Former Bengals QB Virgil Carter found a home off the field teaching statistics at Xavier

Most avid football fans know that one-time Cincinnati Bengals assistant coach Bill Walsh, under the tutelage of Paul Brown, was the “Father of the West Coast Offense”—the high-powered, short-pass game that Walsh eventually took with him to the San Francisco 49ers and used to win three Super Bowls. But few people realize that the first quarterback to run the West Coast Offense wasn’t Joe Montana but a one-time, little-known Xavier statistics teacher.

After the 1969 season, the Bengals secured a backup quarterback from the Chicago Bears named Virgil Carter. Carter was the beginning of a line of great quarterbacks from Brigham Young University that included Jim McMahon, Steve Young and 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. At BYU, Carter set six NCAA records, 19 Western Athletic Conference records and 24 BYU records and finished 11th in the 1966 Heisman Trophy voting. But his best numbers came in the classroom. As a mathematics major, Carter was BYU’s top Engineer Science student and was a two-time Scholastic All-American. He prepped at Sacramento’s Folsom High School and actually attended BYU on an academic scholarship.

The Bengals already had a great quarterback named Greg Cook—whom Walsh, in his autobiography, said had the most talent of any quarterback he ever coached, including Hall of Famers Montana and Young. Cook was named American Football League Rookie of the Year in 1969—ahead of OJ Simpson and “Mean” Joe Green.

Virgil-Carter

While he had a stellar rookie season, however, Cook also suffered a shoulder injury, and when he could not come back from the injury at the start of the 1970 season, Carter became the Bengals’ starting quarterback by default. At 6-foot-1, 192 pounds with a mediocre NFL passing arm, Carter was no Greg Cook. But he was quick, nimble and could read defenses like an IBM mainframe computer.

With Carter in mind, Walsh went back to the drawing board and created an offense that revolved around quarterback movement and precision short passes to the wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. What made it different, though, was the passes weren’t just thrown down the field but went horizontally, from sideline to sideline. The Carter and Walsh combination was so successful that in its third year of existence, the Bengals went to the playoffs after winning the AFC Central Division with an 8-6 record. They eventually lost to the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Colts, who were led by Johnny Unitas and Bubba Smith.

Unlike professional football today, though, in the 1960s and 1970s, NFL players worked or went to school in the offseason. During his two years with the Bears, Carter secured a master’s degree in mathematics from Northwestern University. When he was traded to the Bengals, he contacted Xavier about a part-time teaching position. Jane Klingman, who ran the statistics program in the College of Business Administration, was impressed with his background and hired him to teach Bayesian and Classical Statistics during the spring semester in 1971.

Carter was confident in his ability to successfully teach the subject, but he had a big problem. He had just had surgery on his right wrist. He handled the situation as adroitly as he did the West Coast Offense. Until he learned how to write on a chalkboard left handed, he employed his wife, Judy, and Bengals rookie Ken Anderson, who was a math major at Augustana College, to be his helpers.

Steve Busam, a 1972 marketing major and member of the men’s golf team, remembers having Carter for class. “I did a paper for the class, which I based on taking 1,000 3-foot putts. I made 997 of them, or 99.7 percent of them. In statistical terms, my made putts were within three standard deviations from the mean. The class later became invaluable to me when I later ran DuBois Chemical’s application engineering lab and we had to meet the automotive industry and GE’s Six Sigma standards.”

Fellow 1972 marketing major Bob Sherman also remembers taking Carter’s class—although not necessarily for the statistical lessons. “I never missed a class,” he says. “I liked statistics OK, but XU had about 50 women on campus at the time, and Judy Carter had been the head cheerleader at BYU.”

Although the Bengals managed just a 4-10 record in 1971, Carter had a great year—statistically speaking, anyway. He had the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in the NFL and ranked No. 3 in overall passing statistics.

After the season, Carter not only continued to teach undergraduate statistics, but he also started teaching a course on quantitative methods in the MBA program. Carter and Klingman began collaborating on a statistics book that used NFL situations and football and sport permutations and combinations to enliven the subject. However, the book was never completed. Anderson, who was bigger and had a stronger arm, took over the starting quarterback role for the Bengals.

Carter went played for the World Football League’s Chicago Fire before returning to the NFL in 1975 with the San Diego Chargers and 1976 with the Chicago Bears. In seven seasons in the NFL, he passed for 5,063 yards and 29 touchdowns. Today, Carter lives with his wife, Judy, in Helendale, Calif., where he runs an insurance business. They have two grown sons.

Xavier Football: The Next Generation

For Ben Ballard, the football field has always been the scene of both great triumph and great tragedy.

