The Bootleg's "Stanford Football All-70s Team": Running Back
Sometimes a project blows up into something bigger one originally plans. Last summer, I started a new project, compiling a list of candidates for selection as members of a series of Stanford Football All-Decade Teams. Since that time I have poured over notes, researched archive materials, and had lots of conversation and correspondence with countless former players in order to get critical feedback, anecdotes and suggestions from multiple sources. Last fall, we published the "All-70s Team" choices at quarterback and fullback and we are now set to roll out our next couple of positions, starting with the selections at Running Back.
In making the choices for The Bootleg's "Stanford Football All-Decade Teams", we have tried to take into consideration a player's individual contribution in a specific decade, which for this particular purpose we have 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. In Darrin Nelson's case, it was simple. He qualifies in two decades. Darrin had two outstanding years in the 1970s (1977-78), sat out a year with injury (1979) and then added two more exceptional campaigns in the 1980s (1980-81). For each of the decades, we attempted to focus primarily on his performance during that period.
The selection criteria are by necessity subjective, but they include a variety of factors such as minutes played, letters won, statistical production, records set, prime-time performances, national and all-conference honors, contributions to team success, demonstration of leadership skills, respect commanded from fellow teammates, and various other factors. Avoidance of injury was clearly a factor. As Coach John Ralston (1963-1971) used to say "You can't make the club sittin' in the tub!". That may not always be fair, but it is what it is. There are a lot of "should-have-been" stories, some of them disappointing, some sad, some truly tragic. Some players inevitably benefit from a touch of grade inflation from the success of their teams and teammates, but on the other hand, some players who played on less successful squads nevertheless deserve 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, friends, or concubines. This series is designed to stimulate discussion, encourage debate, and surface long-forgotten anecdotes for the enjoyment of our Bootleg readers.
The years shown in parentheses are to remind our readers of a player's primary years as a player during the decade, 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. Let's continue now with the "Running Back" position, which looking back was actually one of the easiest positions to evaluate in the 1970s.
The "All-70s" Running Backs:
First Team: Darrin Nelson
(1977-78) Second Team: Jackie Brown
(1970-71) Honorable Mention: Ron Inge
(1973-76) First Team:
First Team: Darrin Nelson (1977-78)
Second Team: Jackie Brown (1970-71)
Honorable Mention: Ron Inge (1973-76)
OK, so this selection was a bit easier than others. Darrin Milo Nelson, in our opinion, was not only overall the best Stanford running back of the 1970s, but he may well have been the "most exciting" football player ever to wear a Cardinal uniform. Nelson literally "evolutionized" the college game, becoming the first player in NCAA history ever to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes in the same season. Nelson managed to do it three times in four years, including his spectacular seasons as a true freshman (1977) and sophomore (1978). He was Stanford's first-ever 1,000-yard rusher, shattering the Stanford career rushing record as a mere sophomore and ending up with four of the highest season rushing totals in school history. By the end of his Cardinal career, Nelson had produced six of the school's top-10 single-game rushing performances and was one of the greatest all-purpose backs in NCAA history. Four of Nelson's six highest single-game rushing totals came during those two years in the late 1970s. Some longtime observers of Stanford Football feel Darrin's first two seasons may have been his finest, when he averaged respectively 5.9 and then a remarkable 6.4 yards per carry.
In addition to racking up 100-yard days, Darrin could confound opposing teams in several ways. He could catch the ball as well as the most skilled wide receivers, finishing his Stanford career as the school's all-time leading receptions leader (214), a mark that was finally broken nearly two decades later by All-American wide receiver and 1999 Biletnikoff Award-winner Troy Walters, one of the few Stanford play-makers one can legitimately mention in the same breath with Nelson. .Oh, and did we mention that like Walters, Darrin was spectacular returning punts as well? Think of Darrin as "Troy Walters" but also a consistent 1,000-yard rusher. Scary, huh?
