Many of the best players in the country gathered at Jones Stadium before thousands of fans and a national television audience for the day’s biggest football game.
However, this wasn’t a recent Big 12 showdown featuring Texas Tech. It was the Coaches All-America Game, a prominent part of Lubbock’s athletic landscape from 1970-76.
“Lubbock has always had that good seed of love for the game of football because West Texas football has been awfully good through the years with youngsters coming up and going on to college,” said former longtime Baylor head coach Grant Teaff, who served as a head coach in the 1975 game. “It was a good environment, very successful.”
The game was the brainchild of the American Football Coaches Association and came into being in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1961. The association wanted an event of its own that would serve as an annual showcase of the cream of the college football crop. Two all-star squads of 30 players, many of whom came from the coaches’ all-America team and were bound for the National Football League, were selected. After a five-year run in Buffalo, the game moved to Atlanta for four years.
But the event was struggling and needed a new home. The people of West Texas took it from there. Local radio station owner R.B. “Mac” McAlister and the District 2-T2 Lions Club helped get things moving, recalled former longtime Avalanche-Journal Sports Editor Burle Pettit.
“ ‘Mac’ called me and was really pushing the game coming to Lubbock,” he said. “He got the local Lions Club involved, but the feeling was the game was too big for one club, so the entire district became involved.
“Everything started rolling, and they contacted Frank Howard, the Clemson coach who was president of the association. They were eager to keep it going because the game was their only source of income.”
Lubbock was scheduled to host its first rendition of the game June 28, 1970, but history intervened just more than six weeks before kickoff when the May 11 tornado devastated the city. Pettit said the deadly twister brought out the best in the people of Lubbock.
“The thing that made the game, in my opinion, was the tornado,” he said. “Nothing ever pulled a town together like that. Ticket sales were so-so before May 11, maybe slightly more than the year before. Then the tornado hit and tore the heart out of the city.
“I really believe the spirit of togetherness that came out of that tornado — the civic kinship — I had never seen anything like it before.”
Lubbock dug out of the rubble and threw its support behind the game. A few weeks later, at a pre-game event publicizing the upcoming contest, then-Lubbock Mayor Jim Granberry gave a rousing speech that included the oft-quoted line, “The hand extended to you is battered and bruised, but it is warm.”
The 1970 game, won 34-27 by the East team, featured Nebraska’s Bob Devaney as the West head coach and LSU’s Charlie McClendon as the head coach of the East. Other head coaches during the game’s seven-year run on the South Plains included a virtual who’s who of the profession: Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer, Alabama’s “Bear” Bryant, USC’s John McKay and Auburn’s “Shug” Jordan.
“Shug and his wife got off the plane, and the first thing he did was start spouting off Lubbock history,” said former A-J Sports Editor Don Henry. “They were so excited and anxious about coming here that he had read a lot of Lubbock history. He was telling people in town things they didn’t know because he had the marquee players, and coaches held sway over Lubbock while in town for the week of the game, and Lubbock’s citizenry willingly embraced the game. The city’s chamber of commerce was an early advocate, and Lions Club members across West Texas were champions for the event.”
“Lubbock likes to be the best at anything it does,” Pettit said. “The first year here, it set an attendance record. Then pride took over as far as sustaining the thing.”
A total of 16 Red Raiders played in the game during its three-city run from 1961-76, including lineman E.J. Holub, end Dave Parks, running back Donny Anderson, quarterback Joe Barnes, defensive back Kenneth Wallace and defensive back Curtis Jordan, who played in the event’s swan song in 1976.
“It was a very popular deal,” Henry said. “The coaches they brought in, there was no pressure on them. They enjoyed it. They brought their wives. It was almost a community affair because of the way they came in and supported it.”
The players were special, too. Some of the best-known college football names of the era were on the Jones Stadium turf, including Miami’s Chuck Foreman, Alabama’s Johnny Musso, Michigan’s Dan Dierdorf and Stanford’s Jim Plunkett, the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner.
“Those all-star games were really special for a number of reasons. It was put on by our association,” said Teaff, who is now executive director of the coaches association. “It drew the top folks because coaches sent their best players. It was quite a deal.”
Pettit said the games provided great memories and entertainment for football fans.
“(Former Tech defensive end) Richard Campbell was added to the roster one year,” he said. “He paid his way in, sang the national anthem and then scored the first touchdown of the game on a blocked punt.”
Former Texas Tech quarterback Joe Barnes heads down field during action from the 1974 Coaches All-America Game at Jones Stadium. Barnes rushed for 31 yards and scored a touchdown, helping the West to a 36-6 victory. The game, which featured some of the best-known players and coaches in college football, was a staple of the Lubbock sports calendar from 1970-76.
The game, nationally televised by ABC (which employed O.J. Simpson as a sideline reporter for the 1974 contest) and covered by sports writers from around the country, was a tremendous annual advertisement for Lubbock and Texas Tech, Pettit said.
“It was a great thing for the city,” he said. “It was good for college football because it helped the coaches association, which has done a lot of great things. It helped the Lions Club, and it helped Texas Tech.”
The game’s West Texas run came to an end, though, despite an average crowd of 40,000. One reason, said Henry, was many top players were advised by their representatives to skip the game and avoid a possible career-ending injury in an exhibition contest.
“We were just coming into that era where the agents were a big factor,” Henry said, “and also insurance basically helped kill the game because the agents were demanding so much for their players to come. As a result of that, some of the real stars, they declined to come because their agents were worried they would get hurt.”
Just like that, a game that had featured talented players such as Ohio State’s Randy Gradishar, Oklahoma’s Greg Pruitt and Oregon’s Dan Fouts was gone, but the event’s Lubbock legacy will forever remain secure.
“I can’t say it would have been a failure without the tornado,” Pettit said. “But I can say without reservation that it would not have been the success it was without that catalyst.”
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