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Michigan State’s 1965-66 National Title Teams Celebrate With 2015 Spartans

What symmetrical timing.

This is not the first season players representing Michigan State’s 1965 and 1966 national teams– the legends and backups alike from these tight units that were a leader in the integration of college football under College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty — have returned to campus for a reunion.

But they’ve never been back to a see a Michigan State roster that matches their national stature among the top two ranked schools in the nation. The current Spartans, 4-0 and ranked No. 2 for the first time since 1966, face Purdue (1-3) Saturday in a homecoming game. At intermission, they’ll turn over Spartan Stadium to the old-timers for a golden anniversary ceremony.

Ernie Pasteur, a lineman with the Spartans recruited out of Beaufort, N.C., has helped organize the event as a member of the MSU Former Players Association. He has remained in the Lansing area after college with a long career in education as a teacher and administrator.

“Our friendship was built a long time ago, but it wasn’t just about winning,” Pasteur said. “We didn’t win as freshmen and sophomores. It was a brotherhood. It was about us getting along so well as black and white teammates. There was a lot going on in the 1960s, but color didn’t matter to us. We became lifelong friends.”

Michigan State ninth-year head coach Mark Dantonio welcomes the symmetry of the old and new.

“We talk in terms of Michigan State football and tradition and tradition around this country,” said Dantonio at his Tuesday media session. “Michigan State is one of those places that have a great tradition.

“So to be to be a part of this 100th Homecoming, it is special. This university has been on the map a long time. With that comes a lot of things that have been around for a long, long time. This will be one of them.”

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit brought Michigan State history in the season’s second week, the night the Spartans beat Oregon. He wondered on the national telecast if this is the best three-year run in Michigan State history. In 2013, the Spartans (13-1) finished the year ranked No. 3 with a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl win; in the 2014 11-2 season, No. 5 with a Cotton Bowl victory.

Actually, Michigan State’s best three-year run was in the early 1950s, but Herbstreit was thinking in terms of the 1965-66-67 teams. Michigan State’s 1967 lineup started the year ranked No. 3, but the club was ranked too high on reputation and was subsequently decimated by injuries en route to a 3-7 record.

Michigan State’s strongest three-year stretch was 1951-1952-1953 under Biggie Munn before Daugherty succeeded him in 1954. The Spartans were No. 2 in 1951, No. 1 as national champions in 1952 and No. 3 in 1953. They won 28 straight games from midway through 1950 to midway 1953 (the Spartans were No. 9 in 1950).

As for the 1965-66 teams, here’s a history lesson for younger Michigan State fans on Duffy’s Giants.

The Spartans claimed the 1965 UPI national title that was voted upon by the coaches and is now known as the USA Today poll. But 1965 was an experimental year in poll voting, and the Spartans lost the AP poll national title voted upon by the writers to an Alabama team with an inferior overall record.

National titles were historically declared by poll voting at the end of the regular season in an era when bowl games were considered a reward. But for the first time, AP voted as an experiment after the bowl games in 1965. Michigan State was the 10-0 national champion after the regular season by UPI. When the Spartans were upset by UCLA in the Rose Bowl 14-12, the door was opened to Alabama (9-1-1) being named No. 1 by AP after the bowl games.

In 1966, AP returned to an end of the regular-season vote; both polls shifted to waiting after bowl games in 1968. That poll system remained in place until the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 followed by the College Football Playoff in 2014.

The 1966 season was the year of Game of the Century matching Michigan State and Notre Dame in a de facto national title game since neither team would play in a bowl game. Notre Dame’s no-bowl policy remained in place until the 1969 season. Michigan State was restricted by the Big Ten’s no-repeat Rose Bowl rule that was in place until 1972.

The teams played to a controversial 10-10 tie to finish with 9-0-1 records, but since Notre Dame entered the game No. 1 and Michigan State No. 2 — the Spartans had been No. 1 for the first half of the season before slipping to No. 2 without losing – both AP and UPI voted the Irish national champions. However, the National Football Foundation, which awarded the prestigious MacArthur Bowl Trophy, declared the teams co-national champions.

“The reasons are rather obvious why we divided the award,” said NFF president Vincent DePaul Draddy at the time. “It seemed like the only fair thing to do with a couple excellent teams like Notre Dame and Michigan State.”

There is another stat to remember from 1966 about how Michigan State changed the face of college football. The Spartans featured 20 black players, while Notre Dame had only one, defensive tackle Alan Page.

Daugherty had recruited the segregated South with his Underground Railroads teams that joined black and white players from the north. Other schools noted Daugherty’s success with black players, including with a black quarterback.

Jimmy Raye of Fayetteville, N.C., was the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title as a starter on the Spartans’ 1966 team. He was second-team All-Big Ten to Purdue All-American Bob Griese, who was second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Florida’s Steve Spurrier.

All-American linebacker/rover George Webster was from South Carolina, while All-American defensive lineman and offensive end Gene Washington were both from Texas.

In 1967, USC, a school with a long history of integration, won a national title with only seven black players. But by 1972, the Trojans won their next national crown with 23 black players.

The Jim Crow South also reluctantly gave into segregation policies. Maryland was the first in the South in 1963 when it was an ACC member. Kentucky was the first in the SEC in 1967. Other SEC schools waited until the 1970s such as Alabama in 1971 and Georgia, LSU and Mississippi in 1972.

Here is more history from Michigan State’s 1965-66 teams:

  • Four College Football Hall of Fame players: George Webster, Bubba Smith, Gene Washington, Clinton Jones.
    Jones joins the list on Dec. 8 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Michigan State is the first school with four black players from the same class. Daugherty’s legacy establishing the Spartans as the leader in the integration of college football is still unfolding.Overall, Michigan State is only the fourth school with four players from the same class and the first since Boston College in 1940. The other two schools are Notre Dame and Stanford.
  • Five two-time All-Americans, 1965 and 1966: Webster, Smith, Washington, Jones and Bob Apisa.
  • First Samoan All-American: Apisa.
  • All-Big Ten picks, 1965: First team: Gene Washington, Clinton Jones, Bubba Smith, George Webster, Steve Juday, Ron Goovert, Don Japinga, Harold Lucas; second team: John Karpinski, Bob Apisa, Jerry West, Boris Dimitroff; honorable mention: Robert Viney, Donald Bierowicz, Alton Owens, David Techlin, Dwight Lee.
  • All-Big Ten picks, 1966: Washington, Jones, Smith, Webster, Apisa, Charlie Thornhill, Dick Kenney, Jerry West, Nicholas Jordan, Anthony Conti, Jess Phillips; second team: Pat Gallinagh, Jimmy Raye, Phillip Hoag, Joseph Pryzbycki, Jeffrey Richardson; honorable mention: George Chatlos, Allen Brenner, Dwight Lee, Drake Garrett, Regis Cavender.
  • 1967 NFL Draft. Smith was taken No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts, Jones No. 2 by the Minnesota Vikings, Webster No. 5 by the Houston Oilers and Washington No. 8 by the Vikings. No school has come close to matching four of the top eight picks in an NFL draft.A half-century later, though, three of the legends will be remembered posthumously: Thornhill passed away in 2006, Webster in 2007 and Smith in 2011.There integral parts to one of the most important stories in college football history.


*Excerpts taken from Tom Shanahan’s book, “Raye of Light.”

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