When Nelson first arrived from Pius X High School in Downey, Calif. (which conveniently sported school colors of red & white, by the way), #31 was all of 159 pounds, soaking wet. It didn't matter. Soon he would leave opponents and some of his own Cardinal defensive teammates, searching for their jockstraps, nursing their broken ankles, and grasping for creative new superlatives! His ridiculous quickness was unprecedented – think "Brevin Knight in pads". "Junior", as Nelson was known to his Cardinal teammates (a nickname given to him by veteran fullback Phil Francis due to his unquestionably "youthful" countenance), could juke as well as a Glyn Milburn, but could also light people up head-on, like a fullback, when necessary. It was uncanny how his surprising strength and determination could move the pile forward against multiple defenders.
Darrin had sprinter speed, had the hands and spatial awareness of a top-flight wide receiver, and possessed exceptional field vision that had to have come in part from the Almighty. He was the perfect back for catching the ball out in the flat and making things happen "in space". He could go past, around, through, or over an opponent. Nelson's remarkable versatility was a big reason Bill Walsh's "West Coast Offense" was able to function so efficiently. Don't believe us, eh? Try this - go back and watch Darrin's college games on film. If you don't have any, we can direct you to some. You will be astounded to see the fluid, cat-quick moves, the stop-start acceleration, the gritty play-to-the-whistle determination and maybe even most surprisingly, the truly remarkable "hands". The little guy made some spectacular grabs, catches you just don't expect from a back, in any era.
He was a threat to score any time he touched the ball, and score often he did - 40 times in his storied career. His TD scoring total would not be broken for 28 years, surpassed only by 2009 Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart's 44 for the top spot on Stanford's all-time touchdown-scoring list!
Nelson would be selected by Minnesota with the seventh pick of the 1982 NFL Draft and would spend 11 seasons in professional football, with the Vikings and the San Diego Chargers, before returning to his alma mater and serving 13 years as a senior administrator with the Department of Athletics. He is currently a Senior Associate Athletic Director at the University of Califiornia - Irvine.
Second Team: Jackie Brown (1970-71)
Our pick for second-team "All-70s" honors had to go to
Jackie Ray Brown., one of
the principal players during Coach John Ralston's back-to-back Rose Bowl
victories in 1971 and 1972. It is true
that Brown did not run up gaudy numbers, sharing the load as a junior with his
close pal Hillary Shockley . The inseparable backfield teammates, who remain very
close friends to this day, were often
referred to as "The Dynamic Duo". But know this - "JB" was
absolute "money" in crunch-time, memorably scoring two rushing
touchdowns in the Indians' 1971 Rose Bowl victory over previously
undefeated and #2-ranked Ohio State (with each score on the same exact same
A product of Angus Charles Davis High School in Yakima, Wash., where he starred as a free-running quarterback, Brown the a college running back was lightning fast to the corners, had terrific hands, rarely fumbled, and was a willing and highly-effective blocker. He could have been an outstanding wide-out if his services had been required. They say that football is a game of match-ups and we are not aware of any linebackers in the early 1970s that could cover Jackie Brown in the open or flat. He was without question an under-utilized resource, but on a talented team with a lot of great options.
In the '72 Rose Bowl, on "Fourth & 10" from the Indians' own 33 and in punt formation, Indian blocking back Jim Kehl took a direct snap from center Dennis Sheehan, hesitated for an instant, and then shoved the ball under Brown's legs. Brown waited for just an instant and then raced 33 yards to the Wolverine 36, picking up a critical, drive-sustaining first down and then further cementing his Stanford legend status by dashing 24 yards for the game-tying touchdown - the Indians' only touchdown of the day!
Interviewed 40 years later, Kehl remembers that play "We only used that play once a year and that happened to be the time we used it that year. (Center) Dennis Sheehan had the option to hike it to me, or, if it was detected by the defense, to hike it to the punter, Steve Murray. The linebacker yelled my name to his teammates - 'Hey, watch out for Kehl!', but I guess they didn't know exactly how it was coming. I thought Dennis was going to hike it to the punter and when I got to the snap cadence, all of a sudden the ball was in my hands and I went, excuse me, 'Oh, Sh--!' and we went through with the play. They had it scouted somehow, but we had held closed practices for three or four weeks before the Rose Bowl and they never quite got the (right) information. After I gave it to Jackie, I faked a hand-off to Reggie (Sanderson) and we ran toward the sideline and I was yelling 'Reverse, Reverse!' and it screwed up Michigan enough - I think Jackie got about 30 yards on it and the first down. Looking back, it was a hell of an experience all-around. I honestly didn't think I was going to get the ball!"
