It’s just unfortunate for many of us loyal Spartan fans to have the importance of this Saturday’s game sullied considerably by MSU’s loss to Ohio State last weekend.
I know I am quickly advancing in years when I acknowledge that I was in attendance at Michigan State’s Mack Field for that clash of long ago, but at the same time, I am excited to be attending this year’s renewal in College Park when these two Big Ten universities meet once again.
But, for this diehard Spartan fan and others who bleed green and white, let’s hope the results are different than when they met in early October of 1950.
The Spartans were crushed by the Terps, 34-7.
And what was significant about that lopsided loss? It would be the last time the Spartans would taste defeat for the next 28 games, until the Spartans were upset by the Purdue “Spoilermakers” 6-0 in 1953. It’s a streak unmatched in MSU football lore.
Very few of the Spartan faithful from that long ago era saw this coming.
The Spartans entered the Maryland contest with their highest ranking in MSU history. Seven days earlier, Michigan State defeated No. 3-ranked Michigan 14-7, MSU’s first victory over Michigan in 13 years.
Our proud Muskegon area was well represented in that 1950 football contest. It featured football greats who long ago were enshrined in the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame.
The Wolverines started future NFL lineman Tom Jackson at tackle while his Muskegon Heights teammate, Frank Howell, played a major role in the contest witnessed by more than 97,000 fans at the spacious U-M Stadium – years before it would be known as “The Big House.”
Yet another former Muskegon Heights gridder from that era, Sonny Grandelius, would be on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage as the running back for the rival Michigan State Spartans.
Representing Muskegon High School for the Michigan State Spartans was 1951 All-American end Paul Dekker.
Grandelius, who by season’s end would become the first back in MSU’s proud football history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, scored one Spartan touchdown and set up the second tally, which was scored by MSU captain Leroy Crane in the 14-7 Spartan triumph.
Howell nearly had a touchdown of his own for the losing Wolverines when he intercepted an Al Dorow pass and returned it more than 40 yards before being tackled at the Spartan 20 yard line.
Later on in the 1950 season, the Spartans would end another winless drought by edging Notre Dame, the defending National Champions of 1949. MSU won 36-33 in South Bend, the first victory over the powerful Irish since way back in 1918. Incidentally, the Spartans’ victory over Notre Dame would be the first defeat in the legendary career of Irish icon Knute Rockne.
One could easily understand the 1950 Spartans’ lackluster showing against the Terps.
Following their exhilarating victory the previous week against the highly ranked Wolverines, the Spartans had climbed all the way to No. 2 in the national rankings.
However, the ranking would be short lived.
And it would be the Terrapins who would be ranked No. 2 when they departed East Lansing.
Nowhere while doing research for this game, did I come across the common excuses one would read heading into a modern-day game … phrases such as “overconfident,” or “looking past” or “this could be a trap game.”
All the above may have contributed to the Spartans’ defeat, but what was certainly overlooked by coach Biggie Munn’s 1950 gridders was clear: State was whipped by an outstanding football team.
I well remember my journey to MSC (as it was known at the time) on this crisp October afternoon. I attended the game with the entire North Muskegon football team, coached by my father, Paul Moyes.
Dad, a former Spartan from the late 1930s, had taken his NM teams to a Michigan State home game for the last three seasons, but unfortunately, due to health, 1950 would be his last season as the head football coach for his beloved Norsemen.
How lucky was this young grade schooler to have tagged along on each of those memorable trips to East Lansing along old Highway 16.
Following the 1949 high school football season, Spartan assistant coach Duffy Daugherty was the guest speaker at the North Muskegon football banquet. Joining the popular Spartan coach at the head table that evening was future All-American running back Everett “Sonny” Grandelius.
It’s like that this was the banquet that my father and Duffy began their longtime friendship that lasted until Dad passed away in 1960. I will never forget the compassion Duffy exhibited during Dad’s illness, including taking the time off from his busy schedule to visit Dad in the VA hospital and showing him the film of a recent MSU game.
While sitting in the north end zone, I was among the 39,000 spectators in the 51,000 seat stadium that had very little to cheer about during the game.
The Terps had caught MSC at a perfect time with the visitors having extra incentive leading up to the kickoff. The 1949 Maryland squad dropped but one game during the previous season – to these same Spartans – losing by the identical 14-7 score that the Spartans posted the previous week in their win against Michigan.
There were three Maryland players from that game whose name stayed with me forever. Jack Scarbath and a pair of bruising brothers, Big Mo and Little Mo Modzelewski.
But time would tell that Maryland had more firepower than the above named trio – much more – as will be noted later on.
