The Bootleg's "Stanford Football All-70s Team"
Sometimes a project blows up into something bigger than originally planned. I started compiling a list of candidates for a series of Stanford Football All-Decade Teams several months ago and since that time have had conversations and correspondence with countless former players in order to get critical feedback, anecdotes and suggestions from multiple sources. In making the choices, we tried to consider a player's individual contribution in a particular decade, which for this particular purpose we defined as years '0 through ‘9 (e.g. 1970 through 1979) Some outstanding players straddle more than one decade and unfortunately that may have worked against them in a few instances.
The selection criteria are subjective, but include minutes played, letters won, statistical production, records set, prime-time performances, national and all-conference honors, contributions to team success, demonstrated leadership skills, respect commanded from fellow teammates and various other factors. Avoidance of injury was clearly a factor. There are a lot of "should- have-been" stories, some of them disappointing, some sad, some truly tragic. Some players inevitably gain some grade inflation from the success of their teams and teammates, but some players who played on less successful squads, nevertheless deserved credit and consideration. We know there are many talented student-athletes who have played their hearts out for Stanford University. We apologize in advance if we offend any deserving former player or former player's family members, teammates and friends. This series is designed to stimulate discussion, encourage debates, and surface forgotten anecdotes for the enjoyment of our readers.
The year shown in parentheses are to remind our readers of a player's primary years as a player, not necessarily the exact years they were technically on a team, while redshirting or waiting for playing time.
The overall "All-Decade" series is still very much a work in progress, but I think it makes sense to start rolling these out. Let's start with the "Quarterback" position, a semi-sacred tradition down on the Farm. Stanford certainly has one of the grandest traditions at this position of any major college program in America, with multiple All-Americans and numerous first-round picks in the NFL draft. We continue to feel that a legitimate claim can be made to "Quarterback U." (or at the very least, to being "one of the Quarterback U.'s")
After careful consideration and evaluation of a multitude of factors......(drum roll, please!)
The "All-70s" Quarterbacks:
First Team: Jim Plunkett (1970)
Second Team: Guy Benjamin (1974-77)
Honorable Mention: Don Bunce (1971), Mike Boryla (1972-73), Steve Dils (1978)
First Team: Jim Plunkett (1970)
It should not come as any great surprise that James William "Jim" Plunkett gets the nod here despite the fact that "Plunk" played but a single season during the decade of the 1970s. Ahhh, but what a magnificent year 1970 was (in addition to being the year the British band Free came out with the incomparable rock anthem "All Right Now", which in the mid-1970s would become the de facto fight song for Stanford).
Magical. In 1970, the fifth-year senior Plunkett, a Mexican-American from San Jose, Calif. with blind parents, would accomplished his ambitious preseason goal of leading Stanford to the Rose Bowl and, while he was at it, managed to win the 1970 Heisman Trophy, marking him as the outstanding collegiate football player of that year. That isn't always the case with the Heisman (see 2009), but in 1970 they sure got it right. Plunkett beat out Notre Dame's Joe Theismann by 270 first-place votes and did it despite an appropriately low-key publicity campaign waged by Bob Murphy, in which the Stanford Athletic Department spent all of $319.03 on the printing of 2,000 four-page, fact-filled publicity brochures and another $52.23 on promotional photos to relieve the young man from signing autographs for hours on end. Said Murphy of his brochure design: "It isn't a flack thing, it just tries to tell what Plunkett has done. I think it's better than bumper stickers, buttons and songs" – a clear reference to a massive campaign by Ole Miss supporters of Archie Manning who came up with "Archie's Army" buttons and "The Ballad of Archie Who."
Somehow, either because of it or in spite of it, it worked. Jim did his campaigning on the field, remarkably outdistancing the NCAA's old career total offense mark by a 1,300 yards, despite playing against top-notch competition! Plunkett won just about every award given out that year: the Maxwell, the "Pop" Warner, the Voit Memorial, the Chic Harley Award, you name it. In an outrageous display of the fourth column's notorious Notre Dame-bias, the Associated Press actually selected Plunkett to its second team, behind the talented, but annoying Theismann (whose last name was originally pronounced "Thees-mann"). Nine days after the big win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, Plunkett played against Ole Miss star Manning in the 1971 Hula Bowl.
