Steve Robertson/

Reunited, with the Oldies and the Goodies

Saturday went just about as most expected. Better in several ways, worse in one worrisome area. 2016 quarterbacking is in excellent shape, 2015 rushing defense looks sorta scary, and while a low-division guest can hit long field goals SEC-member Mississippi State…you get the idea.

Enough of that. The next two road weekends will truly tell the tale of what this Bulldog team really is. Now, let’s get to telling other tales. Because the highlight of the weekend for Ye Aulde Editor wasn’t the game.

It was getting a goodly portion of the 1980 Bulldog team together again on campus. As most of y’all know that was the first football season I was a full-time paid (barely) employee of Mississippi State, the assistant sports information guy. A profession I didn’t know even existed upon 1975 enrollment as a chemical engineering major. Seriously. I found out early why cynics would respond oh, you mean you’re in pre-business.

Safe to say I plummeted way farther down the major-scale than that, to the rock-bottom diploma of communications. But, it did get me into the business of being paid to attend Bulldog games. God has a sense of humor.

And humor was the reunion theme, as to be expected when old athletes and some of their supporting crew reunite. Being it was 35 years ago and real life does interfere, attendance was modest. But then a lot of these guys are regulars at State home games anyway.

Defensive end Tyrone Keys couldn’t make it this time, as he was at the famous ’85 Chigago Bears Super Bowl squad event on the same weekend. Linebacker Johnie Cooks reportedly was in New York for a similar event with the Giants. Since Saturday temperatures were in the 90s that was fortunate. The tent couldn’t have coped with Cooks’ hot air anyway.

It was more disappointing to have just a trio of old staff. Coach Wesley Reed, trainer Straton Karatassos who was in his glory all weekend, and me the junior member of the firm. I told John Bond to just call me Bo Carter. Of course Emory Bellard left us recently, now lighting his pipe on a higher plane and likely still drawing up wishbone plays.

Old war stories? Oh heck yeah, some of them even reportable here. And I lost count of how many admitted that as freshmen, whoever the coach, they were tempted to and some even did exit McArthur Hall through a window intent on going home unnoticed. They all stuck it out of course, but it’s a reminder how in any era it’s a tough transition for teenagers.

The tales told don’t always mesh with different memories. Take right tackle Alan Massey’s account of the week after the one non-conference loss, a blowout on the home field at that. Allegedly Bellard and the line coach made a statement of some sort by dropping Massey and guard Matt Edwards to the scout team.

Within days, so this side of the story goes, the defense’s big Dogs were begging those blockers go back to first team and quit abusing them. Fesmire for his part disputes the degree, but then defensive guys stick up for each other.

Fesmire himself signed intent on playing quarterback, then found five more like him on reporting day. When some coach shouted for offense to go that way, defense the other, Rob started off in the offensive direction…only to hear hollers directing him to defense. It worked out pretty well.

Not a ’80 story itself but from one of those guys, linebacker Rusty Martin was surprised somebody remembered his brief and exciting career as a placekicker in 1978. With quarterback/kicker Dave Marler gimpy and State going down to the wire with LSU in Jackson, somebody had to try a field goal for the win. Martin had kicked in high school and practiced it in college. The trick, he said, was he did not need a kicking shoe; his father/coach never let him change shoes in high school games to prevent delays.

So when Bob Tyler gave the signal to go kick, he suddenly demanded where the kicking shoe was. Martin told the coach he didn’t need one. He didn’t, knocking the 21-yarder through and upsetting the Tigers. Oh, and for that Martin was the SEC’s LINEMAN of the week!

Coach Wesley Reed and fullback Fred Collins shared laughs about his recruiting, when it seemed every rival alumnus on the Gulf Coast was enticing (funny, the more things change, the more they don’t as recent reports remind?) the kid to go elsewhere. Collins said it was no issue, his parents kept calm and told Reed to relax, nothing to worry about.

By the way, I just had to ask Fred how it is that Mississippi State, a program where his position has such a tradition, no longer lists any fullback on the roster? Maybe if this staff could see what Fred and D-Ray and Henry Koontz could do out of the up-back spot they’d adjust the thinking.

And along that line, of how positions and roles change…take tight end. Which I got to chat with one of the best during Saturday’s line-up. Spread or whatever, Jerry Price would make a place. I also finally got to test something I’d heard about back in the day. He held out his right hand, I placed mine against it…and while my mitts are average size Jerry’s fingers extended a whole joint’s length longer. No wonder he held a football like most of us do a baseball. If only more passes had gone his way…

…which can be said for much of the ’80 and ’81 offenses. A MSU administrator who wasn’t around then, having watched the highlights playing in the room and hearing our accounts of all that talent, asked a rude but fitting question: did those teams underachieve a little?

And every Dog I posed that to agreed. An too-tight leash on play calls, most so in ’81, and too much reliance on the great, no, fabulous defenses and kicking was all that kept State from taking titles. Well, and that Walker guy at Georgia, I guess. It’s a pity of scheduling that fabulous defense never got to test itself against Herschel, and vice-versa. Or Bo Jackson for that matter.

But those teams had the sort of firepower Dan Mullen could envy, and the muscle to back it all up. Along that line, what do they think of current teams? Yeah, old Dogs are always the toughest critics. But they like the roster, are encouraged by recent recruiting (though by late last night we were reminded State is or at least plays a step-slower most spots than the main rival), and absolutely adore Dak Prescott. It’s the best compliment to say, he would have played alongside them as an equal.

They also want him to run the ball more, but then it doesn’t take a former player to know that is the only way State is going to stay in conference contention by November. That and get the tackling issues fixed, fast.

If they do, then it’s still an excellent change 35 falls from now member of the 2015 team will be returning to be honored by future fans for making their own history.

For myself, it was a thoughtful sort of weekend. Not that I need reminding of time’s flight, the hairline does that daily. Besides, I keep a few special mementoes of the 1980 season. The press pass of course, which is center-piece of a framed collection (upgraded in January for the Orange Bowl, by the way). And by pure chance last summer when storing stuff at my Jones County house, I found an old bumper sticker.

Yes. One of those. A never-used ‘I Was There 1980 MSU-6 Bama-3’, slightly peeled on each end but otherwise pristine. Now I will find some place to display it along with the very nice reproduction ticket sealed in plastic with the score and date given to reunion attendees.

That’s the game which made 1980 epic of course, but the entire season was something worth remembering from thumping Memphis State to the Sun Bowl. Oh, related to that, an un-named participant said he knew State was in trouble for the game itself when all the Nebraska players were in the food line; and all the Bulldogs were in the, ummm, refreshments line. That explains a lot about the final score. What the heck, the flight back was worth it if only to see linebacker Bo Robertson wearing a Clint Eastwood ‘Man With No Name’ style serape obtained in El Paso. Or on the other side of the river, I never found out exactly.

Leaving the show Friday evening, one memory was consistent. Remember, that was my first real year working with Bulldog sports. Nine wins, beating the Bear for the first and only time in his Alabama tenure, romping LSU and rallying past the Rebels, going to a big bowl game…

I recall thinking at the time man, isn’t this great? It’s always going to be this good being a Bulldog, right?

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