Photo: Michigan State's four College Football Hall of Famers as seniors in 1966 with junior Bob Apisa. Left to right: Apisa, Clinton Jones, Bubba Smith, Gene Washington and George Webster.
Michigan State halfback Clinton Jones’ election to the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this month raised the interesting question of whether another school can match the Spartans with four Hall-of-Famers from the same senior class.
Well, it’s happened at three other schools -- but not since Boston College’s 1940 senior class. And as another example of Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football under Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty, they are the first foursome of black Hall of Famers from the same class.
Jones, a two-time All-American pick in the 1965 and 1966 seasons, has joined three fellow two-time All-American teammates from those same seasons as seniors in 1966: roverback George Webster, defensive end Bubba Smith and offensive end Gene Washington.
“When I opened the box from the National Football Foundation and saw the football, I couldn't hold back the tears of appreciation and gratitude for being given the privilege and honor of joining my brothers George, Bubba and Gene in the College Football Hall of Fame," Jones said of the Jan. 9 announcement. "I imagined George and Bubba saying, 'Clyde you finally made it, congratulations.' ”
The foursome arrived in East Lansing the fall of 1963 in the era of freshman ineligibility; they played on the Spartans’ 1964-65-66 varsity teams. Webster was enshrined in the Hall in 1987, Smith in 1988 and Washington in 2011. Bob Apisa was Michigan State’s fifth two-time All-American pick from 1965-66, but he was a sophomore and junior in those seasons.
Spartans teammate Pat Gallignah, a defensive tackle and classmate with the Foursome, gained the information that Michigan State is only the fourth school with such a distinction by corresponding with the National Football Foundation’s detailed Phil Marwill. Gallignah was a second-team All-Big Ten and first-team Academic All-American as a senior in 1966.
The quartet previously has been best known as a group for the 1967 NFL Draft. Smith went first overall to the Baltimore Colts, Jones second to the Minnesota Vikings, Webster fifth to the Houston Oilers and Washington eighth to the Minnesota Vikings. No school has come close to matching that flurry of four first-round picks in the Top Eight.
“Of course Gene and Pat Gallinagh will be as happy as Meadowlarks," Jones said. "That's what makes this honor so special because all of my teammates were my heroes. To join Mickey (George Webster), Bubba and Gene in the Hall of Fame marks completion of the historical significance of the 1967 NFL Draft when the four of us from MSU were selected among the first eight picks.”
We can tell by the years of the previous three schools that Michigan State is the first black quartet. Here are the other three schools with four players from the same class (Notre Dame's 1924 class actually had six) with the school, the senior class, the athletes and the year of induction:
- Notre Dame, 1922-24: Elmer Layden, FB, 1951; Harry Stuhldreher, QB, 1958; Jim Crowley, HB, 1966; Edgar Miller, OT, 1966; Adam Walsh, C, 1968; Don Miller, HB, 1970.
- Stanford, 1933-35: Bobby Grayson, FB, 1955; Bob Reynolds, T, 1933-35; Bobby Hamilton, HB, 1972; James Moscrip, E, 1985.
- Boston College, 1938-40: Charlie O’Rourke, HB, 1972; Chet Gladchuk, C, 1975; Gene Goodreault, E, 1982; George Kerr, G, 1984.
Notre Dame (1924) and Michigan State (1966) are the only two with national titles to show for their classes.
If the names of four Notre Dame players sound familiar, they should: "The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame." The Irish's six players -- two linemen and four backs -- from 1922-24 received a push from the immortal Grantland Rice. The famed sportswriter engraved the four backs with a legendary place in college football lore when he wrote in the New York Herald-Tribune about the Irish upsetting Army 13-7 as seniors in 1924:
“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”
In Rice’s time, his written word carried the weight that could be compared to the modern-day combined equivalent of ESPN, CBS, NBC, FOX and Sports Illustrated.
Crowley’s connection to Michigan State should be noted. He was the Spartans’ head coach from 1929 to 1932, compiling a record 22-8-3. He left for Fordham, then a national power, to coach from 1933-41. His Fordham teams included “The Seven Blocks of Granite.” One of the famed “blocks,” of course, was Vince Lombardi for whom the NFL’s Super Bowl Trophy is named following his coaching career with the Green Bay Packers.
As for the the Spartans' lack of a Grantland Rice moment, they lost some romanticism from their 1965-66 seasons by not winning the 1966 Rose Bowl (1965 season) in a 14-12 loss to UCLA and playing the 1966 Game of the Century to a 10-10 tie with Notre Dame. Otherwise the Spartans were 19-1-1 those two seasons. The loss was one of the biggest upsets in college football history, while the tie was an anti-climatic finish to what has been considered the two best teams to meet in what was a quasi-national championship game.
If Michigan State had won the 1966 Game of the Century, the four Spartans likely would have been enshrined sooner. The great writer Dan Jenkins covered the game for Sports Illustrated, but instead of an account focused on the winning team in the great match-up, his story angle ridiculed Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian’s decision to play for a tie. Notre Dame’s students staged a bonfire on campus after the game to burn copies of Sports Illustrated.
But Michigan State's role in changing the face of the game was evident in the starting lineups. The Spartans had and unheard of 20 black players and 11 black starters. Notre Dame had only one black player, Alan Page, while other schools with a history of integrated rosters had only a handful of black players.
Michigan State’s back-to-back unbeaten Big Ten titles in 1965 and 1966 still haven’t been matched, but Ohio State could equal the Spartans if the Buckeyes followed up their unbeaten 2014 title with another one in 2015.
Michigan State's 2015 seniors, who have been carving out their place in the football program’s history, will have something to say about that next fall when the Spartans play their 11th game on Nov. 21 at Ohio Stadium. The showdown has already been noted in college football circles as one of the top games nationally slated for the 2015 season.