Well, apparently neither did Jackie, but he sure knew what to do with it. At the time, it was probably the Michigan special teams coach saying "Oh Sh__!" So anyway, "Run, Jackie, Run!" came the shouts from the Stanford sideline. And run he did, right into everlasting Stanford Football lore!
Had Brown played a year or two later, or played in a "run-first" scheme, we feel he very likely would have become Stanford's first-ever 1,000-yard rusher. "JB" averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a junior and 3.9 per carry as a senior, having been called upon in more short-yardage situations when his main man "Shock" was sidelined with injury. One has to remember how times have changed since the early 1970s - the amazing Toby Gerhart carried the ball 210 times in 2008 and 343 times in 2009! At that rate, Brown might have rushed for 1,400+ yards! Who knows? We never will. Not that Brown complained. He wanted the ball, but to his credit, he was a "team guy" all the way, one who cared about helping the Stanford team win.
Watching a game film from the 1970 season recently, we were struck by the fact that Brown still appears exceptionally fast, even by today's standards. In 1970, Coach Ralston just didn't need to have a workhorse "feature back" when he had Jim Plunkett, Randy Vataha and Bob Moore, nor did he need a star back in 1971 when he had Don Bunce, Eric Cross, Miles Moore and John Winesberry among his myriad of offensive options. A well-respected team tri-captain with quarterback Don Bunce and linebacker Jeff Siemon in 1971, Brown was named the Frank Rehm Memorial Award-winner as the outstanding back after a 14-0 Stanford victory in the '71 Big Game.
Brown would go on to play in the 1972 Lions Club (All-) American Bowl in Tampa, Florida, where with barely any practice time, he would break Mercury Morris' 1970 rushing record and be named both "Player of the North" and "Player of the Game". Interestingly, Brown roomed at the American Bowl with future LA Rams star Lawrence McCutcheon, whose son Marcus McCutcheon would play for the cardinal from 2003-2006! "Jabba", as The Bootleg calls him these days, was also invited to the 1972 Hula Bowl, but recalls that he forgot to send in his paperwork and did not participate. He would be drafted in the eighth round of the 1972 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, but with salaries in pro football not what they are today, Jackie saw a better path to the goal line at that point and made his quick move to Stanford Law School. Note: How about that 1971 backfield, which sent Brown to Stanford Law School, Don Bunce to Stanford Medical school, fullback Hillary Shockley to a JD/MBA at Harvard? Pretty impressive.
Jackie Brown's contributions to our program's proud heritage have been well-recognized. #33 was inducted into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame and was named to Stanford Football's "All-Century Team" during the University's 1991 Centennial.
Honorable Mention: Ron Inge (1973-76) Ronald E. Inge attended Saint Mary's High School in Stockton, CA, where former Stanford All-American defensive lineman and long-time assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Dave Tipton, a long-time Bootleg buddy, has both taught and coached football. Notable among Saint Mary's alumni is former MLB baseball player and Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame member Ed Sprague. Inge was a renowned multi-sport athlete at Saint Mary's, is a member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame and also was elected to the African-American Athletes Hall of Fame of Stockton [AAAHFS] in 1997.
Immediately considered the fastest member of the Stanford team when he arrived on campus, Inge first made his mark returning kicks as a true freshman in 1973. He took one right up the middle for a school-record 96-yard touchdown in the second quarter of a thrilling 24-23 come-back win against Oregon State in Corvallis - and added a 68-yard return to boot.
While he never became a true "feature back", Inge was a "stylish and explosive" runner who definitely had his moments in the backfield. Since Stanford used the run to compliment the pass at the time, the Cardinal rushing game was dead last in the conference in both 1973 and 1974. The halfback in the Stanford offense was only getting about 7-10 touches per game, hardly enough to get the wheels turning. By 1975, the staff was still experimenting with formations, trying to figure out how to best take advantage of Inge's style. In 1975, he absolutely scorched Washington State for 153 yards on just nine carries, the highest yardage total by a Stanford back not named "Nelson" in the entire decade of the 70s. With some of the gains, however, came some of the pains.
