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LOOKING BACK AT THE GAME CHANGING 1965 SPARTAN FOOTBALL QUARTET

Republished from The Shanahan Report by Tom Shanahan


  • Published: 04/04/2016
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.

With last year’s Spartan football memories still fresh in our hearts, we look back to the 1965 and 1966 seasons and marvel at the accomplishments of MSU’s team 50 years ago.

Michigan State halfback Clinton Jones’ election to the College Football Hall of Fame last year 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. Stanford’s 1935 and Notre Dame’s 1924 senior classes also join the ranks. 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 in 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 foursome 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.”

The Spartans 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 by 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 in the Hall of Fame 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 an 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.

The 2016 Spartan Seniors, who have been carving out their place in the football program’s history, may have something to say about that next fall. 

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