Michigan State

1947 - 55 Spartans
(Authentic Reproduction)


Looked upon with disdain by its Ann Arbor neighbors at the University Of Michigan, the Fighting Farmers of Michigan State embraced their agricultural roots and "cow college" persona and continued to build a fine academic reputation and a football program to match. By the time former Notre Dame fullback and guard Charles Bachman took the head coaching job in 1933, the program had been stabilized by Jim Crowley and had found a new nickname in the Spartans as of 1925. Bachman had played and coached successfully, not only at Notre Dame but in military football, with George Halas as a World War I teammate. He then guided programs at Northwestern, Kansas State, and Florida.  Bachman dressed his Spartans not in the green and white school colors, but rather the gold of Notre Dame, having the team attired in black jerseys and gold leather helmets. The helmets were eventually emblazoned with a black wing design that housed a gold "S" in the middle. Wartime restrictions forced a cessation of football activities in 1943 but Bachman picked up the reins in '44 and continued to post solid teams until retiring immediately after the 1946 season. He would return to the Hillsdale College sideline for one season in 1952. Bachman's successor was Clarence "Biggie" Munn, just Biggie to everyone although at 6', 215 pounds, it was his accomplishments more than his physical stature that gave him his name and the persona to go with it. A tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks in Minneapolis, Munn was a two-time All Big Ten player, captain, and an All American at guard and fullback for the University Of Minnesota in 1931. He punted and ran the 100-yard dash in ten seconds, making him one of the first of the fast "big men" and was named the Conference MVP. He took the time to star on the track team as a shot put and discus standout. Munn became head coach at Albright College, returned to Minnesota as an assistant and then served on the Michigan staff as line coach for eight seasons under his former Minnesota head coach Fritz Crisler. He joined the Syracuse staff as an assistant and was named head coach in '46 when the Orangemen's head man Ossie Solem suddenly stepped down. He was a popular choice when named State's head coach prior to the 1947 season and brought former Syracuse player Duffy Daugherty, Kip Taylor, and Forest Evashevski for his staff. The new coaches installed Munn's Multiple Formation which featured a Split-T that he shifted into a Single Wing attack or ran or passed while in the T set-up. With the support of College President John Hannah who attended all games, the dictum was to make the football program the best it could be and get Michigan State accepted into the Big Ten Conference. Munn brought his Spartans out, not in gold and black but in the school colors of green and white, with white leather helmets with a green wing design with a small white block "S" within the front of the wing, for the opener against Michigan, a team the Spartans could not seem to beat. With his former mentor Crisler on the opposite sideline, the gauntlet was thrown and the debut resulted in a 55-0 victory for Michigan, the Spartans crushed at every turn. Munn's anger and frustration brought tears as the aftermath of the opening game included toilets which backed-up and flooded the State locker room with sewage. Munn "used the memory of that embarrassment at Ann Arbor to fire himself to a frenzy as each Michigan game approached and to goad his athletes into stupendous effort toward revenge." Many said this one game made Munn the great coach he was. Losing star halfback George "Little Dynamite" Guerre in a game against Bear Bryant's fine Kentucky team resulted in the only other Spartan loss of what became a wonderful 7-2 season. Munn also presented each player with a new, Riddell plastic suspension helmet after that Michigan opener, a Kelly green shell with a white one-inch center stripe, a design the Spartans would don in all of their games through the 1955 season with the exception of two in 1954. Superstition over his horrid loss to Crisler and Michigan or just a morale booster, the new plastic helmets were a huge hit with players and fans. Another key to the 1947 season was a game played at Hawaii where Munn and assistant Daugherty established a number of long-term friendships that resulted in a veritable pipeline of talent that stretched from the Islands to East Lansing. 

1948 was a 6-2-2 mark with a much closer 18-7 loss to rival Michigan who went undefeated and was ranked number-one in the final polls. Fans filled the newly expanded stadium and the level of play jumped significantly in one season. The line was led by three-time captain Bob McCurry who became a Chrysler Corporation executive while HB Guerre used the cutting ability he developed by running full speed through the forest surrounding his family's Michigan cabin. Lynn Chandnois was an elusive and powerful back who was the fastest man on the squad and lettered as a basketball player. On December 12, 1948, the long-term efforts of many were rewarded as Michigan State College was accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference. The final vote was approved on May 20, 1949 although football would not be eligible for the conference crown nor play a full Big Ten schedule until 1953 due to future scheduling commitments. Michigan once again won the opener over State but this time it was close at 7-3 and the Spartans were loaded with talent due to the recruiting efforts of Munn and his staff. While guards Don Mason and Ed Bagdon were All Americans on this 6-3 squad with Bagdon the Outland Trophy winner, soph tackle Don Coleman was the real star. At only 180 pounds, he changed the way the position would be played at State because of his speed and toughness. His mother would not allow him to play football until late in high school but he made up for it. "The Coleman Tackle" would become official coach-speak at Michigan State for finding a player who could lead plays and run the length of the field from that line position. HB Frank "Muddy" Waters teamed with All American HB Lynn Chandnois, future Cardinal and Redskins guard Ed Bagdon, and a potent offense, one that piled up a record 694 yards on Temple. At season's end, assistants Evashevski and Taylor left for head coaching positions and each would become college coaching stars in the future, Evy at Iowa and Taylor at Oregon State. Waters graduated and became the head coach at Hillsdale College in 1953. He won thirty-four consecutive games and in twelve of his twenty seasons ranked nationally in Division II play. He started the Saginaw Valley State program, bringing them to national playoff level and served as Michigan State's head coach from 1980 through '82.

