Please discuss our All-Decade selections all you like - we encourage it! Just do
us a favor and refrain from engaging in "pre-debate" of our remaining
"All-Decade" choices before we publish each position in sequence. We considered
releasing the entire "All-70s" team in one fell swoop, but decided it would be
more fun and perhaps a bit less overwhelming to roll it out it by individual
position. Then we (read: I ) fell behind. At one point during fall ball in 2010,
a well-intentioned Bootie started polling people on this very subject, but we
were already waist-deep into the monster project and the preemptive pre-debate
sort of "killed the momentum" of the project.
Sometimes an already ambitious project can blow up into something bigger than originally planned. Back in 2010 we started compiling a list of candidates for a series of "Stanford Football All-Decade Teams", starting with the 1970s, 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. As we approach the 2012 season, we dug into our vast stories-in-progress file and found that we had made it through only four positions for our "Stanford Football All-70s Team": QBs, RBs, FBs, and TEs.
Time for our next offensive position: Wide Receiver. For this article's purpose, we chose to separate the "Flankers" and the "Split Ends", although some of the players saw meaningful action at both positions. We'll start with the "Flankers". 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) The college playing careers of certain outstanding players (Randy Vataha and Kenny Margerum come to mind as prime examples) straddle more than one decade and unfortunately that may have worked against them in a few instances.
The selection criteria we use are by necessity subjective, but they include a variety of factors such as minutes-played, games started, 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. As Coach John Ralston 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 bit of grade inflation from the success of their teams and
teammates, and we feel that 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 clandestine concubines. This series is
designed to stimulate discussion, encourage debate, instigate fisticuffs, and
surface forgotten anecdotes for the enjoyment of our Bootleg 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 the Varsity, while redshirting or waiting for playing time.
"The Stanford Football All-70s Team" - Wide Receivers [Flanker]
First Team: Tony Hill (1974-76)
Second Team: Randy Vataha (1970), James Lofton (1974-77)
Honorable Mention: Miles Moore (1969-71)
Anthony "Tony" Hill, Jr. is our choice for
the first team, by himself, and without reservation. Sure, there was a lot of
viable competition here, including an NFL Hall of Famer, but Hill had not one,
but three productive seasons on the Farm during the 70s. No, Tony's selection
for first-team is not because he lived with my family in West Menlo
Park during fall ball one year and the neighborhood kids and I totally idolized
him! Hill, a proud member of the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame, was an
electrifying high school quarterback, a product of the very same high school,
Long Beach Polytechnic (aka "Poly"), that produced
quarterback-turned-record-setting wide receiver Gene Washington and would
later send us the 1980 Pac-10 receiving leader Andre Tyler, and 1980s
basketball shot-blocker extraordinaire and proud Poly Jackrabbit, Kent
Hill managed to log 39 minutes for the Stanford Varsity during his freshman campaign in 1973, catching seven passes for 70 yards including what had to have been a satisfying 20-yard TD reception against in-state rival UCLA. At least on paper, Hill was listed during his sophomore campaign behind outstanding veterans Bill Singler and Eric Test, but #47 still managed to finish third in the Pacific 8 Conference in receiving with 34 catches for 542 yards, adding touchdown receptions against San Jose State and Cal. As a junior he started at flanker opposite Singler at split end, exploding for a conference-leading 916 yards on 55 catches and seven TDs.
Tony was explosive, but silky-smooth and fluid, with tremendous body control and a dancer's graceful movement. He had what coaches often refer to as "spatial awareness" and the ability to find the football in the air. He had the knack for making big plays at critical times – a quality that later would earn him the nickname "Thrill Hill" with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, for whom Tony would play ten seasons from 1977 to 1986, leading the 'Boys in catches and yardage in eight of those 10 seasons and making the Pro Bowl three times.
Last time I checked, Hill was the Recreation Services Manager for the City of Allen, Texas Parks & Recreation Department and was also running Legends Sports Promotions, Inc., a company that raises funds for charitable organizations through celebrity sports events and represents athletes for motivational and promotional engagements. He has also started doing color commentary for a Compass Media Network and was on campus to cover the recent USC game. Interestingly, fellow legendary Stanford receiver James Lofton was also on campus for the fourth consecutive win over the University of Southern California as well, appearing at the Sports Illustrated Heisman promo booth near the venerable Chuck Taylor Grove.
Second Team (Tie):
James David Lofton was a genuine track
star who turned into a great football player. He was a product of Washington
Prep High School in "South Central" Los Angeles, the school his future coach
Bill Walsh actually attended as a freshman, located right in the heart of
USC territory and the alma mater of Washington and San Francisco 49ers
all-purpose star of the 1950s, Hugh "The King" McElhenny.