Ron suffered a cracked rib before the first game in '74 and sprained a should shoulder in practice a few weeks later, ultimately forcing him to miss the Washington game. He was replaced in the UW game by feisty little JC transfer Sig Ostrum, who came through with a fine 51-yard performance to help Stanford to a big 34-17 win over the Huskies before injuring his knee against the Washington State Cougars. Inge later had to miss the 1975 Big Game, which in hindsight, may have been a good thing for him. We wish we could have missed that one, a miserable afternoon that saw Cal's Chuck Muncie run for 166 yards, score three touchdowns and throw for a fourth in a 48-15 win for the Bears, who were locked and loaded (for bear) that year with star quarterback Joe Roth and outstanding receivers Steve Rivera and Wesley Walker.
On a happier note...earlier during the '75 season, the 6'0", 200-pound Inge had supplied the Cardinal's lone touchdown in a memorable, last-second 13-10 win over 11-point favorite USC at the Coliseum. Yes, there were highlights, but Inge managed only 90 carries in 1975 and only 66 times in 1976, sharing the rock those final two years with productive fullback and Academic All-American Don Stevenson, who actually produced more rushing yardage than Inge during each of those final two seasons. If Stanford's offense had been more like USC, running out of the "I" all the time, Inge likely would have produced far more impressive statistics.
But Inge was also an outstanding kick returner during his first couple of years, despite being overshadowed a bit by Ray Anderson 's fine performances in 1975 (in part an attempt by the staff to keep Ron in one piece). Inge averaged what was then a school-record 29.3 yards per return average from 1973-74 (decidedly "Chris Owusu-class" numbers!) He returned to his role as the primary kick-off returner for the Cardinal in 1976 and ended up ranking second in the Pacific 8 Conference with an excellent 25.2 yard average. So we have to give #9 some serious extra credit for the turbo boost he gave to Coach Chris' special teams!
After majoring in Human Biology at Stanford, Inge went on to get his D.D.S. at UCLA , practiced dentistry in San Jose for 14 years and later became a poweful figure in the dental benefits industry, playing a key role at Delta Dental, serving as Chief Dental Officer (CDO) with Aetna Dental in Hartford, CT and being appointed Associate Executive Director of the American Dental Association.
Want to see "Dr. Inge, DDS" waxing eoloquent on the subject of dental healthcare innovation? Check him out at a recent conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUMoVRtF6bQ
Research Note: No, in case you were wondering, the silky-smooth & handsome Ron Inge is not related to gorgeous 1985 All-Pac-10 Stanford Dollie Susan Inge, who could rock the LSJUMB's legendarily randy "Honky Tonk Woman" routine with the best of them! But, as is our frequent custom, we digress....
So, away from all-conference backsides, and back to the "All-70s" backs.... Among the 1970s running backs, some additional honorable mention should go to the terrific tandem of Vincent "VW" White, aka "The Love Bug" and the irrepressible Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame member Mike "Dot" Dotterer , who admirably stepped up together as true freshman and shared the load at tailback while Nelson sat out the emotional rollercoaster of the '79 season with a severe hamstring injury. At 6'1", 190, the late John "Wines" Winesberry (who later in life changed his name to Shaheed Nuraddin) was an extraordinarily-gifted athlete. A 9.7 sprinter (on par with Gayle Sayers for comparison's sake), Winesberry was considered at the time to have been the greatest high school athlete in the history of the state of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, his career productivity was marred by multiple leg and ankle injuries and perhaps by the failure to establish himself at a particular position. In our observation, #26 was probably better suited to the role of flanker than that of a running back, or at least better than as a running back in an offense designed by running backs coach Dave Currey .
OK, so there you have it. Some difficult decisions had to be made at running back, and fortunately, The Bootleg is just fearless enough to make those frightening calls!
Special Request: Please discuss these selections all you like - we encourage it! Whom did we overlook? Whom did we "over-rate"? Just do us a favor and refrain from engaging in "pre-debate" of our remaining "All-Decade" choices before we publish each one sequentially, by 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 last year, a well-meaning Bootie started polling people on this very subject, but we were already deep into the monster project and didn't want to spoil things.
Do you have a "premium" subscription to The Bootleg? If not, then you are seriously missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest, broadest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!