus, Illinois would be pleased. Among all of the other promising sophomores and juniors on Elliott's rejuvenated team, Butkus is the player he most wanted and recruited the hardest. At Chicago Vocational High School, Butkus was a fullback who had power and speed. More important, he made roughly 70% of his team's tackles on defense. Every Big Ten school wanted him, but they were not sure how to use him. Elliott was, though. He convinced Butkus he should play linebacker—for Illinois.

With good lateral speed, brute strength and a "feel" for plays, Butkus made 78 tackles in Illinois' first five games and seems certain to be chosen on the various All-America teams. "He has that uncommon knack for doing the right thing at the right time, and I've never seen him take a loafing step," says Elliott.

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