The Michigan State Spartans invited their 1955 team who won the Rose Bowl and their 1965 National Championship team back for homecoming last Saturday. Legendary former players such as George Webster, Clinton Jones, Gene Washington, Toni Conti, Mike Dissinger and many others were reunited for a special banquet on Friday night and a pre-game tailgate party on Saturday. The school also arranged for Helmet Hut to provide authentic reproductions of the 1955 and 1965 Spartan helmets for these everlasting heroes. It was a most memorable and emotional weekend.
The highlight of the reunion took place Friday night at the end of the social hour just prior to the formal dinner. The always wide shouldered and regal looking Tony Conti, named to the All Big Ten 1960s Team of the Decade, encircled the room (much like the outstanding pulling guard that he once was) "blocking" the stray players back towards the crowded bar area. There the players hugged, reminisced and experienced emotions not felt since their playing days. The talk centered on the team's two most famous players, George Webster who would not be there due to serious health issues and Bubba Smith who was probably somewhere in Hollywood. All of a sudden at the entrance way, almost like magic, appeared George Webster in a wheelchair and bearing the widest smile imaginable. It was almost a religious experience -- Moses had returned! His astonished teammates rushed to his side in unison and there was not a dry eye in the room except for George, he just kept smiling, this was certainly one of the greatest moments of his life! His lifelong buddies did not just bend down and give him a customary hug, they each took a knee and embraced him like you would a wounded soldier who once saved your life. The entire spirit and passion of college football was eloquently encapsulated during these unforgettable moments.
The image (above) of the ever classy Clinton Jones posed with his reproduced helmet under his arm at Saturday's tailgate party rekindled wonderful memories. In the mid 1960s prior to today's excessive pre-game hype and commercials the telecast had a very simple but "classic" pre-kickoff routine. The starting offensive squad from one team and the opposing defensive squad would form separate lines. One after the other, each player would run from the front of the diminishing line to front and center of the ABC camera. Once he reached the camera each player would recite their name, class, position, hometown and academic major all while clutching their helmet tightly under their arm and then run off presumably to their respective benches. If a team like Michigan State was playing you would hope that they would introduce its defensive rather than offensive squad so that you could get a close up look and voice of the massive Bubba Smith who had attained almost folk hero status during that era. It was heartfelt to see that on this special Saturday Clinton has perfectly maintained that glorious comportment that he originally exhibited for his pre game introduction four decades ago.
It seems like it never got better than college football in the mid 1960s. The comforting voice of Chris Schenkel every Saturday in the early fall at 3:30 in describing the ABC game of the week. When a player made a tackle or an outstanding block Chris would always include the players academic major as if a communication major hit harder than a political science major. The score and time remaining were flashed on the screen in a flickering manner only every few minutes which significantly increased the drama and thrills of watching your team attempt a late game comeback because of the uncertainty of the clock. It was an extra special day, and you certainly realized it, if your favorite team was playing because back then teams were limited to two television appearances per season. Even the food was better -- in the pre microwave days Mom would be responsible for a slow stove cooked feast always timed for kickoff. The half-time was lengthy enough to allow you time to grab a ball and head out to the backyard to personally recreate the first half highlights as you would simultaneously leap into the makeshift end zone while looking for a soft pile of leaves to fall on.
With a tip of our hats to the Green and White at MSU let
us never forget to honor our special heroes and memories of the past. Just
like a fine aged wine, time has a unique way improving even the best of each
seasons harvest of players and their performances.