The Spartans had but one shining moment in their lopsided loss to Maryland. It was a 67-yard zig-zagging TD run by the electrifying Grandelius.
One of the many Terps who bullied the Spartans during this game was Bob Ward, who played on both sides of the ball and would be named a first team All-American following the 1950 season. Ward had a game for the ages against the Spartans.
Maryland quarterback Jack Scarbath recently spoke of Ward’s feat that afternoon.
“I remember one game we had against Michigan State when Bobby (Ward) was at middle guard and went over the top of their center (Dick Tamburo) to make a tackle. Then he went right under the center to make another tackle. A little later he went around the center to the left. Then he went around him to the right. I’ve never seen anybody who could dominate like Bobby.”
Ward accomplished a feat that has not been surpassed to this day. He was named first team All-American as a defenseman lineman in 1950 and then was selected as an All-American guard the following year. He is the only player in history to be named an offense and defensive All-American. Ward had much more success as a player at Maryland than as a head coach. He posted a disappointing 2-18 record over a brief, two-year span.
As good as this young Maryland team was in 1950, the best was yet to come for the Terrapins.
However, it’s unfortunate this series did not continue into the following year. Both teams had undefeated seasons in 1951, but only Maryland was invited to a bowl game. Coach Jim Tatum’s Terps capped their first (and only) undefeated season in school history with an impressive 28-13 victory over top-ranked Tennessee in the 1952 Sugar Bowl.
Using today’s format of delaying until all the bowl games have been completed before the pollsters could give their final votes, there could be little question that Maryland and Michigan State would have finished 1-2 in the polls. However, back in 1951, bowl results did not count toward determining the national title holder.
And what talent each team put on the field on this memorable date 64 years ago.
Maryland dressed 60 players for that 1950 battle in East Lansing, with nearly half of those players (26 in all) being drafted by an NFL team over the next 3 years.
In addition to the exploits of Ward, other Maryland players would leave a lasting impact on the gridiron.
- Jack Scarbath: The starting quarterback at Maryland for 3 years. Scarbath was second to Oklahoma’s Bill Vessels in the Heisman voting in 1952. A member of the Football Hall of Fame and a first-round draft pick by the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
- Dick (Little Mo) Modzelewski: Also in the College Hall of Fame. Winner of the Outland Trophy as the nation’s outstanding lineman in 1952. Two-time All-American. Played in a then-record 180 straight games during his 14-year career in the NFL. Had a nose for the ball by recovering 12 fumbles during his career. Served as an assistant coach for a number of years in the NFL.
- Ed (Big Mo) Modzelewski: Ed was named the outstanding player in the 1952 Sugar Bowl victory. He scored two TDs against MSU. Scored six TDs as the starting fullback on the world champion Cleveland Browns in 1956 before losing his starting job 2 years later to a rookie running back named Jim Brown.
- Stan Jones: A member of the NFL Hall of Fame. Cited by many as the first player in the NFL to utilize weight training. Starred for 13 years in the NFL, including 12 with the Chicago Bears.
- Bob (Shoo Shoo) Shemonski: Held numerous records at Maryland. Drafted by the Bears but entered the military and never did play in the NFL. Shemonski led the 1950 team in scoring with 97 points. Also starred on defense, including a 37-yard interception return for a TD against MSU. Tallied five TDs in a single game against Virginia Tech.
- John Idzik: Michigan fans will remember Idzik when he served as the head coach at the University of Detroit. After UD dropped football in the early 1960s, he would serve as an assistant coach for a number of NFL teams.
- Ray Krause: The captain of the 1950 Terps, Krause, who would return to the state of Michigan in 1957 to star as a defenseman lineman for the 1957 World Champion Detroit Lions. Krause was a proven winner as he also was a star performer for the 1958 and 1959 World Champion Baltimore Colts. Krause was so impressive during his tenure as a Terrapin that he was the 25th player selected in the 1951 draft. Krause passed away at the age of 39 in 1966.
- Head coach Jim Tatum: Had a spectacular record of 73-15-4 (.815 winning percentage) as the Maryland coach from 1947-1955. Maryland played in five bowl games during Tatum’s tenure at Maryland. Tatum left Maryland following the 1955 season to become the head coach of his alma mater, North Carolina. Unfortunately, Tatum became ill and passed away in July of 1959 at but 46 years of age.
The Spartans likewise had more than their fair share of football greats that wore the green and white while at Michigan State.