 

One of the worst days of Ballard’s life, for instance, was Sept. 25, 1971, when he and his Xavier football teammates lost to Marshall University, 15-13, in a game that would be forever immortalized in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall.”

 

Contrast that to Feb. 5, 2012. The onetime Musketeer defensive end/linebacker wasn’t on the field that day. Rather, he was in the stands, watching, as his son, Jake, the starting tight end for the New York Giants, was crowned Super Bowl Champion. Parental pride always wins over playing prowess. It immediately became one of Ballard’s greatest gridiron days.

 

Ballard, though, isn’t alone in the stands these days. As the end of Xavier football nears its 40th anniversary, its legacy is living on in the next generation with at least one other player as well, Ed Huber. The former Xavier placekicker passed along his powerful left leg to his son, Kevin, who is in his fourth season as the punter for the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

For the two sons, their paths to the NFL couldn’t have taken more contrasting routes. At 6-foot-7 and 281 pounds, Jake Ballard was highly recruited coming out of Springboro (Ohio) High School. He signed with Ohio State University, where he was a four-year starter at tight end, played in two BCS National Championship games and two other BCS Bowls. But OSU coach Jim Tressel rarely threw the ball to tight ends, and Ballard went undrafted. The Giants signed him as a free agent for the 2010 season, where he spent the majority of the year on the practice squad. But he got his chance in 2011 and won the starting tight end job. (He is now a member of the New England Patriots.)

 

Kevin Huber, on the other hand, was a three-time all-league punter at Cincinnati’s McNicholas High School, but wasn’t recruited and had to walk on to the football program at the University of Cincinnati. He got very limited playing time, but as a junior in 2007, under new Bearcat head coach Brian Kelly, he got his chance. He led the nation in punting with an average of 46.9 yards, which set a UC record. He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best collegiate punter and was Big East Special Team Player of the Year. As a senior, he was key performer on UC’s Orange Bowl team and was the first player in UC history to be named First Team Associated Press All-American two years in a row. He was drafted in the fifth round (142nd overall) by the Bengals.

For both players, they ended up at the pinnacle of their professions, and created two proud parents.

Xavier Football: Did You Know?

The next time you’re in Columbus, go to The Varsity, the epicenter of Ohio State idolatry. Belly up to the bar and make this simple wager: “Name the team that Woody Hayes played at least twice and never beat.”

First the Buckeye faithful will be shocked to learn their hero had a losing record to anyone during his storied 238-72-10 career, which ran from 1946 to 1978. Second, their jaws will hit the floor when you inform them it was Xavier.

Woody got his job at Ohio State by having two outstanding years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, from 1949 to 1950, after beginning his college coaching career at Denison University. But during those two great years at Miami, he could never figure out how to beat the Muskies.

In 1949, Xavier beat the Redskins 27-19, and then blanked Woody, 7-0, in 1950, handing him his only loss in a fantastic season that culminated in win over Arizona State in the Salad (today’s Fiesta) Bowl.

You might be able to win a similar bet in Ann Arbor, Mich. The other Big Ten coaching deity, Michigan’s Bo Schembechler, also had trouble with Xavier. Not only was he a tackle on Woody’s Miami teams of 1949 and 1950, as the head coach of Miami from 1963 to 1968, he was 2-3-1 against the Musketeers, despite having great teams.

Woody and Bo went on to have a legendary rivalry at OSU and Michigan from 1969 to 1978, where Bo held the upper hand at 5-4-1. They had lots of things in common, but maybe the least know is how they were toughened by the crucible of Xavier football.

Here’s some other interesting facts about Xavier football you may not know:

• When Xavier opened the 15,000-seat Corcoran Field in 1929, it was the third-largest stadium in Ohio behind Ohio State University’s Ohio Stadium and the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium.

• Some of the more famous opponents went helmet-to-helmet with include:

George Blanda, University of Kentucky 1946-1948, Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Oakland Raiders

Babe Parilli, University of Kentucky 1949-1951, No. 3 in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1951

John Unitas, University of Louisville 1951-1954, Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Baltimore Colts

Greg Cook, University of Cincinnati 1966-1968, AFC Rookie of the Year with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1969

Ron Jaworski, Youngstown State University 1970-1972, led the Philadelphia Eagles to the 1981 Super Bowl, now ESPN analyst

Xavier Football: Why Was the Program Dropped

Many, if not most, Jesuit universities played Division I football at some point during the early to mid-20th Century. And they were good. Marquette played Texas Christian University in the first Cotton Bowl. Fordham, which may be best remembered for Vince Lombardi being one of its “Seven Blocks of Granite,” vanquished Missouri in the 1942 Sugar Bowl. Santa Clara was the dominant western power, beating LSU in both the 1937 and 1938 Sugar Bowl, and the University of Kentucky in the 1950 Orange Bowl. Even Xavier was a power, winning the 1952 Salad Bowl—the precursor to today’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Given this success, then, why do only five Jesuit universities still play football—with Boston College the only school playing in at the BCS level? The easy answer is money.