Teaming up on the same Ralston-coached North team with Theismann and Ohio State's Rex Kern, Jim went 11-12 for 133 yards and scored two rushing TDs. He was named the game's outstanding back in an entertaining 42-32 win for the North. In fairness, we do have to admit that Theismann returned a punt 56 yards in that game and Kern played safety, picking off a pass and making several jarring tackles.
Look, putting all of our own strong Stanford bias aside, Plunkett wasn't just the best player "of 1970", he has been selected by some writers as the "Greatest College Quarterback of All-Time". Even his rival coaches were in awe of the sensational signal-caller. UCLA's Tommy Prothro said at the time, "Plunkett just may be the best passer that's ever played the game." USC's John McKay admitted "Plunkett is the strongest college quarterback I have ever seen. He's not just a drop-back passer. He can do a lot of other things as well. He can half-scramble, run when he's in trouble, and get rid of the ball with guys hanging on him." And believe it or not, those complimentary quotes came before his spectacular senior season!
Gil Brandt, famed personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys said "Plunkett is big, strong and smart; he could play in the pros right now! He'll probably be the first guy selected in the draft next year." Having watched Plunkett again in 1970, UCLA's Prothro added: "He is the best pro prospect I have ever seen."
Touchdown Illustrated, the publication of most game-day programs in the 70s and 80s, published an All-Time team in 1982 and had Plunkett as the starting QB. Also on the team were Hershel Walker, Red Grange and Jim Thorpe at running back and Nebraska's immortal Johnny Rodgers at flanker (pretty good company, right?) Plunkett was selected over BYU's Jim McMahon, Notre Dame's Johnny Lujack, Navy's Roger Staubach, Auburn's Pat Sullivan, Florida's Steve Spurrier, Oregon State's Terry Baker, Kentucky's Babe Parilli, and Pitt's Dan Marino. Nice.
Plunkett was also the second-team selection at QB in ABC Sports "College Football All-Time All-American Team" in 2000, which covered college players from 1966 to 1999. We will forgive them for the "second-fiddle" designation since John Elway was the coffee table book's first-team pick, with Peyton Manning as the third choice. It was an amazing honor decided by a blue-ribbon panel of 29 ABC Sports executives who actually saw the players play, so we view the recognition and respect as particularly telling.
"Big Jim", the Indians' offensive team captain, led his 8-3 Indians to a thrilling upset win over #1 Ohio State (9-0) in the 1971 Rose Bowl, coming back from a 17-13 deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to win 27-17. Remarkably durable, Plunkett was the starting quarterback in all 32 games during his three years on the Stanford varsity. He could do it all. He had a cannon for an arm.
He was an amazing pocket passer, but he could keep the ball and charge up the middle, or run the option with the best of them. His co-captain Jack Schultz once noted that "He's the hardest worker on the squad".
His hard work certainly paid off. After redshirting in 1967, Plunkett won the starting job in 1968 and set new conference records with 2,156 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. In his very first game at Stanford, he went 10 for 13 for 277 and four touchdowns.
He would end his sophomore campaign 10th in the country in passing. In 1969, he led Stanford to a near-perfect 7-2-1 season, with the two losses coming by a total of three lousy points (36-35 in a nail-biter at Purdue and 26-24 on a painful night at USC after Ron Ayala's infamous last-play field goal broke the Indians' hearts – a play that marked by far the biggest disappointment of Plunkett's college career).
By the end of his fairy-tale Stanford career, Plunkett would hold the all-time NCAA passing yardage record with 7,544 yards, the most since the forward pass was made legal in 1906 (coincidentally, thanks to lobbying efforts by a longtime college coach, a gentleman named John W, Heisman), and the all-time total offense record with 7,887 yards. He was the first player ever to surpass the 7,000-yard mark. He was human, throwing a school-record 47 picks in his three years, but he was money when it counted and the 6-3, 205-pounder was nearly worshipped by his admiring teammates – something that hasn't changed more than 40 years later. Never one to claim credit for a collective effort, his response to winning the Heisman was characteristically low-key: "This is just a reflection of my coaches and teammates". Would have loved to have heard Theismann struggle to produce that particular statement. As the Palo Alto Times titled its open editorial on November 25, 1970, "One time a nice guy finished first". Indeed.
