Kirk Gibson recalls Michigan State’s 1978 Big Ten
Plus, former Notre Dame QB Terry Hanratty was nearly a Spartan
EAST LANSING – Despite his toughness and tenacity, Kirk Gibson nearly came to tears.
It partly was due to his number entering Michigan State’s Ring of Honor. Thinking about the 30-plus former Spartans teammates he planned to have on the field with him welled up the College Football Hall of Famer.
“As far as me going up there, it’s cool. I’m not going to lie,” Gibson said Saturday at Kellogg Center. “But when I step onto that field to be recognized during the game, the cool part is going to be to have my teammates behind me.… Obviously, without them, I wouldn’t have accomplished what I’ve accomplished, certainly in football.”
MSU unveiled Gibson’s No. 23 along the east ring of Spartan Stadium before its game Saturday night against Notre Dame, a 38-18 loss. The former All-America wide receiver, who helped the Spartans to a share of the 1978 Big Ten title, is the ninth former player to be honored.
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Gibson and the Spartans were prevented from going to the Rose Bowl his senior season because of NCAA probation. He knew that reality when he made the Tigers allow him to play his final year of football at MSU after being drafted in the first round in the spring of 1978.
With Gibson teaming with quarterback Eddie Smith that fall, the duo shattered a number of school passing and receiving records as the Spartans won a share of their first Big Ten championship since 1966, going 8-3 overall and 7-1 in the league to finish with a No. 12 national ranking.
Gibson earned first-team All-America and all-conference recognition by catching 42 passes for 806 yards with seven touchdowns. He broke his previous single-season school record he established in 1976 as a sophomore.
“We were on probation for three years. We got kicked in the (groin),” said Gibson, a former Tiger star who played 17 years in the majors and managed the Arizona Diamondbacks. “But the guys that stuck it out, they’re Spartans.… We ended up winning that Big Ten championship. We didn’t run, we stuck together, we toughed it out. We realized what we had in front of us, and we dealt with it. And that’s what you gotta do.”
Gibson led the Big Ten for three straight years in receptions during conference play, finishing his college football career with 112 catches for 2,347 yards and 24 touchdowns — all of which were school records at the time. His 21 yards-per-catch remain No. 1 all-time at MSU, and his TD total is third and his total receiving yards remain fourth.
Gibson joined MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon, former football coach George Perles, athletic director Mark Hollis and former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell before the game to announce his Gibby & Friends vs. Parky campaign. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015, Gibson is hoping to help raise $1.2 million to benefit research.
He also delivered MSU’s commencement address in May. Hollis said just one honor “wasn’t enough for Gibby’s legacy.”
“Tonight’s going to be one of those moments in time,” Hollis said. “It’s a time where an individual is coming forward not only for himself, but for so many others that are facing Parkinson’s. We’re going to remember that we were here. …
“He’s an incredible person. And he just wraps up what Michigan State University is all about and what the Spartan will is all about.”
Altered history? Former Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty, who started the epic 10-10 tie game in 1966 at Spartan Stadium, almost was a Spartan.
Hanratty said he was about to commit to Duffy Daugherty’s Spartans in the fall of 1964, when he was a senior at Butler (Pa.) High. Until he met Ara Parseghian.
“I thought Duffy was a great guy,” said Hanratty, who finished third in the 1969 Heisman Trophy voting and won two Super Bowls during an eight-year NFL career, seven with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Then I met Ara in Pittsburgh, and he just wowed me. I went home to tell my mother that I was gonna call Ara and tell him I was going to Notre Dame. And she said, ‘But what are you gonna do with coach Daugherty?’ Well, I was going to call him.
“I’m a 17-year-old kid at the time, and I said this is going to be a miserable call. But I call him up, and for the next 20 minutes, he told me what a great school Notre Dame was and what a great coach Ara was. He made that call so easy for this 17-year-old kid. And I’ve respected him ever since.”
Hanratty got knocked out of the 1966 game with a shoulder injury in the first quarter after a mammoth hit from Bubba Smith. He would go on to lose, 24-14, to the Spartans in 1967, but Hanratty and the Irish finally got the win over Daugherty during his senior year, 21-17, in 1968.
But that call with Daugherty still left Hanratty a fan, even though the coach joked that “we’re going to try to beat the hell out of you.”
“If Notre Dame is playing, I’m rooting for Notre Dame,” Hanratty said. “Any other thing, I’m rooting for the Spartans.”