Two-way Terror

<b>CLANCY WILLIAMS</b> gave football fans in the West a ton of thrills during his brilliant collegiate career at Washington State from 1962-64, and for eight seasons after that with the Los Angeles Rams.

In fact, if the professional factor is included in the equation, Williams probably was the finest two-way player in the last half-century at WSU and perhaps the entire West Coast.

My hope is that the passage of time won't work against him when National Football Foundation voters are marking their ballots for the College Football Hall of Fame. Clancy, along with legendary Cougar running back Rueben Mayes, are among 85 former players and coaches who have been nominated for induction this year. About 20 will make it.

Unlike Rueben and other nominees whose exploits, both collegiately and professionally, are still fresh in the mind's eye of many, Clancy played the final down of his storied career before many of today's voters were old enough to read. And ol' No. 22 himself has been gone for 18 years, claimed by cancer at age 43.

For old timers like me who had the chance to see Clancy play, his legend will never die and his induction into the College Hall would be automatic.

CLANCY, THE PRIDE OF RENTON, starred for the Cougars as a running back and defensive back, earning all-conference, All-Coast and consensus first-team All-America honors in 1964. He was drafted in the first round by the Rams and proceeded to become one of the finest cornerbacks and return men in the NFL.

Clancy was so accomplished that he earned a cameo appearance along with 49ers great John Brodie in a 1972 episode of the NBC-TV hit Banacek --- an episode, by chance, whose central character was played by long-time Hollywood actor and 1950s Cougar football standout Chuck Morrell.

Mal Florence, the veteran sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, voted Clancy the most underrated Ram of 1968 --- the second straight year in which he led the Rams in interceptions with seven, to go with eight the year before.

"(Williams) took on practically every big name receiver in the NFL the past season," wrote Florence. "When it was all over, he was responsible for only one touchdown pass against the Rams -- a pretzel-like knee catch by Clifton McNeil in the first 49er game."

Some older crimson faithful might want to pick late-1940s standouts Jerry Williams and Don Paul for "Best All-Around Player" honors at Cougarville. Both are deserving: they're in the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame along with Clancy, and both had great pro careers.

But Clancy really was something else. He was 6-foot-2, weighed 195 and could run the 100 in 9.6. He also was a big hitter on defense.

Three games illustrate just how Clancy seemed to always be in the middle of the action: Oregon State in '62, Arizona in '63 and Stanford in '64.

As a sophomore, Clancy served notice that he was something special when he racked up a record 150 yards in kickoff returns against the Beavers. Of note is that he concluded his Cougar career with a 24.8-yard career kick-return average --- a record that still stands.

After the Arizona game in '63, Spokesman-Review Sports Editor Harry Missildine noted that Williams not only starred on defense, but scored practically all the points --- for both teams!

That's right. He posted WSU's lone TD on a 75-yard sprint down the right sideline on a wet and muddy night at Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium. The electrifying run atoned for a first quarter miscue in which Williams fielded an Arizona punt near his goal line, made a loop back into the end zone to gain some running room, and then was tackled for a safety.

In the end, Washington State prevailed 7-2, with Clancy rushing for 148 yards. The only point on the board that Clancy didn't score was the Cougar extra point.

But the high-point of Williams' Cougar career, in the view of many, was his fabled "steal" against Stanford in the 1964 opener, also played in Spokane. It was Bert Clark's first game as WSU head coach, and the Cougars had a seven-game win streak against Stanford on the line.

Leading 23-22 with little more than one minute left to play, Stanford coach "Cactus Jack" Curtice inexplicably called a pass play. Quarterback Terry DeSylvia threw to receiver Dick Ragsdale. As Ragsdale caught the ball and turned to run, Williams ripped the ball away and returned it to the WSU 37. Ragsdale tackled Clancy, but was so enraged by the play that his venting earned Stanford a 15-yard penalty. From there, quarterback Tom Roth guided the Cougars in for the TD that gave them a stunning 29-23 win.

It was the second-straight year Clancy had foiled Stanford. The year before, the Cougars were heavy underdogs coming into Palo Alto, but head coach Jim Sutherland --- a pioneer of the modern-day passing game --- spotted something in Stanford game films so introduced a surprise option attack. Clancy averaged 6.5 yards a carry that day and the Cougars won 32-15.

Williams gave Cougar fans many thrills with his gridiron exploits, but fate robbed him of what would have been his own greatest thrill. At age 43, Clancy died of cancer. It was September 21, 1986 --- almost three years to the day before his son, tight end Clarence "Butch" Williams, began his own great football career at Washington State.

Dick Fry is the author of The Crimson and the Gray: 100 Years with the WSU Cougars. He is a former WSU sports information director and news bureau director.

Cougfan Top Stories