As everyone knows, #16 went on to help the Raiders win two Super Bowls and was selected as MVP of the first in 1981 after the Raiders beat Dick Vermeil's Philadelphia Eagles. In typical fashion, "Plunk" suggested that linebacker teammate Rod Martin, who made three interceptions in the game, was perhaps more deserving. We think not.
Biographies have been written, a major Hollywood movie may be in the works. Our favorite quote ever is a simple statement from Plunkett: "I rate team achievements above individual achievements." What a guy! Enough said….or wait, maybe not quite enough.
Plunkett was asked the following question by Sport Magazine: "You are one of the prime candidates for the Heisman Trophy. What does this honor mean to you?" Plunkett's answer: "Going to the Rose Bowl has been a dream at Stanford for a long time, and we'd like to fulfill it, and right now that's my most important goal." Now we can say…"Enough said".
Second Team: Guy Benjamin (1974-77)
In Walsh's initial year on the Farm, Benjamin would do it all in 1977, becoming a team captain, a consensus first-team All-American, an NCAA Passing Champion, and a charismatic leader who would finish sixth in the Heisman voting. He would also be named offensive MVP of the 1977 Sun Bowl, but despite all of that, Guy doesn't even get his school's top spot as a signal-caller in his own decade? That, friends, is why Stanford was once considered "Quarterback U." We asked Benjamin for his reaction to his second-team selection. Benjamin, who laughingly referred to himself as "the other #7", responded: "Hey, with all those guys, I am honored. Really. Let's face it, I am lucky Elway had only one season in the 70's!"
Undeniably, Benjamin owed part of his success at Stanford to his head coach Bill Walsh's brilliantly innovative offensive system, but a "system" doesn't make you a star. Guy wasn't a "nickel & dimer", he could rifle the ball with the best arms of the day, consistently finding deep downfield targets like Tony Hill and James Lofton. He was a gamer and a winner, hands down.
Honorable Mention: Don Bunce (1971), Mike Boryla (1972-73), Steve Dils (1978)
Even choosing Stanford's "Honorable Mention" quarterbacks for the 1970s involved tough choices! We went with Don Bunce, Mike Boryla, and Steve Dils.
How in good conscience could anyone leave off the late, great Don Bunce? The local Woodside High School product chose strategically to redshirt during Plunkett's final season in order to be able to stay and play a fifth year in 1971 and, as one of the ‘71 team captains, delivered a sensational season, leading the Pacific 8 Conference in passing and total offense. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill back-up, the 6-1, 196-pound beach-blonde quarterback was driven and "totally gung-ho", as our poster "Rocky17" pointed out in a discussion last month.
While always respectful of Plunkett, Bunce always believed in his heart that he should be starting, even ahead of a future Heisman trophy-winner or anyone else. After biding his time on the bench, he would back it up on the field the next year. Interestingly, Bunce wasn't as concerned with emerging from Plunkett's long shadow as he was aware of his own ticking career clock. As Fred Merrick once quoted Bunce in his 1975 book Down on the Farm, the future orthopedic surgeon once stated "I don't think there was any pressure on me because I was following Plunkett…The only pressure I felt was that I only had one year in which to do the things I wanted to do. There was time pressure."
The Indians attack would not miss a beat in 1971. Stanford ended up atop the Pac-8 conference in total offense and Bunce was the leagues individual leader in passing and total offense. En route to being chosen the 1972 Rose Bowl MVP, Bunce would guide his 8-3 Indians to an unforgettable last-second win against previously undefeated Michigan (11-0), going 24 of 44 for 290 yards and shining brightly on the biggest stage of his athletic career.
A terrific scrambler who could throw extremely well on the run – as evidenced by his masterful five-for-five performance during the decisive last-minute drive against Michigan, Bunce made his Indians team a lot better. He was named the 1971 Voit Memorial Trophy winner, given by the Helms Athletic Foundation to the top college football player on the Pacific Coast, an award previously won by fellow Stanford Athletic Hall of Famers Bill McColl, Bobby Garrett, and Jim Plunkett.
