1970 All American Football Team

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1970 all American football team: Editor’s note: In addition to recent interviews with participants, this story made use of contemporaneous reporting surrounding the Coaches All-America Game in late June and early July 1970 by the Avalanche-Journal, The Associated Press, the Odessa American, and Sports Illustrated.

Fifty years after the fact, Mike McCoy vividly remembers the 1970 Coaches All-America Game.

Even at age 71, it would be hard for him to forget. The Notre Dame defensive lineman won the East team’s Ernie Davis Award for his leadership in practice that week, and it has a prominent place above his desk in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

When a reporter from Lubbock contacted McCoy recently, seeking his recollections about that game and that week, McCoy didn’t need to go rummaging through a closet.

“Every day I come into my office, it’s sitting right here,” he said. “I do remember hitting the sled one time and breaking it. That’s probably why I won the Ernie Davis Award. I broke the blocking sled.”

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1970 all american football team

There are plenty of other reasons to snap McCoy back to June 1970 and the Coaches All-America Game for the major milestones in his life that surrounded it: He got married a week after the game. He played in another talent showcase, the College All-Star Game in Chicago, one month later. The Green Bay Packers had made him the second overall pick in the NFL Draft five months before.

And 47 days before Lubbock hosted the Coaches All-America Game for the first time, an F5 tornado tore through the city and killed 26 people.

Bill Murray, head of the American Football Coaches Association, spent three days trying to get through to Lubbock on the phone while San Diego and Memphis volunteered to take the game. But Tech athletics director JT King and city leaders headed by Mayor Jim Granberry vowed that the game would go on at Jones Stadium. Never mind that three stadium light poles had been folded like paperclips by the storm.

Not only did the game go on, but a record crowd of 42,150 fans also showed up.

Just as it has been for McCoy, the week in Lubbock is a clear memory for former Texas offensive lineman Bob McKay.

“I’d never been in a place where a tornado had hit before,” said McKay, who was born in Seminole and grew up in Crane, “and I was just amazed at all the damage that was done. People lost their lives. People lost their homes, lost everything. And Lubbock still rallied to put the game on and treat us like kings. It was the most amazing thing.”

Stars galore

It was a most amazing week, coming on the heels of college football’s 100th anniversary season. Roger Staubach came to town to be a featured speaker at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner. A flashy young running back named O.J. Simpson, having just completed his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, was moonlighting as a sideline reporter for ABC. Bud Wilkinson showed up to present Darrell Royal with an award for being the coach of the decade for the 1960s.

Speaking of coaches, the men on the sideline were a who’s who. Missouri’s Dan Devine coached the West, North Dakota State’s Ron Ehrhardt and Stanford’s John Ralston served as his lieutenants, and all three later became NFL head coaches.

LSU’s Charlie McClendon coached the East with the co-counsel of Michigan State’s Duffy Daugherty and Boston University’s Larry Naviaux.

Devine, Ralston, McClendon, and Daugherty later were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Being in the presence of all those coaching titans was something else for East quarterback Gordon Slade, who hailed from little Davidson College in North Carolina.

“It was really cool to have guys that famous hanging around and coaching you,” Slade said this summer.

Michigan’s Bo Schembechler, as the AFCA coach of the year for 1969, had an automatic spot on the staff, but a heart attack six months before had put Schembechler in the hospital at the Rose Bowl. So Daugherty, who’d coached Michigan State to national titles in 1965 and 1966, took his place in Lubbock.

Staubach spoke on a Wednesday night. The same day, the American Harp Society set up shop on the Tech campus for its annual four-day national conference. They were stroking the strings in close proximity to the players’ dorm.

“Hell,” a grinning player told Sports Illustrated, “we couldn’t get those little old ladies with the harps to quiet down.”

Some 60 writers came to Lubbock. So did a flock of coaches for the four-day clinic the AFCA put on in conjunction with the game. Even though the NFL draft was behind them, pro scouts proliferated, to be available for their own rookies and to develop intel on players who might someday be waived or offered in trade.

Lubbock is known for its hospitality, and one way the warmth comes across is through food.

“At their first meal here,” Avalanche-Journal columnist Don Henry wrote, “the cook at Robby’s prepared 90 pounds of roast beef, along with the other usual – salad, potatoes, ice cream, and trimmings. When the 60 players cleared the chow hall, only six pounds of meat remained. At another catered feed for the players, coaches, and wives, the story goes that the caterer prepared for 400 persons – and had enough left to feed 10.”

Sure enough, 50 years later and with prompting about nothing specific, Slade tipped a figurative cap to West Texans’ hospitality and their food.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “Course, the people in Lubbock just took fantastic care of us as you might expect. I’d never been out there before, but I got to eat Texas barbecue and all those kinds of things that were typical of what was going on out there.”