The more nuanced answer is the growth of the NFL and the NCAA’s early television policies.

Frank Gifford, the Hall of Fame running back who played college at the University of Southern California and in the NFL with the New York Giants, summed it up in a 2009 interview: “I played from 1949-1951 for USC before 50,000 people at the LA Coliseum. I was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants, who were playing before only 8,000 to 10,000 in the NY Polo Grounds. The NFL was just a step above pro wrestling. My salary was $8,000 per year and we heard every week the Mara family that owned the Giants, was going broke. Things started to change in 1956 when the Giants moved to Yankee Stadium. The Giants fortunes really took off in 1958, when we lost in a thrilling overtime game to Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts in the NFL Championship game. It was the first NFL game to be broadcast nationally. [Former Commissioner] Pete Rozelle used the game to set up network TV packages and the pro game exploded.”

Prior to 1956, Yankee Stadium was reserved for big Army, Notre Dame and Fordham games. The Green Bay Packers played at 25,000 seat City Stadium from 1925-1956, which they shared with Green Bay East High School. The Packers dressed in the high school’s locker room. Average NFL attendance was 25,000 in 1950. Thanks to players like of Gifford and Johnny Unitas, and coaches like Vince Lombardi, average NFL attendance grew to 40,000 in 1960 and 52,000 in 1970. Average NFL attendance has been more than 65,000 since 2000.

The NCAA also did not know how to compete against the television-driven NFL. The NCAA feared, if it broadcast a lot of games, ticket sales would suffer. It showed one regional game each Saturday and an OSU/Michigan and USC/UCLA doubleheader late in the season. This tended to reinforce the existing rivalries at the big state universities. The Big 10 became the “Big 2 (Ohio State and Michigan) and the Little 8.”

The problem was exacerbated in Cincinnati when the Bengals came to town in 1968. The team even played its first two seasons at UC’s Nippert Stadium before the opening of Riverfront Stadium in 1970. Both UC and Xavier struggled with the new competition for the local entertainment dollar, but much smaller Xavier suffered the most, running up a $200,000 annual football deficit.

Nevertheless, it’s a safe bet to think most Xavier alumni like the University’s current policy of focusing on and excelling in college basketball.

Xavier Football: The Silver Years

If Ed Kluska’s 1949 to 1951 teams represented the “golden age” of Xavier football, Ed Biles’ teams of 1962 to 1968 represent its “silver age.”

Biles had a solid 6-4 first season highlighted by two of the greatest season-ending, back-to-back victories in XU history. On Nov. 17, 1962, Xavier took on the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. UK had won the previous six games between the team by a combined score of 179-6, and it looked like another onslaught was pending when the Wildcats took the ball 66 yards in nine plays on its opening possession for an easy score. But Biles made defensive adjustments and that would be UK’s last offensive score. Xavier, meanwhile, opened the second half by marching 50 yards on 15 plays capped by a two-yard sweep by Jim Korb for a touchdown. A failed 2-point conversion made it 7-6 UK, but with 5:12 left in the fourth quarter, Korb scored his second touchdown. Adding a two-point conversion, XU took a 14-7 lead. The clever Biles took a game ending safety to make the final score 14-9.

A thrilling 7-6 victory over UC climaxed the year and set Biles up for even better things in the years to come.

In 1965, Xavier had a fantastic 8-2 record, its best since 1951. XU was led by quarterback Carroll Williams and legendary receiver Dan Abramowitz of Steubenville, Ohio, who at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and 5.0 speed in the 40-yard dash did not strike fear on the hearts of defensive backs in pregame warm ups. But he ran brilliant patterns, had great hands and an innate ability to get open. The two combined to lead the Muskies had thrilling wins over Dayton and UC, but the most memorable game was against Miami and Bo Schembechler. In his first two years at Miami, Bo was 0-1-1 against XU and he wanted the game badly. It looked like he had the victory in hand when Miami took a 28-7 into the fourth quarter. But Williams began to weave his run and pass magic and Xavier scored two unanswered touchdowns, pulling the score to 28-21. Then with just seconds left in the game, Williams scampered in for a TD from the Miami 17 to make the game 27-26 Miami. The gutsy Biles went for a two-point conversion. Williams hit Walt Myers with a pass to propel XU to a 28-27 victory.

