Bob Calhoun dreamed of being a college football hero until a finger in the eye pointed him in a different direction.Tonight at Cobo Arena, the University of Maryland junior will bid for an NCCA championship in the long jump.
Calhoun's roommate, Skeets Nehemiah, must wait until Saturday afternoon to see if he will become a national champion. As the world indoor record-holder in the 60-yard high hurdles. Nehemiah not only is the favorite here, but he is so renowned that yesterday his picture graced page one of the sponsoring Detroit News.
It has been eight years since polevaulter Buddy Williamson last brought Maryland an individual title in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. This time, anchored by the Calhoun and Nehemiah show, the Terrapins are capable of winning team honors, too
"The NCAA is a funny meet," said Maryland Coach Frank Costello. "Skeets and Fly (Robertson) could possibly go one-two in the hurdles. If Bobby could win the long jump, that would be 28 points right there.(High jumper) Brian (Melly) and (shot-putter) Ian (Pyka) get a couple of points and you're in there with the rest of the teams. My guys have been coming up to me all week, telling me we've got a chance."
Texas-El Paso, with its extensive foreign legions, is the favorite. Villanova, Auburn and defending champion Washington State figure to outcore Maryland, too. But, as the man says, a Maryland victory is not an impossibility, and simple contention is a big step forward for Terrapin track on a national level.
Calhoun last week became the first athlete in 20 years to score a double in the indoor IC4A meet, winning the 60 and the long jump. He has abandoned the sprint here to concentrate on the long jump, where he owns the only two 26-foot jumps of the winter among the competitiors.
"The 60 trials and quarter finals are the same time as the long jump, and at this level of competition that's just too much," Calhoun said. "I think I can win the long jump and I want to give myself every chance."
Calhoun was a superb running back at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High in New Jersey until a Clark High player poked a fingernail into his right eye during the final game of his senior year. Fibers were torn around the lens and doctors advised Calhoun that a hard blow might leave him blind in the eye.
"I had a football scholarship to Syracuse," Calhoun said, "and they told me they would honor it, but I didn't want to run track up there. It's too cold. So Russ Rogers talked me into going to Essex."
After two successful junior college years, Calhoun chose Maryland, where he was able to join an even more prominent Scotch Olains alumnus, high school hurdles record-holder Nehemiah. Neighbors for 10 years, they are now roommates with similar tastes and goals, including NCAA track championships.
"We usually just talk about track," Nehemiah said. "We talk about the times we think we can run, and the strategy for our races."
"We get along good," Calhoun said. "We hardly ever argue. No, we've never dated the same girl, but we went out with sisters once."
They are so close that when Calhoun developed a locked knee during the IC4A meet, after Nehemiah had sprained an ankle, he was accused of harboring sympathy pains.
Calhoun lucked out the knee problem, but Nehemiah is still experiencing pain in the ankle, a difficulty that restricted his workouts this week.
"He'll be all right," Costello said. "He's ready for a good race, but not a 7.07 (Nehemiah's indoor record)."
While the compatible Terrapins make their first NCAA appearances, Howard's mile relay team, and anchorman Richard Massey in particular, will be trying to move up one notch over last year.
Massey won his 440 section in a divided final, only to be edged on time by Auburn's Willie Smith, winner of the second section. Then Howard upset Villanova in the mile relay, to be disappointed again when Kansas posted a faster time in the second section.
"We believe we can win the mile relay," said Howard Coach Bill Mouitrie. "The experience our runners have should put them in good shape."
"That two-section is on our minds, of course. We always felt that if we had been in with Kansas, we'd have beaten them. When you're running head to head you have extra incentive. When you're running for your lives against Villanova, you can't look over your shoulder at the next race. But every team has the same break."