The game delivers

Gordon Slade’s family still holds on to keepsakes from the Coaches All-America Game. Among them are his framed blue jersey with “All-America” and No. 15 on the back and a personalized plaque bearing an artist’s rendering of his image.

Neither takes Slade back to a time and place quite as much as a simple Polaroid picture. The photo captures an in-game interview in which Slade answers questions posed by O.J. Simpson. It might have come during the first half when Slade ran for one touchdown and threw for two more.

And to think. He showed up in Lubbock as a fill-in of sorts. Louisiana Tech quarterback Terry Bradshaw, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft that January, was invited to play, but was unable.

Slade was sure no slouch. Playing for acclaimed offensive coach Homer Smith who let him air it out when most teams favored the run, Slade had led Davidson to an average of 33.3 points per game and the Southern Conference championship in the fall of 1969.

With an opportunity to prove himself among players from elite programs, he was bound to make the most of it.

Game day, June 27, 1970, began with a parade 11 hours before kickoff. The high temperature reached 96 degrees that afternoon, and it was still 90 when kickoff came just after 8:30 p.m. ABC televised the game nationally – everywhere except within a two-hour radius of Lubbock. Locally, KSEL channel 28 aired the replay at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Defensive end Richard Campbell, tight end Charles Evans and defensive back Denton Fox represented hometown Texas Tech on the West team. Campbell sang the national anthem before kickoff, then blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown in the second quarter.

For Dallas Cowboys fans in Lubbock, the hot night offered a first glimpse of West Texas State running back Duane Thomas, Boston College lineman John Fitzgerald, and Clemson split end Charlie Waters. They along with Fox had all been high draft picks by the Cowboys.

In the Evening Journal, two days in advance, Cooks Discount Department Store advertised a selection of binoculars: “Coaches All-America Game Specials.”

Those came in handy because there was plenty to see, from the bunting and 400 American flags ringing Jones Stadium to the fireworks and pageantry down on the field.

“The game was telecast in color,” the Odessa American’s Roy Pitchford wrote, “and Louisiana State’s Charlie McClendon belied his image of being a colorless coach by making the scene dressed in purple slacks and a lavender shirt.”

Ohio State running back Jim Otis gave the pre-game invocation, then went out and carried 27 times for 145 yards, both game records. Otis was destined to spend nine years in the NFL, most of it as a starter on high-powered offenses of the St. Louis Cardinals. On this night, his pounding runs led the way for the East in a 34-27 victory.

Three touchdowns in the last 1:56 of the second quarter – two on passes from Slade to Michigan State wide receiver Frank Foreman – made it 21-21 at halftime.

Slade also scored the game’s first touchdown on a 5-yard run.

Somewhere along in there came Slade’s most indelible memory from the game, when O.J. Simpson, microphone in hand, sidled up to him on the Jones Stadium sideline.

Slade’s family was watching back home in Evansville, Indiana. Jack Slade, always a camera buff, grabbed his Polaroid and shot a photo of the television with his son and Simpson in the frame.

“I still have that picture, and a couple of copies have been made,” said Slade, an Atlanta resident since 1972. “So when anybody like at work or something used to say, ‘Everybody brings in a picture of something interesting about yourself that nobody would ever know,’ I could always top everybody else.”

A riveting finish

The East took a 28-21 lead when Indiana’s John Isenbarger threw a halfback pass for a touchdown to Waters, a Clemson wide receiver who became a Pro Bowl safety in Dallas.

San Diego State quarterback Dennis Shaw completed 25 of 48 passes for 344 yards, also all records.

A few minutes after 49ers first-round pick Bruce Taylor from Boston U returned an interception for a touchdown, giving the East a 34-27 lead, Shaw and the West mounted one last charge. Starting at his own 25 with 1:04 left, Shaw hit Nebraska tight end Jim McFarland for 33 yards and Arizona receiver Ron Gardin for 39.

Gardin, the West’s winner of the Ernie Davis Award for his leadership that week, got behind coverage but had to make a leaping catch at the East 10-yard line, stumbled, and fell at the 3. After the West took a 6-yard loss on the next play, Jerry Hendren caught Shaw’s last pass as the gun sounded, but officials ruled the Idaho wide receiver out of the end zone.

That finish, and nearly four hours of football, were enough to leave a man drained but hardly speechless.

“Great, great, great!” said McClendon, the LSU coach. “Wasn’t a game like this, with all those points, just a super way for an all-star game to go?

“And these kids. All of them, not just mine. They knew the problems the people had here. Like the all-Americans they are, they didn’t lie down on the job at any time.”

