Sunday, February 25, 2024

Grand Occasion

Fans, players celebrate 1,000 football game

September 5, 2003
Former MSU offensive guard Hank Bullough shows off championship rings and a photo of his playing days in his Okemos home Thursday. Bullough was a member of the 1952 National Championship and 1953 Rose Bowl teams. —

The corner of Kalamazoo and Walnut streets in downtown Lansing is, for the most part, unremarkable. The Capitol looms in the skyline and the Lewis Cass Building shrugs its shoulders above business rooftops and blacktop parking lots while the city goes on with its day.

But 999 football games ago, a genesis took place at that intersection. On Sept. 26, 1896, 11 young men with names like Vanderhoef, Redfern and Vanderstolpe from Michigan Agricultural College gave birth to MSU football. They were in a park that no longer exists with fans watching in a grandstand where the Cass building now stands.

On Saturday, countless teams and players later, MSU and their 573-382-44 all-time record will face Rutgers to celebrate its 1,000th football game in school history.

"I'm just glad to have the opportunity to play in the 1,000th game," senior quarterback Jeff Smoker said. "A lot of alumni are coming back and former players. It's going to be cool to say you played in the game and in front of all those people."

Saturday's festivities - a plan more than a year in the making, according to associate athletics director John Lewandowski - will include returning members of the 1953 Rose Bowl and 1978 Big Ten championship teams. There will be commemorative gold and black "M.A.C." patches sewn on MSU jerseys, helmets without the Spartan decal and "Aggies" in place of "Spartans" on scoreboards.

"We chose the black and gold (patches) because during Charlie Bachman's time the Spartans actually wore black and gold," Lewandowski said, referring to the head coach from 1936-44. "We're trying to tie as many things together was we can."

In those 1,000 games, the Spartans have seen both successes and failures. MSU has seen six national championships - 1951-52, 1955, 1957, 1965-66. There were just as many Big Ten championships, 74 All-Americans and two players - Herb Adderly, a fullback from the late 1950s and Joe DeLamielleure, an affable offensive lineman from the early 1970s - enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame.

"Basically, they laid the stones that we walk on," head coach John L. Smith said. "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be able to play this great game."

But success also has shared space with disaster. In 1994, MSU forfeited all wins because of grade tampering and allegations of cash payouts to players, among other claims. After a preseason No. 15 ranking in 2002, then-junior Smoker was suspended from the team and later attended treatment for substance abuse. Former head coach Bobby Williams was fired mid-season and the team essentially dismantled on field.

The game played in 1896 would hardly be recognizable to today's college football fans. Players lined up on offense and defense, touchdowns were three points instead of six and the game only lasted 28 minutes.

Football had evolved by the time Hank Bullough, offensive guard on the 1952 national championship and 1953 Rose Bowl teams, came to East Lansing. It became the game that fans identify with today.

"There's been a lot of people lined up on that field and taken their bumps and bruises for it," Bullough said. "There's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears for those out there. You took the good with the bad but for the most part were happy."

And as Bullough pointed out, Spartan elation came in many forms. Being part of a four-year era in MSU football that lost only two games was the brightest part of his legacy, but certain moments against MSU rivals were impossible to ignore.

"I remember when I was a freshman in '51, beating Notre Dame 35-0 - that was a big memory for our team," he said. "And on that '53 team, when we beat Michigan 14-6, we had to beat them to stay alive for the Rose Bowl."

With so much college football history floating around Spartan Stadium this weekend, the opposing Scarlet Knights shouldn't feel out of the loop.

Twenty-seven years before the Aggies beat Lansing High School 10-0 at Eltom Park, Rutgers had its own historic hallmark when the team played the first-ever U.S. collegiate football game in New Brunswick, N.J., against Princeton.

Coincidence?

"That's the way it fell. Those schedules are normally worked out 10 years in advance," Lewandowski said. "But it's neat how it worked out, playing the 1,000th game against the team that played in the first college football game."

But like Bullough said, with the good came the bad. And for most people set to be honored on the field Saturday to commemorate 1,000 games of Spartan football, it'll be a cause for celebration.

"It's going to be a very happy day and a very sad day," Bullough said. "You think of all the people over the years who have died. It'll bring back up for a lot of memories - most of them happy, thank God."

Staff writer Jon Styf contributed to this report.

Patrick Walters can be reached at walter88@msu.edu.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Grand Occasion” on social media.