Lofton made an immediate impression as the primary deep threat on the Cardinals' undefeated 4-0 1974 Junior Varsity team, leading the team with 10 catches for 192 yards and four touchdowns, all thrown by up and coming JV QB Steve Dils. The JV team beat Cal 82-26 that year.
James had one truly remarkable season of college football in 1977, making second-team AP All-American with 931 yards and 12 TDs during the regular season and then adding four more grabs for an additional 79 yards and two touchdown receptions in the Cardinal's convincing 24-14 Sun Bowl victory over SEC powerhouse and four-point favorite LSU. He would go on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career in the NFL. At Stanford, he was always blazing fast, but "couldn't catch a cold" as a wide receiver until he had a chance to work with Bill Walsh's offensive coordinator and eventual single-season successor Rod Dowhower. The national-class 200-meter sprinter and 1978 NCAA long jump champion would learn to catch the ball, well enough to set the NFL's all-time receiving yardage mark and make the Pro Hall of Fame! Many of us remember watching the NFL weekly highlights on ABC's Monday Night Football and it seemed like Lofton, in either a Packers or Bills uniform, was scoring a 73-yard touchdown every single week. Once he was by you, it was over.
For us, Lofton's signature Stanford moment may have been his second-half touchdown catch against LSU in the 1977 Sun Bowl. Had James had another season of eligibility, he might have challenged Hill as our first-teamer.
Randy Vataha, aka "The Rabbit" was my own childhood hero. I wore a red #18 jersey for several years after the 57th Rose Bowl in '71 and still have it – it pairs with my dad's #16 Plunkett jersey – Dad and I played a lot of catch back in 1970-71, when I must have reenacted Vataha's defining 10-yard touchdown reception against the Buckeyes a couple of thousand times. Vataha…what an exciting player! Like Margerum years later, Vataha just instinctually knew how to get open. A transfer from Golden West Junior College, located right off the "405" in Huntington Beach, Calif. Vataha had been overlooked by most major college recruiters, largely due to his relatively diminutive physical stature.
A fan favorite, Vataha captured everyone's attention when he came through with an extraordinary junior season as a newcomer and favorite target of Jim Plunkett in 1969, averaging a phenomenal 19.7 yards per catch and adding some juice to the Indians' previously lackluster punt return game, including a weaving, 63-yard return for TD in the fourth quarter against Air Force. The momentum of 1969 and a terrific spring practice in 1970 set Vataha up as Jim Plunkett's go-to receiver during what would turn out to be a Rose Bowl-winning campaign for the Indians and a Heisman Trophy-winning season for Plunkett.
Against Washington State in ‘70, he connected with Plunkett on a 96-yard touchdown that broke the all-time NCAA total offense record and set a conference record that would last until Joe Borchard hit Troy Walters for a 97-yard score against UCLA in 1998.
Vataha was voted the "Most Valuable Back" in the 1970 Big Game, unfortunately during an upset loss after Stanford came in a 10½-point favorite over the Dirty Golden Bears. His touchdown reception to seal the great win over Ohio State in the 1971 Rose Bowl is indelibly etched in many of my contemporaries' childhood memories. Jim Plunkett says what he remembers best about that particular play was the look of anguish on Buckeye All-American and future Raiders Pro Bowl safety Jack "The Assassin" Tatum's face, knowing the underdog Stanford Indians were taking home the win.
Confounding pro scouts and their computer analysis that showed he was simply too small to play professional football, Vataha would go on to play seven seasons in the NFL, the first six with the New England Patriots. He reunited with his quarterback Plunkett in New England and surprised doubters by being named to the UPI AFC All-Rookie team in 1971. He went on to a very successful business career, becoming a leading expert in buying and selling professional sports franchises. He was elected to the California Community Colleges Coach's Association Hall of Fame in 1992.
career production numbers may not have been up there with the others, Miles Moore has to be honorably mentioned.
Like Gene Washington, he came to Stanford as a heralded QB and served as
starter and co-captain on the 1968 Stanford Freshman team. Realizing during
spring practice in 1969 that Jim Plunkett and Don Bunce were
well-established at the top of the depth chart, the 6-1 190-pound Moore switched
to defensive halfback and has a terrific sophomore season, also serving as the
team's top kick returner with an outstanding 25.3-yard average per return. He
was poised for another big season in 1970, but a neck injury kept him off the
field the whole year. He finally got his chance at wide receiver during the 1971
Rose Bowl season and did not disappoint. He had been moved to split end to
bolster an Indians offense that had lost Vataha, Jack Lasater, and
Demea Washington to graduation.