As if the game needed more coffee-shop conversation topics, two light standards on the west side of Jones Stadium blinked out with 2:04 left, and tempers flared late in the game, too.

As The Associated Press summed it up, the first Coaches All-America Game in Lubbock featured “a nerve-jangling ending, nine touchdowns, fist fights and a light failure in the last pulsating moments.”

It was a remarkable game to cap a memorable week.

1970 All American Football Team

At least 24 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame played in the Coaches All-America Game over its 16 editions in Buffalo, Atlanta, and Lubbock, though attendance was frequently an issue. The AFCA’s summer showcase came to the South Plains in 1970 after declining fan turnout in the two pro sports cities.

Each team suited up 30 players that first year at Jones Stadium. Among them were six first-round draft choices, five second-round draft choices, five third-round picks, and four apiece from the fourth and fifth rounds.

Particularly formidable, at least on paper, was the West defensive line: Cedrick Hardman from North Texas State, Bill Brundige from Colorado, Ken Geddes from Nebraska and Jerry Sherk from Oklahoma State all went on too long NFL careers.

They reported eight days ahead of time and were slack-jawed by the tornado’s damage.

“Of course, we had heard about it,” McCoy said. “Back then, we didn’t have the news coverage we have today. Even when you see anything on the news or online, it doesn’t have the impact as when you physically see it.

“And I remember driving in from the airport and there were subdivisions, I believe near the airport, and these were very nice homes that were damn near gone. I said, ‘Wow.’ And then we came into Lubbock and looked up, and half the stadium lights were gone.”

Soon enough, though, the conversation shifted to football.

All the players trickled in on Friday the week before, except John Ward, the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round pick. The Oklahoma State offensive lineman, fuzzy on the details of when to report, sheepishly showed up a day late.

While the other players were checking in, Ward stopped on the drive down from Oklahoma at a buddy’s in Wheeler. He enjoyed the day, generated a murmur among the small-town folk when he played in a couple of softball games that evening, and then spent the night.

Not that Ward didn’t feel just as honored as the other guys when he did arrive.

“This has always been my favorite of all the all-star games,” he told A-J columnist Burle Pettit. “I was thrilled to death to get a chance to play in it. I guess the reason I’ve always liked it was that way back yonder I saw it on TV when Roger Staubach was playing. It just sort of captured my imagination. I’m proud to be here.”

Today, the idea of college stars from the previous season playing an all-star game in the summer just before reporting to NFL training camps sounds preposterous. But the Coaches All-America Game and the College All-Star Game, the latter an annual event in Chicago in which a team of college standouts played the defending Super Bowl champions, both lasted through the summer of 1976. Lubbock hosted the last seven editions of the Coaches All-America Game.

By the early 1970s, though, teams and agents began to discourage their rookies from taking part.

Some discouraged it, anyway.

Isenbarger, the running back and receiver from Indiana, that week called it “a privilege to be invited.” His NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers, told him to go ahead and play.

McCoy doesn’t remember the Packers having a problem with it either.

“I never got a call from the Packers,” McCoy said. “I never even thought about not playing in these (all-star) games. I thought it was a privilege to play in these games.”

McCoy managed to get his picture on the front page of the Avalanche-Journal or Evening Journal three times that week: once by himself, once in a posed photo-op with the head coaches, Arkansas linebacker Cliff Powell and a Texas Tech athletics department employee, and another time chatting with Donny Anderson. The former Tech star, four years into his NFL career and back in town, was going to be McCoy’s teammate in Green Bay.

As much as McCoy enjoyed the week, though, not everything suited him perfectly.

Three days ahead of the game, an A-J advertisement promoted “World’s Most ’69 All-Americans” and “1st Game on Tech’s Man-Made Turf.”

Indeed, the first AstroTurf to carpet Jones Stadium went down in 1970, and the first team to set foot on it was the East all-stars for the Coaches All-America Game. The East got to practice on it five times that week, the West twice.

Which sounded like a perk for the East.

If only they had known then what the football world came to learn about the unforgiving nature of the first AstroTurf.

“I said, ‘What is this stuff? This is not grass,’ ” McCoy recalled. “It was difficult to get used to. … I did not enjoy the tartan turf.”

All things considered, though, McCoy’s mild beef was one complaint in a sea of compliments.

Isenbarger, the 49ers’ second-round pick from Big Ten country, knew little about Lubbock before he was invited, he told the A-J that week. He warmed up to the Hub City in a hurry.

“All the fellows are talking about how great everybody has been to us, how proud they seem to be to have the game,” he said. “From what I understand, that isn’t always the case. At some all-star games, people in the towns tend to turn up their noses and say, ‘Here comes a bunch of hell-raising football players.’

