Photo: Clinton Jones
Add another layer of green-and-white to the Waldorf Astoria's grand ballroom at the 58th annual National Football Foundation Awards Dinner. And that’s before we know how football head coach Mark Dantonio’s promising ninth season in East Lansing unfolds.
The NFF announced Tuesday that Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis will receive the John L. Toner Award on Dec. 8 at the famed New York hotel. The NFF honor recognizes athletic directors that have “demonstrated superior administrative abilities and shown outstanding dedication to the college athletics and particularly football.”
That same night Michigan State's Clinton Jones, a two-time All-American halfback in the 1965 and 1966 seasons, will be enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2015.
The gala presence of Hollis and Jones in the grand ballroom represents the best of Michigan State’s past and present.
Jones is returning for the first time since 1966 when he accompanied teammate George Webster and head coach Duffy Daugherty dressed in tuxedos. The Spartans received their share of the MacArthur Bowl Trophy recognizing Michigan State and Notre Dame as the national co-champions. Head coach Ara Parseghian and linebacker Jim Lynch represented the Irish.
The Associated Press and United Press International polls voted Notre Dame the national champion over No. 2 Michigan State, but the NFF award recognized the team’s identical 9-0-1 records and 10-10 tie on the field in the Game of the Century.
In Chapter 17 of Raye of Light, MacArthur Bowl chairman Vincent DePaul Draddy explained the co-championship this way: “The reasons are rather obvious why we divided the award. It seemed like the only fair thing to do with a couple of excellent teams like Notre Dame and Michigan State.”
The MacArthur Bowl was more prominent in the days of polls naming champions. It is now awarded to the winner of the College Football Playoffs and before that the BCS champion.
Jones and Webster attended as team captains – another example of the Spartan’s leading role in the integration of college football as detailed in “Raye of Light.” Daugherty’s 1965 and 1966 national championship teams featured black players from the segregated South that came to be known as the Underground Railroad.
Michigan State previously had a black team captain – LeRoy Bolden in 1954, Herb Adderley in 1959 and Sherman Lewis in 1963 -- but they shared the role with a white player. Jones and Webster marked the first time an integrated college team was represented by two black players by a player vote.
Jones joins three classmates already in the Hall of Fame – the George Webster, 1987; Bubba Smith, 1988; and Gene Washington in 2011. It’s the first time four players from a school's same class have made the Hall of Fame since 1940. Michigan State is only the fourth school with such a distinction, joining Notre Dame, Stanford and Boston College, but the first black foursome. That’s another Underground Railroad milestone.
Washington and Jimmy Raye, the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title, are among Jones’ former teammates that plan to attend the NFF dinner. Webster passed away in 2007; Smith in 2011.
Michigan State's 20 black players and 11 black starters were unheard of numbers in 1966. The Underground Railroad's influence can be seen in the increased numbers of black players at a historically integrated school such as USC. The Trojans' 1967 national championship team had only seven black players, but the number grew to 23 by USC's 1972 national title.
The Trojans lined up only five black starters in 1970 when it was the first integrated team to play at all-white Alabama. Many myths regarding the significance of that game -- which wasn't televised -- have grown out of that night over the years. Most prominently, Alabama's players say head coach Bear Bryant never paraded USC black fullback Sam Cunningham around the locker room as an example of what a football player looked like. The myth purports Bryant designed to lose the game as a calculated plan to make a statement before his fan base that was resistant to integration.
If that was true, the logical choice Bryant should have targeted to parade was USC black quarterback Jimmy Jones as a returning starter. Cunningham was a sophomore playing his first varsity game. Bryant wouldn't have known about Cunningham to scheme around his performance that night.
That same year Bryant had told Condredge Holloway of Huntsville, Ala., that the Alabama alumni weren't ready for a black quarterback; he would only recruit him as a defensive back. Holloway instead attended Tennessee as the SEC's first black quarterback. To believe the myth suggests Bryant prepared his alumni for a black player but not a black quarterback.
Five SEC schools -- including in-state rival Auburn -- integrated their football rosters ahead of Bryant in 1971. Integration in the SEC was fait accompli by the time Bryant scheduled USC at Birmingham's Legion Field in 1970 and Los Angeles' Coliseum in 1971.
The 1950s and 1960s at Michigan State was a time when the Spartans had a well-rounded athletic program in addition to football success under athletic director Biggie Munn, who preceded Daugherty as the football coach. Hollis has revived Michigan State's athletic program to the well-rounded days reminiscent of Munn.
Hollis is a 1985 Michigan State graduated that served as a student manager for basketball coach Jud Heathcote. He returned as an assistant athletic director in 1995 and was promoted to athletic director in 2008. Hollis led the effort to bring back Dantonio to Michigan State – he had been an assistant coach for the Spartans from 1995 to 1999 – as the head coach in 2007.
“Under Mark’s guidance, Michigan State has continued to excel both on and off the field,” said NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell. “Since Hollis took over in 2008, the Spartans football program has achieved national prominence and the athletics department has seen substantial growth overall. His accomplishments place him at the forefront of his profession and make him truly worthy of this prestigious honor.”
Class of 2015 Hall of Famers
- Trev Alberts (Nebraska)
- Brian Bosworth (Oklahoma)
- Bob Breunig (Arizona State)
- Sean Brewer (Millsaps [Miss.])
- Ruben Brown (Pittsburgh)
- Wes Chandler (Florida)
- Thom Gatewood (Notre Dame)
- Dick Jauron (Yale)
- Clinton Jones (Michigan State)
- Lincoln Kennedy (Washington)
- Rob Lytle (Michigan)
- Michael Payton (Marshall)
- Art Still (Kentucky)
- Zach Thomas (Texas Tech)
- Ricky Williams (Texas)
- Bill Snyder (Kansas State) and
- Jim Tressel (Youngstown State and Ohio State).