When he played football at Maryland more than a half-century ago, 5-foot-9, 187-pound Bob Ward easily could have been mistaken for a kicker or halfback rather than a lineman. Until, that is, they blew the whistle to start the game.
To nearly everyone who saw him in action, Ward's performance in the trenches might best be described as ferocious. Not vicious, because he never played dirty football, but from the moment he came out of the locker room, he was ready to hit. As longtime Terptown sports information director Jack Zane put it, the cliche "110 percent" might have been invented on his behalf.
Ward, who died Sunday at 77 of complications related to Alzheimer's disease, was the heart and soul of Jim Tatum's teams that qualified as bona fide national powers in the early '50s. How good was he? Bob made the Associated Press All-America first team as a defensive middle guard in 1950, then did the same as an offensive guard in 1951-- the only player ever to gain such recognition on both sides of the ball.
During the last three of his four varsity seasons from 1948 to 1951, the Terps went 26-3-1. It seems appropriate his final game also was the most memorable in Maryland's history, a 28-13 licking of unbeaten and supposedly unbeatable Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl on Jan.1, 1952. That one must have sent hundreds of Volunteers fans and bettors reeling along Bourbon Street in search of, well, bourbon.
"A lot of people consider Randy White the best player in Maryland history," said Jack Scarbath, a superb quarterback on Ward's teams, "but I'd put Bobby right up there with him as the best, no question."
White, a defensive end at Maryland from 1972 to 1974, later enjoyed a Pro Football Hall of Fame career as the Dallas Cowboys' dreaded "Manster." Although it's impossible to compare the two because they played in totally different eras, it's worth noting Randy had about six inches in height and 70 pounds on Ward. Had they somehow tangled, however, the suspicion is that White would have had all he could handle.
Scarbath again: "I remember a game against Michigan State when Bobby was at middle guard and went right over top of the center to make a tackle. Then he went right under the center to make another tackle. A little later, he went around the center to the left. Then he went around him to the right. I've never seen anybody who could dominate a game like Bobby."
Part of the reason was Ward's background. A native of New Jersey, he served as an Army paratrooper at Fort Benning, Ga., before coming to Maryland. When he walked (or more likely ran) onto the College Park campus, he was older than most fellow freshmen and a natural leader.
"His age was a factor, but his hustle, physical condition and tremendous quickness also stood out," Scarbath said. "Off the field, he was very quiet, just a regular guy. On the field, he let his actions speak for themselves."
Loudly, too. Ward's No.28 uniform was the first to be retired at Maryland. The following summer, he captained the College All-Stars against the NFL champion Los Angeles Rams but then spurned offers from the Baltimore Colts and began a coaching run that lasted 22 years.
If Ward's playing career at Maryland was glorious, his two-year misadventure as the Terps' head coach proved ghastly. Maryland, then nearing the end of a long football drought, went 0-9 in 1967 and 2-8 in 1968 before he quit. His replacement, local high school icon Roy Lester, did little better (3-7, 2-9, 2-9), and it remained for Jerry Claiborne to restore the program beginning in 1972.
"I think Bob's problem was that he expected his players to play and hustle the same way he had, and times had changed," former athletic director Jim Kehoe said. "But let's remember him as a player -- he was phantasmagorical, incredible really when you consider his size, and he really personified the Tatum era."
Since then, Maryland football has tended to be very good or very bad. Ironically, perhaps, successful current boss Ralph Friedgen played for Ward's terrible teams and was one who remained when about 40 players walked out in protest of the coach's autocratic methods in 1968. Ward resigned the next day.
"Sure he was a tough coach," Friedgen said yesterday. "If he had addressed some of the players' concerns, I don't know that so many would have left. But Maryland should be proud of the kind of player and kind of man he was. One of the things I learned from him was to surround myself with good assistants, and I don't know if he necessarily did that."
Yet Bob Ward will not and should not be remembered around College Park as a coach who failed. When it came to playing football, he was definitely a winner. Big time, too.
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