Two weeks later, the number still is fascinating. Fifty. 5-0. The number of times Charlie Wysocki took a handoff against Duke and slammed into some black and blue Devils who knew their best chance to upset Maryland was either separating him from the football or his senses.
Even in a sport where overworking one gifted back is not considered cruel, or even unusual, punishment, that was extraordinary. Coach Jerry Claiborne's position is almost indefensible. To run a player time after time, game after game, year after year, seems horrifying.
In the NFL, where players get paid handsomely for their bruises, no back ever toted that ball so many times. Only three runers in the league's 61-year history -- Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell and Walter Payton -- have even carried the ball 40 times in one game. With 41 against Cincinnati five years ago, Harris holds the record.
Charlie Wysocki carried 50 times against Duke, for room and board.
When Earl Campbell's carries reached 29 against New England Monday night, Don Meredith, hardly a stranger to football pain, volunteered: "The thing that worries me is that he follows a 30-carry game with 29. . ." The obvious implication was that we will see Campbell soup, legs here, arms there, teeth trampled into the AstroTurf, if that sort of pace continues much longer.
Charlie Wysocki had back-to-back games of 50 carries and 29.
The human body, as every back from Bronco Nagurski through Larry Brown achingly realizes, can stand only so many licks.
With all this firmly in his mind, or tucked in as obscure a part of it as possible, to be entirely accurate, Charlie Wysocki has a dream. People remind him that it probably is unsafe to average more than 30 carries a game, as he has the last two years and undoubtedly will as a senior next season. He knows 50 carries in one game is close to insane.
But the fantasy still flickers.
What Wysocki wants to do -- honestly -- is carry 60 times some game.
"Once," he said. "I would carry the ball 60 times and it would be over. And I could say I did something that people thought was nearly impossible. It's not humanly impossible, but they think: 'Well, that's like murder.' I'd like to do it just once. Show 'em that it can be done."
Why 60 times?
Because it sounds nicer than 58 times, which is one more time than Kent Kitzmann of Minnesota carried against Illinois on Nov. 12, 1977. He still is alive and working in St. Paul, although he did not play his senior season for the Gophers. He suffered a neck injury.
"A man can get hurt doing anything," Wysocki said.
What makes Wysocki run, run, run and run some more is not difficult to determine. For a major portion of his football life, somebody, very often somebody with a mind and some influence, has been saying he is not good enough to play his sport's second-most glamorous position.
Wysocki's high-school football coach well-meaning and honest, was one of them.
"He told the colleges I'd be a better defensive player," said Wysocki. "The night before I came away (to Maryland), he told my parents that I might be disappointed, 'cause I had my hopes really high. He said: 'I don't want you to say anything to Charlie, but I think he's gonna be a little hurt, because I don't think he'll play until his junior or senior year. On offense. If he wants to stay on offense. He could play defense right away.'
"They never told me that -- until I proved everybody wrong."
That chance may never have come had the relatively squat Wysocki not been standing near Claiborne during an afternoon of the summer of his freshman year, when nearly all the Terrapin runners either were hurt or fell on their reputations.
So many splendid runners go unnoticed because they play behind someone slightly better, a Herschel Walker or an Earl Campbell. Fifth-string halfbacks at Oklahoma might be regulars in many conferences. Very often, famous runners simply are the ones who were given a chance and stayed healthy. Others are as talented, but not so fortunate.
Wysocki got lucky that summer scrimmage.
"A lot of things fell into place," he said. "Steve Atkins (later a second-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers) got hurt for summer practice. And Preacher Maddox was hurt. And then George Scott got hurt. They had me at Z-back at the time. That's a receiver. And I wasn't too happy about that. I figured my next switch would be to defense, 'cause I wasn't doing good at all at Z-back.
"At practice, when these guys were getting hurt, I said to Coach Claiborne: 'Just try me.' Because I was standing next to him at the time. He put me in at tailback and told me which way the play was going. And they liked it. I ran hard. I always run hard."
He still does. He still squirms and scratches for the final possible inch, knowing that if he does not, somebody with not nearly his intensity -- but perhaps more ability -- might be waiting for a turn at tailback.
In fact, Wysocki carried 51 times against Duke, one five-yard gain having been nullified by an offsides penalty. He had 12 carries the first quarter and 18 the last. He had not taken the second quarter off -- or given way to Wayne Wingfield and carried just six times -- he surely would have tied Kitzmann's record. His 32 second-half carries did match Kitzmann's other NCAA record.
Still, Wysocki averaged only 4.5 yards per carry that memorable day in the mud. The realists always remind him of that, the reference being to his lack of speed. A Sims, say, or a Walker surely would have broken free for at least one huge gain. Wysocki's longest run was 21 yards. His longest gain of the year, in 266 carries, is 26 yards.
Wysocki is special because he fights for yards instead of glides, because he often tries to create holes rather than search for them. You know a Sims is exceptional the first time he runs. You might not appreciate a Wysocki until his 30th carry of the day.Or his 300th of the season.
To Wysocki, it matters not when that respect comes, only that it does arrive sometime. The pros like hitters, he has been told. Still, two of the most durable collegiate runners ever, Steve Owens of Oklahoma and Ed Marinaro of Cornell, never made a serious impact on the NFL. But two others, O.J. Simpson and Tony Dorsett, did.
"You can't think about being hurt," Wysocki keeps saying. He adds: "I've been sorer after games I carried 20 times than after Duke." He did not mean that as a verbal clip against the Devils.
Until his body finally began to crumble, nobody got a clear shot at O.J. Simpson. Everybody seems to get a piece of Wysocki. His is football at its most primitive -- and dangerous. Here I am, he seems to say. fI'll get two yards before you hit me, and two more after.
"I never back off," he says. "In fact, I like gettin' hit. That sounds crazy, but there's a time where people have to do certain things to let out their frustrations. just feel like going out and getting hit and being hit by somebody, in a competitive-type thing. Sounds crazy, maybe, but I love the game that much.
"I just love the game."