Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler put their stamp on the Big Ten as a ground conference. Physical, smash-mouth football was the preferred form of attack. You ran the ball to survive in the Big Ten.
So how does one explain Michigan State evolving into Wide Receiver U?
Yes, Michigan State.
The Spartans have produced two NFL receiving champions, Dick Gordon in 1970 and Muhsin Muhammad in 2000. Both Muhammad and Derrick Mason crafted 100-catch seasons. Muhammad, Mason and Andre Rison all caught in excess of 10,000 yards in career passes.
Plaxico Burress caught a 13-yard game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of New York’s 17-14 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in 2008, and Mark Ingram caught team highs of five passes for 74 yards in New York’s 20-19 Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills in 1991. Ingram also caught the infamous fake spike from Dan Marino that beat the New York Jets in 1994.
Rison, Muhammad, Mason, Gordon, Gary Ballman and Gene Washington were all multi-Pro Bowl selections at wide receiver, and Dorne Dibble helped the Detroit Lions with two NFL championships in the 1950s with his hands. Daryl Turner led the NFL with 13 touchdown receptions in 1985 and caught a staggering 36 TD passes in his 101 career catches covering four seasons. He still holds three receiving marks in a Seattle record book otherwise owned by Hall of Famer Steve Largent.
But the best Michigan State wide receiver of all never caught a pass in the NFL. Kirk Gibson was the perfect NFL receiver prospect at 6-3, 215 pounds with 4.29 speed. But he became a first-round draft pick in baseball and his power and speed helped both the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series. Still, Gibson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Here’s the all-time Michigan State NFL team:
QB Earl Morrall, 1968 NFL MVP
HB Le’Veon Bell, 3 Pro Bowls, 2014 AFC rushing champion
FB Clarence Peaks, 9 seasons, 1960 NFL champion
WR Muhsin Muhammad, 2000 NFL receiving champion
WR Andre Rison, 10,205 receiving yards
TE Fred Arbanas, 1960s AFL all-decade team
T Flozell Adams, 5 Pro Bowls
T Norm Masters, 8 seasons, NFL champion 1961-62
G Joe DeLamielleure, Hall of Fame
G Ed Budde, 1960s AFL all-decade team
C Rich Saul, 6 Pro Bowls
DE Bubba Smith, 2 Pro Bowls, 1971 Super Bowl champion
DE Bill Quinlan, 9 seasons, NFL champion 1961-62
DT Jim Kanicki, 1964 NFL champion, played 9 seasons
DT Domata Peko, 12 seasons
LB George Webster, 1960s AFL all-decade team
LB Brad Van Pelt, NY Giants Ring of Honor
LB Carl Banks, 1980s NFL all-decade team
CB Herb Adderley, Hall of Fame
CB Lonnie Sanders, 7 seasons, 12 interceptions
S George Saimes, 1960s AFL all-decade team
S Bill Simpson, 34 interceptions in 9 seasons
K Morten Andersen, Hall of Fame
P Ralf Mojsiejenko, 7 seasons, 42.5 career average
KR Derrick Mason, 2 PR touchdowns, 1 KR TD
ST Ty Hallock, 7 seasons