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Herman Hickman: Big Bright Bulldog

By Donald Carswell

Around the middle of last February, the big brass at the Yale Athletic Association must have decided that maybe Bill Bingham was right. So they gave up trying to lure Lon Little from the peace and security of Morningside Heights with the aid of a bale of cash, and started looking for a bright young man.

That the new coach should turn out to be an All-American guard, should weigh 331 pounds, and should be the best after-dinner speaker since Jimmy Conzelman (now of the Chicago Cardinals), were just added attractions. The only thing Herman Hickman had to be was a bright young man.

It didn't take Herman long to show his lernin'. He was signed on March 17, 1948 as head coach of football at Yale University. On March 23, 1948, two of Dick Harlow's local assistants, Bob Margarita and Harry Jacunski, were off to New Haven to be the new backfield and end coaches. Along with them went a lot of specific information about Crimson players as a sort of bonus for Herman.

Kopp Makes a Crowd

For a while it looked as though Hal Kopp had escaped the sudden urge to off to Yale. But as well as getting a good line coach, perhaps Hickman thought it might be nice to learn the nuances of the Harvard linemen first hand. Hal got a locker at the Yale field house a week before the season opened.

Landing a good line coach didn't end Herman Hickman's plaintive cries of "I have no line!" After feasting since 1943 on a flock of corn and cornpone-fed Cadet candidates, it must have been a sad realization to meet a group of linemen who didn't all weigh over 200 pounds.

Despite Herman's claim that his line contains the Seven Dwarfs, pound for pound they just about equal the Crimson starting line. No one this season claimed Yale's biggest trouble is a lack of capable linemen. Most attacks center around weak pass defending and line-backing, departments in which the Eli were supposed to have most of their returning lettermen.

Then there was the injury list, a season long problem to Mr. Hickman and one of the reasons why he will coach the underdog today. Ferd Nadherny, who tore the Harvard line to shreds in 1946 and 1947, has been out most of the season; guard Vic Frank has had half a dozen minor injuries; all the centers have been injured and even today only one, Captain Bill Conway, is in top shape.

The Eternal Return

For the Harvard game, they'll all be back, they always are. A ragged Hickman team beat Brown by 15 points, and a crippled one downed Wisconsin, which though hardly the class of the mid-west, is still a member of the Big Nine in good standing. Injury-riddled Yales threw a scare into Princeton.

Yet Herman will play his underdog role to the hilt, clothe his team in the Frank Merriwell tradition. Herman Hickman won't say a word about just how tough good healthy Yales are, because he's smart enough to hang on to his underdog spot.

The rotund Tennessean takes considerable pressure off his squad by assuming it himself. Hickman has been in New Haven for only half a year and is fast becoming a legend. His prodigious appetite, his great girth, the license plate that says "HICK," and the famous stories about the folks back home all eat up news inches, while the Yale team forges ahead undisturbed by the intense light of relentless publicity.

The Hickman "T"

Herman Hickman brought with him from Army the T formation, and found the T formation already entrenched at Yale. The differences between the Odell T and the Hickman version are slight, yet somewhat significant.

In Howard Odell's system the bucking backs were at right and left halfback, while the end runner and passer is at fullback. Hickman, like Red Blaik, calls for one bucking back at fullback and two running and passing halfbacks. The accent on running and passing halfbacks is just another indication that both at Harvard and Yale football is becoming more and more pure offense.

Second, Odell used more quick-opening plays, while Hickman employs considerable single wing blocking with his plays. Herman reflects the experience of Red Blaik at Army that a well drilled team need not lose deception by slower-opening plays, which use more dependable single wing blocking.

What Herman didn't bring with him from Army was the 1948 Yale schedule. Even as far back as last spring, there started the steady chorus of means from the Y.A.A. minions which has risen to a crescendo over the past few Saturdays.

Yet despite the rugged schedule, Hickman, Jacunski, Kopp, and ace scout Jack Levelle were all on hand November 6, to watch the ill-fated Harvard-Princeton game at Palmer Stadium, while Bob Margarita remained at the Bowl to held off the powerful Kings Point eleven.

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