Moore led the 1971 squad with 38 catches for 816 yards, a phenomenal 21.5-yard average. He then added three receptions for 53 yards in the 1972 Rose Bowl win over Michigan, including an 11-yarder during the famed Bunce-engineered "5-5 Drive" that set up Rod Garcia's game-winning 31-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.
senior season in 1972, Moore's productivity fell off a bit as teammate Eric
Cross emerged as an elite receiver in the Pacific 8 conference, but Moore
still helped QB Mike Boryla lead the conference in passing that season.
He finished with 418 yards on 27 catches, good for seventh-best in the
Eric Test won't be mentioned quite up there with the aforementioned superstars, but we at The Bootleg have great respect for the 1973 and 1974 starter (more of a co-starter that year since sophomore Tony Hill frequently was used as Stanford's primary weapon at flanker). As "BasketballKnowItAll" frequently reminds us, Test came to Stanford as a well-regarded quarterback out of Prospect High School in Saratoga, Calif., leading the 1970 freshman team with 497 passing yards and four TD passes, but sat out the entire 1971 season and still was languishing as the #4 QB on the ‘72 Varsity depth chart with just two pass completions for 60 yards that year, causing him to switch to receiver. Surprising many doubters, Test not only would start at flanker for the 1973 Indians, he would lead the team with six touchdown receptions, ending the year with 271 yards on 18 catches.
He was a
terrific, highly competitive ballplayer and, like the great Bobby
Anderson of the late 1940s, was also a star swimmer. In fact, Test actually
came to Stanford as a swimmer and walked on the football team! Later, Test was
also outstanding rugby player and it was his outstanding performance as a rugby
star for Stanford that convinced the Stanford coaches that he could play wide
receiver. Apparently, the apple didn't fall far from the tree….Eric's son
Zack Test, who played wide receiver up at Oregon in 2007, has played for
the U.S. national rugby team.
John Winesberry. "Wines" has to enter the discussion here despite playing a significant portion of his Stanford career at running back. A tremendous athlete from Tulsa, Oklahoma who played both running back and wide receiver for the Hornets of Booker T. Washington High (the very same Tulsa high school that produced the late, great Oklahoma and NBA star Wayman Tisdale), Winesberry was regarded as a "can't-miss" football prospect.
He was rather phenomenal on the 1970 Stanford freshman team. Anticipation for his role on the 1971 squad was sky-high. With outstanding veteran Jackie Brown established as a starter that year, Winesberry was slotted to replace the graduated Vataha at flanker. Indeed, he would finish tied for fourth in the conference in receiving with 37 catches in '72. As a runner, Winesberry would sometimes try to do too much, suffering 63 yards of losses in just 125 carries. To put that in context, Toby Gerhart lost 42 yards in 343 carries in 2009.
With Coach Ralston trying to get the ball in his hands as much as possible, "Wines" was the team's leading rusher in 1972, including a spectacular 86-yard touchdown run against San Jose State, the longest TD run in the conference that year. He dominated West Virginia in '72 with his career-best 29-carry, 135-yard rushing performance with three TDs. He also caught four balls for another 50 yards. For that effort he was named the Pac-8's Offensive Player of the Week. While he certainly had glimpses of gridiron glory, including an eight-catch, 112-yard receiving day against Michigan in the 1972 Rose Bowl Winesberry's athletic ambitions unfortunately were plagued by injuries and he never enjoyed the superstar-level success projected upon him by enthusiastic alumni and the local media.
Winesberry went on to
law school at Washington University in St. Louis. He adhered to the Islamic
faith, changing his name to Shaheed Nuriddin. Sadly, he passed away from
cancer in 2005 at age 53.
Andre Tyler tends to get marginalized in our discussion of outstanding Stanford receivers, largely because he played much of his career opposite Ken Margerum, Stanford's only two-time consensus All-American receiver and College Football Hall of Fame member. Tyler was a four-time letterman from 1978 to 1981 and he was an elite all-conference receiver, but we are looking primarily at his first two seasons, 1978 and 1979, since our concern here is the decade of the 1970s, and that leaves him just shy of receiving "All-70s" honors. Nine catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns in 1978 was solid, but hardly a break-out freshman season. He had to share time at flanker in '78 with both Gordy Banks and the late Vince Mulroy, but his second year, in 1979, was pretty special as he grabbed 45 balls for 652 yards and five TDs, finishing third in the conference in catches - as a redshirt sophomore!
How good was Andre Tyler? Well, good enough to make first-team All-Pac 10 and second-team UPI All-West Coast in 1980 and survive for a couple of seasons in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs from 1982-83. Last time we checked, he was making his home in Kansas City. Tyler would end his career tied for fifth all-time in receptions at Stanford with 107. Not too shabby!
Candidates Considered @ Flanker: Banks, Hill, Lofton, M. Moore, Test, Tyler, Vataha, Winesberry