“Really, I love this town. And that’s not a bunch of Chamber of Commerce junk. I mean it. It’s a great place for the game.”

“The atmosphere and attitude of the city have helped the morale of the players,” McClendon said. “They’ve been golfing and horseback riding and have had something to do every night.”

The people of Lubbock were determined to make a lasting impression on their gridiron guests. That began from the time the coaches and players hit the town and were whisked to a reception at Lake Ransom Canyon. Mayor Jim Granberry “urge(d) all citizens of Lubbock and the surrounding area to lend their fullest support to this most outstanding and exciting event.”

They sprinkled out the hospitality all week and saved some of the best for last.

On game day, Gov. Preston Smith and state Sen. H.J. “Doc” Blanchard led a downtown parade with more than 60 entries and 5,000 American flags.

Fifty years later, McKay’s memory of the event was just about spot-on.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” the Texas lineman said recently from his home in Austin, “but there were like 40 or 50 floats in this thing. It just amazed me that they had that many people that were wrapped up in the ballgame, in the whole shebang out there. It impressed. After all the stuff that had gone on, I just didn’t expect that.”

Game week in the A-J, there were headlines about Kent State students returning to campus for summer classes and about U.S. troop operations in Cambodia. Kent State was resuming classes for the first time since May 4, 1970, when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on anti-Vietnam War protesters, killing four students.

The American forces were soon to be pulled out of Cambodia, three months after President Nixon had sent them into the country bordering South Vietnam against diplomatic policy.

San Diego State center Bill Pierson, a Vietnam veteran, had stood guard to protect an American flag from some 150 student protesters on his own campus. Now Pierson was starting for the West and serving as parade marshal in Lubbock.

The tornado might have bent the light standards at Jones Stadium, but Mother Nature couldn’t conquer Lubbock’s spirit.

“It’s just amazing how the people of Lubbock came back from that thing,” McKay said. “It amazed a bunch of people that were there, going ahead with the game, because we thought it would be canceled. But it turned out to be one hell of an experience.”

Sports Illustrated writer William F. Reed’s recap of the game, published a week later in SI, contained a photo of McCoy and McKay walking across a pile of uneven rubble in front of the remains of a brick building demolished by the tornado.

When the photo, now online, was brought to McKay’s and McCoy’s attention this spring, neither remembered the picture, much less had it stored away somewhere. McCoy said he was aware at the time of the casualty count, but felt jolted again recently when rereading that 26 died.

It made him appreciate the circumstances all over again.

“We saw a community come together from all walks of life to make this thing happen,” he said. “I think obviously it was a positive thing for the community because it gave them a goal to do something, not only to refurbish their homes.

“So there was a lot of grief going on, and sometimes when you have – if you want to call it a distraction – a football game, that kind of helps a lot of people get their mind off of things. The community did it, and it was a tremendous experience.”


Starting lineups

West offense: SE, Jerry Hendren, Idaho; LT, Bob Liggett, Nebraska; LG, Bill Bridges, Houston; C, Bill Pierson, San Diego State; RG, John Ward, Oklahoma State; RT, Bob McKay, Texas; TE, Jim McFarland, Nebraska; QB, Dennis Shaw, San Diego State; FB, Ron McBride, Missouri; TB, Duane Thomas, West Texas State; FL, Ron Gardin, Arizona.

West defense: LE, Cedrick Hardman, North Texas State; LT, Bill Brundige, Colorado; NG, Ken Geddes, Nebraska; RT, Jerry Sherk, Oklahoma State; RE, Richard Campbell, Texas Tech; LB, Cliff Powell, Arkansas; LB, Don Parish, Stanford; LCB, Mel Easley, Oregon State; RCB, Eric Harris, Colorado; SS, Denton Fox, Texas Tech; FS; John Davis, Missouri.

East offense: SE, Jim O’Brien, Cincinnati; LT, Jim Reilly, Notre Dame; LG, Bob Parker, Memphis State; C, Godfrey Zaunbrecher, LSU; RG, Ron Saul, Michigan State; RT, Jeff Curchin, Florida State; TE, Larry Brewer, Louisiana Tech; QB, Gordon Slade, Davidson; FB, Eddie Ray, LSU; RB, Jim Otis, Ohio State; FL, John Isenbarger, Indiana.

East defense: LE, Cecil Pryor, Michigan; LT, Mike McCoy, Notre Dame; MG, Claude Herard, Mississippi; RT, David Campbell, Auburn; RE, Dick Palmer, Kentucky; LB, Carl Crennel, West Virginia; LB, Bob Olson, Notre Dame; LCB, Raymond Jones, Southern; RCB, Bruce Taylor, Boston U; LS, Buddy McClinton, Auburn; RS, Phil Abraira, Florida State.

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