College Hall-of-Famer Lorenzo White and the day he carried the ball 56 times
Two weeks ago the College Football Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2019, with former Michigan State and Houston Oilers’ star Lorenzo White one of the 13 inductees. White was elected after a glittering career in East Lansing, where he became the first Big-Ten running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and was the conference’s 1987 Player of the Year.
But truth be told, he could have been elected for just one game.
Rewind the videotape to a Nov. 14, 1987 contest vs. Indiana, a 27-3 victory that clinched the Big-Ten title for the Spartans and a ticket to the Rose Bowl. But it wasn't the game that afternoon that was as memorable as it was this: White carried the ball a school-record 56 times and a personal-best 292 yards.
“My memory of that game,” White told the Talk of Fame Network, “was what coach (did). He called timeout, he pulled me out of the game and just asked me one question. And this was the question: ‘Are you tired?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not tired.’ And he said, ‘You’re lying. Get your ass back out there.’ "
At that point in the interview, White burst into laughter. And he couldn’t stop. Because his coach was none other than George Perles, and Perles liked nothing more than to run the football – once opening a Detroit city-championship high-school game by calling the exact same play the first 10 snaps … all of them runs.
White wasn’t surprised.
“When I was out there,” White said of the Indiana game, “I was laughing because I was like: ‘Who calls timeout just to say that? All these people – all 70,000 people – are wondering if he’s telling me something, really, really good.’ “
White would finish that season with 1,572 yards, 16 touchdowns and a fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting. And he would complete his career at Michigan State with 1,082 rushing attempts for 4,887 yards, 43 touchdowns and a rushing average of 4.5 yards per.
“By my count,” Graham Count of the East Lansing Journal wrote last summer, “Lorenzo White is the second-best MSU football player of all time, behind only George Webster.”
The College Football Hall of Fame must have been listening. Because White was elected in his ninth appearance on the ballot … and maybe, just maybe, the Hall reminded voters of what happened on that afternoon in November, 1987.
White would later go on to the pros, where he was a first-round draft pick of the Houston Oilers, was named to the 1992 Pro Bowl and ran for 156 yards vs. the New York Giants. But when asked for the highlight of his football career, he went back to Michigan State.
"I would still say that game against Indiana that put us in the Rose Bowl,” he said. “When you've got a college town, and everybody’s pulling for you, everybody’s on the same page, and you can’t go to the gas station and pump gas because they don’t want to hurt yourself … it’s kinda like: ‘Pumping gas? Really?’ Leading up to the game that week was kind of interesting, and I will never, ever forget that.”
How can he? Every time he thinks about it he might have to lie down and rest.
“It was funny,” said White, laughing. “After that game and carrying the ball like that, people were calling (and saying), ‘Are you OK?” And I was like, ‘Why? What happened.” That’s all they kept talking about on TV -- was how many times I carried the ball. And I was like: ‘I’m OK.’ I said, ‘I might be a little winded, but don’t tell Perles that.’ “