TERRE HAUTE —
You won’t find his name easily in the Indiana State record book, but for my money the best quarterback the Sycamores have ever had was Verbie Walder.
He’s also one of the three greatest Sycamores who aren’t any taller than I am, and that’s a pretty impressive list too. The other two are Vincent Allen, our four-time 1,000-yard rusher (wonder if Shakir Bell has met him yet), and All-America linebacker “Little John” Karazsia.
Verbie didn’t have to throw it much because future Pittsburgh Steeler Jim Brumfield was in his backfield, but he could crank it up when he had to. Two plays I remember him making were a touchdown pass at Akron, when he was running for his life and threw across his body about 40 yards downfield, and what was probably the last offensive play of his career.
That play came during a game at Eastern Kentucky, and it was cold and windy.
How cold? I remember watching a cup of coffee freeze in front of me in the pressbox, which was unheated; probably why I also remember having to break ice to use the toilet.
How windy? ISU punter Jim Shaughnessy, whose specialty was hang time, had to retreat and field one of his own punts which had blown back over his head.
ISU was behind 14-12 as the final seconds were ticking away, and heading into that same wind. Coach Jerry Huntsman was generally a close-to-the-vest kind of coach, but at that point there was only one way the Sycamores could win the game. Brumfield, the fastest guy, went long and Verbie threw it as far as he could.
Into the teeth of that gale, Verbie threw the ball from inside his 10-yard line to beyond midfield. Brumfield had his man beaten by a couple of yards.
And he dropped it.
But the most impressive thing about Verbie wasn’t his passing. It was that the Sycamores were 15-4-1 in 1968 and 1969 while he was their quarterback, the last two of those losses by a total of three points. And the most impressive game he had was when he couldn’t throw the ball at all.
He’d separated his shoulder during a 7-7 tie at Western Kentucky early in his senior year, and didn’t start a game at Evansville the following week. The backup quarterback, Norm Pellegrini, was having a decent enough game but the Sycamores weren’t scoring, and the inspired Aces had a late 8-7 lead. With only time for one more offensive series, out onto the field came Verbie, his right arm seeming to hang down below his knees because of the injury.
If he couldn’t pass, however, he could still run the option. The Sycamores went down the field like the Aces — who had defended ferociously up to that point — weren’t even there, and scored the winning touchdown. Why did that happen, I asked Huntsman after the game.
“He’s our stem-winder,” was the coach’s simple explanation.
I remembered that game 41 years ago while watching Chad Holler on Friday, as he led Terre Haute North to a 22-21 overtime win over Terre Haute South.
My early information this week, which I hope is correct, is that Chad did not break his wrist in the third quarter, but he still was in enough pain that throwing the ball was something he and coach Chris Barrett tried to avoid as much as possible. But come out of the game? No way.
“There was never a question [of making a change],” Barrett said.
“We were down,” said Holler. “I had to push through it.”
A very Verbie-like piece of leadership, and a very promising start to the 2010 high school season. Loved the play of both teams, loved the crowd … this could be fun.
• Belated congratulations — To Terry Dischinger, for entering the Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team.
That team, all amateurs, might have been considered the original Dream Team. Besides Dischinger, it included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas and Indiana University center Walt Bellamy, among others, and won its games by 42.4 points per game.
The only problem I had with this announcement was being reminded that Terry wasn’t already enshrined in the Hall.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808.