Photo: Michigan State's 1965 and 1966 players gathered for a photo Friday night at the Kellogg Center.
Michigan State's 1965 and 1966 national championship teams broke too much ground to be limited to a ceremony for homecoming against Purdue Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
So the school began recognizing the old-timers on Friday. The weekend began when Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon invited the 1965 and 1966 players to a reception at Cowles House, home to the university’s president since 1941. It was fitting because John Hannah, the school’s president from 1941 to 1969, often strolled down to Spartan Stadium to visit practice.
On Friday night, the players gathered in the Big Ten Room for a dinner at the Kellogg Center. The evening included remembering those who were missing. Among them, head coach Duffy Daugherty passed away in 1987, linebacker Charlie Thornhill in 2006, rover/linebacker George Webster in 2007 and defensive lineman Bubba Smith in 2011.
Those to speak at the dinner included Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, whose team spends game nights at the hotel and convention center before their walk to Spartan Stadium.
“Michigan State is one of the ‘haves,’ ” said Dantonio, who has the Spartans ranked No. 2 for the first time since 1966. “We can go anywhere in the country, and we can always get our foot in the door. It’s because of the success that’s been here in the past.”
Athletic director Mark Hollis also spoke.
“You left footprints for us,” he said. “We talk about who came before us. This is always your campus.”
Bo Dimitroff, a center on those Spartans teams, offered a special tribute to assistant coach Vince Carillot, 88, and Hank Bullough, 81, the last remaining members of Daughtery’s staff.
“Vince used to say you can take the man out of MSU, but you can’t take the MSU out of the man,” Dimitroff said. “That might sound trite to those who are younger, but it means something to the older guys.”
Bullough, whose grandsons Riley and Byron play on the 2015 team, was unable to attend after he was recently hospitalized, but Carillot was on hand to speak for the former Michigan State player and defensive coordinator.
“I can’t tell you how much of a pleasure it is to be here with you tonight,” he said.
Ernie Pasteur, an offensive lineman recruited out of Beaufort, N.C., noted early in the night Bullough's coaching persona was missed. Pasteur was trying to get the reminiscing players to quiet down and take their seats to begin the evening's events.
"I need coach Bullough," Pasteur said helplessly into the microphone.
Two other featured speakers were Joel Ferguson, Michigan State's Board of Trustees chairman, and Paulette Granberry Russell, the school's Senior Advisor to the President for Diversity. They highlighting Michigan State's groundbreaking history. Granberry's talk drew a line throughout the from the university’s founding, through the football team with the Civil Rights movement as a backdrop to today's campus.
She spoke of Michigan State founded as the nation’s first agriculture college in 1855. Then, the Morrill Act as a Land Grant college in 1865 provided Americans agricultural and industrial education opportunities. Michigan State grew into a world-class university and joined the Big Ten under Hannah. He set the tone for the school and the athletic department as integration leaders and served as the first Civil Rights Commission chairman in 1957.
Daugherty’s Underground Railroad teams were known for bringing star players from the segregated South. George Webster of South Carolina, Bubba Smith from Texas and Gene Washington from Texas are in the College Football Hall of Fame. Jimmy Raye from Fayetteville, N.C., was the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title with the 1966 team and went onto a long career as NFL coach and mentor. It doesn't stop there. Bob Apisa was the first Samoan All-American that Daugherty recruited out of Hawaii.
But Michigan State’s story also was about how southern black athletes, black players recruited from the north such as College Football Hall of Famer Clinton Jones of Cleveland and the white players formed a colorblind bond.
As late as 1965, Texas A&M coach Gene Stallings, a Bear Bryant protégé at Alabama, said he didn't believe black and white players could get along on a team; he feared problems in the locker room. His comments were in response to Southern Methodist coach Hayden Fry signing Jerry Levias as the first black scholarship football player in the Southwest Conference in 1965 (Levias broke the barrier in 1966 as a sophomore in the era of NCAA freshman ineligibility.
Until then, Stallings and other coaches at both segregated and integrated schools ignored what Michigan State had accomplished for many years under Biggie Munn (1946-53) and Daugherty (1954-72). By the 1965 and 1966 seasons, Daugherty’s teams included 20 black players at a time when other Big Ten and integrated schools included only a half-dozen or so. In the 1966 Game of the Century against Notre Dame, Alan Page was the Irish’s only black player.
Michigan State’s success spurred other schools to recruit more black athletes. USC, a school with a long history of integration, had only seven black players on its 1967 national championship team. By the Trojans’ 1972 national title, USC had 23 black players on its roster.
Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference finally joined the union and desegregated in the early 1970s.
Pat Gallinagh, a defensive lineman, wrapped up the night comparing a turbulent world in the 1960s to the Spartans' bonds as teammates. Other teams won national titles in the 1960s, but the changing face of football began at school with more than a century of history breaking ground.