The Blue-Gray Classic With a Crimson Tint


Question: What do Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers of South Carolina and former Crimson quarterback Brian Buckley have in common?

Answer: They both fumbled the first time they handled the ball in vacation bowl games.

But while Rogers and his Gamecocks went on to suffer a sound trouncing at the claws of the Pitt Panthers in the Gator Bowl, Buckley rebounded to toss a 65-yd. first-half touchdown pass and lead the Blue squad to a 24-23 victory in the Blue-Gray Classic.

Buckley, last seen in Cambridge leading an impotent Harvard offense against Yale, ended his collegiate career on a sweet Alabama note. He completed none of 16 passes and, on a patented roll-out to the left, hit USC's talented Kevin Williams on the bomb that proved the game's most spectacular play.

Part of the protection shielding Buckley from the Gray all-stars came from hulking Crimson offensive lineman Mike Durgin, who played most of the way at left tackle.

Buckley was arguably the game's top quarterback, outshining teammate Rich Tasco of Drake (all run and no pass) and the Gray's Joe "747" Adams of Tennessee State (much-heralded but abysmal in this contest) and Jay Venuto of Wake Forest (who led a last-gasp rally but failed to produce the crucial two-point conversion in the clutch).

The Blue team was coached for the second straight year by a familiar face, Joe Restic. Because CBS put microphones on Restic and Buckley, the broadcast offered a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the Crimson offense--and Restic in an afternoon got more airtime than Walter Cronkite gets in a week.

Restic's offense was limited by rules restricting motion and the short preparation time. But his discussions with Buckley and the evident communication between coach and signalcaller--often by just a nod--underlined the high esteem in which Restic holds his precious quarterbacks.

And the whole nation had a chance to hear Buckley call his plays in the huddle, a privilege previously held by a select few, namely, the Harvard offense.

For the third time this year, a team coached by Restic won on a failed conversion attempt. In the Holy Cross-Harvard battle, a missed Crusader extra point accounted for the gridders' 14-13 win. Against Brown, Crimson safety Mike Jacobs batted down a Larry Carbone pass in the game's waning moments to preserve a 17-16 triumph. Then, on Christmas day, the Blue team repelled the Gray team's two-point try that would have spelled defeat.

CBS commentator Dick Stockton could not resist cracking a tired Harvard joke. When Buckley called an audible at the line of scrimmage, Stockton made reference to his fancy schooling. A short while later, Buckley showed him Ivy Leaguers can play football, too.

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While we're on the subject of Restic, one place he is not coaching these days is Philadelphia. Some folks still remember that before Dick Vermeil and his rah-rah attitude ever arrived in Philly, the Crimson coach turned down the job.

Wilbert Montgomery in the Multiflex does seem incongruous. Nevertheless, the Eagles have made it to the Super Bowl, edition XV, this weekend in New Orleans.

This is the Super Bowl of the unsung. Of unsung Jim Plunkett, who arrived in Oakland with hardly a hope of getting into a game, then suddenly was thrust into a starting role and guided his Raiders to a wild-card playoff berth, past Houston, Cleveland and San Diego.

And of the unsung Philly defense, a devastating group of No-Names that put Minnesota and Dallas, potent passing teams, in their places.

For my money, the Eagle offense--including Montgomery and quarterback Ron Jaworski--is overrated. But Philly's defense is one of the best-kept secrets in football, especially its linebacking crew.

Linebackers Frank Lemaster and Bill Bergey, seasoned veterans, are vicious. But the key to the Eagle defense is lightning-quick Jerry Robinson, perhaps the best defensive player in the NFC--or best overall--this year. Built to cope with the explosion in passing offense in the NFL over the last few years, Robinson is an omnipresent force.

The Raiders boast a parallel on defense, Ted Hendricks, the Mad Stork. Together with "Dark Days" Lester Hayes--who recalls Dick "Night Train" Lane, having picked off 18 passes in 19 games--Hendricks will vanguard the Raiders' effort to eviscerate the birds.

Plunkett and the Raiders have Mark Van Eeghen and Kenny King in the backfield, two steady runners to complement an explosive passing game which includes Raymond Chester, Bob Chandler (Fred Biletnikoff incarnate) and Cliff Branch.

Here then, is the long-winded prediction: The Eagles will open quickly and carry a 7-6 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Raiders will bounce back to take a 23-7 lead in rapid fashion, and hold Philly to a field goal the rest of the way. Oakland, 23-10. College Bowl record: 10-5. Lifetime Pro record: 997 right, none wrong.

Other predictions: Paul Attanasio, noted acerbic and witty art critic--"Who's playing?" Jeff Toobin, sports editor--Philly, 24-21. Nevin Shalit, boxing editor--Oakland, 34-20. Bruce Schoenfeld, Albuquerque Flash--Oakland, 24-14. Bob Boorstin, Mr. President--Philly, 28-10. Charles W. A. Bott, Englishman--Philly, 14-10. Restic is out of town and was unavailable for comment.

President Bok picked Philadelphia by 14.