Muskegon area fans will remember the late Sonny Grandelius and all he achieved in football as an All-American at MSU, a star running back in the NFL and an outstanding head coach at Colorado. In addition to Grandelius, other notable Spartans included:
- Bob Carey: A first-team All-American in 1951 and a first-round draft choice in the NFL by the Los Angeles Rams. The last nine letterwinner at Michigan State. A three-year starter on the MSC basketball team and a Big Ten shot put champion in track. I can still remember watching in awe as the 6-foot-5 Carey caught footballs one handed in warmups as easily as one would pick an apple from a tree.
- Al Dorow: Although Dorow had by far the worst day as a Spartan in the game against Maryland (completing only three passes), he would have an outstanding career at MSC and beyond. Dorow was the MVP of the North-South Senior Bowl game in January of 1952. Fittingly, after serving time in the military, Dorow would share quarterback duties in 1954 for the Redskins with former Maryland rival Jack Scarbath. Dorow, who made the NFL Pro Bowl, led the old AFL in touchdown passes in 1961 as a member of the New York Titans.
- Dorne Dibble: An All-American defensive end for the 1950 Spartans, Dibble would excel as a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions. Dibble played a major role in contributing to NFL world championship teams in Detroit in 1953 and 1957. He was the fifth leading receiver in the 1956 NFL season and scored six touchdowns.
- Don Coleman: He was named a unanimous first-team All-American in 1951. Coleman would be the first Spartan player to ever have his number retired. He was chosen for the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975. Even though the undersized Coleman played tackle at a mere 180 pounds, he was chosen the Most Valuable Player for the 1951 Spartans, which finished the season undefeated. He is a charter member of the Michigan State Hall of Fame.
- Frank Kush: Like Coleman, Kush was another undersized, but very quick, lineman who undoubtedly made a bigger impact in football as the head coach at Arizona State University for more than 20 years. The ASU football field is named in Kush’s honor.
- Jesse Thomas: This former Big Ten sprint and hurdles champion in track and field was a defensive back in the NFL for 3 seasons with the Baltimore Colts. However, it wasn’t with the Colts where Thomas would make his biggest impact in Baltimore. It was at nearby Morgan State where Thomas worked as a coach, teacher and athletic director for more than 40 years before he passed away in 2012. Thomas was a terrific influence in the life of his second cousin, current NFL coach Marvin Lewis.
- Dick Tamburo: Although Maryland’s Bob Ward got the better of Tamburo in East Lansing in 1950, Tamburo would have a notable career at MSU and beyond. The loss to the Terps would be the only loss incurred by Tamburo during his three years as a Spartan (1950-52). Tamburo was an All-American in 1952 and selected as the MVP on the Spartans national championship team. Tamburo would eventually follow his teammate, Frank Kush, to Arizona State, where he would serve for a period of time as the athletic director.
- Doug Weaver: An outstanding linebacker for the Spartans. Weaver would follow along much the same path as Tamburo. Weaver would get into coaching and ultimately serve as the head coach at Southern Illinois and then Kansas State. Weaver would then move into the office where he served as the athletic director at Georgia Tech before returning to East Lansing to become the AD in 1989.
- John Wilson: Wilson lettered on the 1950 Spartan team and was a starting defensive halfback on the MSU undefeated teams of 1951 and 1952. Wilson was an academic All-American as well as the first Spartan athlete to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. It would be in the academic world where Wilson rose to fame. The president of the MSU student body his senior year, Wilson would become the first Provost at Virginia Tech prior to concluding his career as president of Washington and Lee University.
It would certainly be worth noting that three of the Spartan coaches would win national championships during their careers with Biggie Munn being the first with his 1952 Spartan powerhouse. Munn’s longtime assistant, and successor, Duffy Daugherty would win it all in 1965 and 1966. Dan Devine, also an assistant at MSU from 1950-54, would lead Notre Dame to an NCAA championship in 1977.
How befitting can it be that these two schools each began their school’s longest winning streak in that same 1950 season? While the Spartans would taste nary a defeat for 28 consecutive games following their loss to Maryland, the Terps would begin an undefeated streak that would reach 22 games. Both are school records that stand to this day at these proud universities.
I will be attending Saturday’s game with my lovely wife (a staunch Wolverine fan) and my youngest daughter, Kasey, who will surely have some mixed emotions as who to root for in this game. Kasey received an undergraduate degree from MSU and has always been a faithful Spartan supporter.
However, her paycheck is now written in red ink for Maryland as Dr. Kasey Moyes is a professor at the University of Maryland.
The memories from long ago will certainly flow for this lifelong Spartan fan when these two great institutions face one another after 64 long years. I’m just hoping that history from those bygone days does not repeat itself. Regardless of the outcome, you can bet the ole’ announcer will have a great time.
After all, there were no tailgating parties back in 1950.
Contact Moyes at [email protected]