(Four years later, Schembechler was being interviewed on TV just after his new team, the University of Michigan Wolverines, upset heavily favored No. 1-ranked Ohio State 21-12. The sideline reporter asked him if this was the most exciting game he ever coached, and without pause Schembechler replied, “NO. It was the 28-27 loss to Xavier, while I was at Miami in 1965.”)

In 1967, Biles was after his third consecutive win over the Bearcats and UC alumni were looking for blood. Biles, though, knew how to motivate his team. Ken Blackwell, then a sophomore on the team, described Biles’ plan. “We were having a light Friday practice when Cincinnati Police cruisers with flashers and sirens screaming came tearing out on the practice field. They grabbed Biles, spread eagled him against the cruiser, cuffed him and roughly threw him in the back of the car. We watched in amazement as the cars pulled away, to what we assumed to be jail. On Saturday, as we were dressing for the game at UC, there was still no Biles. All of a sudden he burst into the locker room and yelled, “THOSE DIRTY UC ALMUNI HAD THE COPS KIDNAP ME, BUT I ESCAPED. Now go out and beat those dirty UC bleeps.

“We knocked down the locker door and beat UC 15-10 for the third series win in a row. Years later when I was mayor of Cincinnati, I checked with the police chief about this 1967 kidnapping. Being older and more experienced, I found what I kind of expected. Ed Biles was a very good coach and motivator but he was a peerless showman.”

In 1968 XU had one of its most exciting seasons. Offensive guard John Shinners would become XU’s first consensus All-American. Shinners was also selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, joining Dan Abramowitz, who was building a record breaking All-Pro NFL career. Thrilling wins and crushing losses had XU fans taking their heart medicine the entire 1968 season, which ended at 6-4. Biles accepted an offer to join Shinners and Abramowicz with the Saints as an assistant coach in 1969.

Xavier Football: The Three Musketeers

Fordham had its “Seven Blocks of Granite.” Notre Dame had its “Four Horsemen.” In the 1950s, Xavier had the “Three Musketeers” of Mike Conaton, Jim Brockhoff and Steve Junker.

Their battles on the gridiron prepared them well for later life. Conaton became vice chairman of The Midland Co. as well as chairman of the Xavier Board of Trustees for 17 years. Brockhoff became Xavier’s longtime tennis coach. Junker went on to the National Football League and is still one of the most beloved sports icons in Detroit history and the only Xavier player to earn an NFL Championship ring.

The three played during a challenging era for Xavier football, but came away with some great stories. In 1952, for instance, Conaton was on the kickoff team when Xavier played the University of Louisville. A bandy-legged sophomore in black high tops shot past him on his way to returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. This sophomore was also Louisville’s quarterback, safety/linebacker and punt returner. After a great career for a weak Louisville program, which never beat XU, he was a ninth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was cut by the Steelers but picked up by the Baltimore Colts, where he went on to become “Mr. Quarterback,” Johnny Unitas.

In 1954, the three were all members of a team that won just two of its 10 games, although one of those wins was quite memorable.

“We were hammered by UC, 33-0,” says Brockhoff. “The offense was invisible as we only posted a few first downs in the whole game. Even worse we had to play an undefeated Boston College team in Boston the following week that was in the driver’s seat to win the mythical Eastern Football Title and maybe even the National Championship. We were all just dumb kids and we got over the UC shelling pretty quickly. We were excited because we were flying to Boston and most of us had never been on a plane. The game was going to be broadcast back to Cincinnati on WSAI and the game, because of BC, was getting national coverage. But the Boston press was as nasty in 1954 as it is today. They called Xavier a ‘Dress Makers School.’ I guess they were calling us girls. They rightfully did not give us a chance to win the game.”

Fenway Park was cold and rainy. Predictably BC got out to a 14-0 lead, but XU halfback Bob Konkoly exploded for a 63 yard TD run to make the score 14-6, and halfback Fritz Bolte bolted for a 29 yard TD to make the game 14-13. In the fourth quarter, Xavier got the ball on its own 18 yard line. Facing the No. 1 defense in the country, and time ticking down, the Muskies relentlessly drove the ball down the field. With less than three minutes left in the game, Xavier pushed the ball to within four feet of the goal line. Boston College held Xavier on the first three plays, but on fourth down, fullback Don St. John pushed the ball over the goal line. With 1:30 left in the game, Xavier held on for a thrilling 19-14 victory.