Mike Boryla, the big and rangy son of famed New York Knick basketball star Vince Boryla, would keep the Palo Alto passing party rolling. When Mike first arrived at Stanford there were six quarterbacks on the freshman team and he had been switched by the staff to flanker (QB Pat Moore was switched to safety, as was QB Steve Murray, who also served as punter and holder). By playing well in his first two spring games, Boryla ended up securing the back-up job behind Bunce for the 1971 season, but barely saw the field.
While perhaps not quite the runner that Plunkett and Bunce were, Boryla could really throw the ball. He would become an All-American at Stanford , twice leading the Pac-8 conference in passing (1972 & 1973) and serving as team captain. As a redshirt junior, he led the league in the major passing categories in 1972 and threw at least one touchdown pass in every game. However, due to his relative obscurity, Boryla wasn't even honored on the all-Conference team – Dan Fouts got the first-team nod despite Mike having a slightly better year statistically. (OK, so Fouts turned out to be fairly decent in the pros!) Fortunately for Stanford, Boryla was granted an extra year of eligibility for 1973 because he had played only four plays as a sophomore in the 1970 season-opener against San Jose State before suffering an injury.
In his fifth-year senior season of ‘73, despite having lost five of his top six receivers from the previous year, Boryla led the Cardinal(s) to an impressive 7-4 record, which was all the more admirable considering that each of the four losses came against powerhouse top-10 teams in Penn State, Michigan, USC and UCLA.
The Salt Lake City-native was named first-team all-conference, won the team MVP award, the team' leadership award, and played in both the Shine East-West game and the Senior Bowl . He passed John Brodie and became Stanford's third-leading career passer. C'mon, shouldn't that get you first or second spot on our "all-70s" team? Nope, not enough, Mike! You will simply have to settle for "Honorable Mention" and the honor of having your vintage Philadelphia Eagles jersey appear along with that of Thunderchicken Pete Lazetich in the 2006 Mark Wahlberg film Invincible.
Steve Dils , the NCAA Passing Champion of 1978 with 22.5 completions per game, just manages to slip in there at the end. It is easy to point to the formidable weapons Dils had in fellow Stanford Athletic Hall of Famers Darrin Nelson and Kenny Margerum, but to be highly successful in the Walsh/Dowhower system, you had to be really good and tremendously accurate.
Dils was the team's offensive team captain, set the school record for single-game passing yardage against Washington State (425) and set new Stanford single-season records for completions (247), yardage (2,943) and touchdown passes (22), the single-game mark being one that would not be broken for 20 years, when Todd Husak dismantled Oregon State in 1998 with 465 yards. Not bad at all, but in the 70s, it gets you nothing but "Honorable Mention" here, Steve!
It is pretty amazing when winning an NCAA passing title doesn't even get you an honorable mention spot on your school's "All-Decade" team. What about a little respect for '79 team captain Turk Schonert? Winning the 1979 NCAA passing title and throwing 19 TD passes, with an emerging young superstar like John Elway breathing down your neck, and playing a spectacular second half against #1 USC in a 21-21 all-time come-back "sister-kisser" (that by the way cost 11-0-1 Troy a ‘79 national championship - a scintillating performance for which Schonert was named Sports Illustrated's "National Offensive Player of the Week"), is enough for us to venerate you for all eternity. Drinks are on us anytime you like, Turk, but when it comes to the quarterback position on our "All-70s" team, we regret to relate that you don't quite make the top five. Ouch!
Some gut-wrenching decisions had to be made, and fortunately, The Bootleg is just the crew to make those tough calls!
Special Request: Please do us a favor and refrain from engaging in "pre-debate" our remaining "All-Decade" choices before we publish each position. We considered releasing the entire "All-70s" team in one fell swoop, but decided it would be more fun and less overwhelming to do it by individual position. At one point during fall ball, a well-meaning Bootie started polling people on this very subject, but we were already deep into the project and didn't want to spoil things.
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