With a penchant for choosing playing and coaching talent, Munn replaced his departed assistants with more future coaching stars; Dan Devine (Missouri, Green Bay Packers, Notre Dame), Earle Edwards (NC State), Red Dawson (Pitt), Steve Sebo (Penn), and a local high school coach named Bob Devaney who did quite well at subsequent stops at Wyoming and Nebraska! A predicted decline in talent and performance if anything, went the other way and the squad was even better, completing an 8-1 1950 season and ranked number eight by the AP and nine by UPI. With Chandnois off to a seven year career as the Steelers first-round draft pick, the All American back jumping into place was Everett "Sonny" Grandelius, whose 1023 made him the first Spartan and the seventeenth college player in history to rush for 1000 yards. Grandelius remains one of the all-time greats in the State Of Michigan due to his high school and Michigan State careers and after a year with the Giants, he returned as an assistant coach at State. He became Colorado's head coach from 1959-'61 and took the downtrodden program to the Orange Bowl but became branded as "the first coach to be fired for recruiting improprieties" due to an illegal slush fund that was providing players with illegal payments. Grandelius was an NFL coach with the Lions and Eagles and later, the GM of the WFL Detroit Wheels. The only loss was to Maryland while QB Al Dorow guided the team to its first win over Michigan in fourteen years. All American honors were won by both ends, Dorne Dibble and Bob Carey. Dibble played with the Lions at end and DB from '51 to '57 while Carey had a solid career with the Rams and Browns. HB Don McAuliffe and LB Doug Weaver helped to shut out the season's final three opponents.

1951 was according to Munn, his best team although the 9-0 record gave them but a share of the National Championship with Tennessee and a number two ranking in some polls. "Duffy's Toughies" formed an incredible line with tackle Coleman and center and LB Dick Tamburo both All Americans. Coleman was the first player to make Notre Dame's All Opponent Team three consecutive years. He became a respected educator, returning to MSU as Dean Of Students. Return man and HB Jim Ellis was named to an All American team as was QB Dorow who had a lengthy pro career with the Redskins, Eagles, NY Titans of the AFL, and as a player and coach in the CFL. Backfield power came from Leroy Bolden, Billy Wells, Don McAuliffe, and back-up QB Tom Yewcic. In 1952, Munn and the Spartans reached the pinnacle, winning the National Championship and running their winning streak up with another 9-0 record. The quality depth was unreal. Both Tamburo and an undersized guard named Frank Kush were All Americans, Tamburo for the second time. Kush, who had transferred after one semester at Washington And Lee, went into the service and then joined State assistant coach Dan Devine at Arizona State when Devine was named head coach there with Kush heading to Tempe directly from his Army discharge. When Kush became the Sun Devils head coach as Devine moved to successful stops at Missouri, Green Bay, and Notre Dame, he brought Tamburo in as his assistant coach and Tamburo eventually became the AD at Arizona State and a number of other major colleges. Hank Bullough was a tough defensive linemen while end Ellis Duckett received some All American votes. DB Jim Ellis was a feared return man while John Wilson, another end, was voted to the very first Academic All American team and won a Rhodes Scholarship, later becoming the Vice President of Virginia Tech University. Yewcic was the All American QB with the aptly-named Willie Thrower behind him. Thrower later appeared as George Blanda's replacement as the QB for the Bears on October 8, 1953 in a game against the Forty Niners. Thus Thrower became the first African-American QB to appear in the NFL. Captain McAuliffe was a consensus All American but the backfield that played with him boasted talent as great as his in LeRoy Bolden, Billy Wells, and FB Evan Slonac. Rough LB Doug Weaver later coached on Daugherty's staff, was Kansas State's head coach, and returned to East Lansing to guide the program as its AD for many years. The team put up record numbers including 601 yards of offense against Marquette, a record that stood until 1971. Munn was the College Football Coach Of The Year and his winning streak reached twenty-four consecutive games.

As Michigan State prepared to enter Big Ten play "for real", they were dealt a blow early in '53. The NCAA noted that the independent Spartan Foundation Of Lansing had provided illegal payments and benefits to Michigan State players. Despite the protests of State who argued that they had no control of an outside organization, the football program was placed on probation. With the new one-platoon rules, it was expected that Munn would find it difficult to win with his "Light Brigade Backfield" of Yewcic (172 pounds), Bolden (157 pounds), Wells (175 pounds), and FB Evan Slonac (170 pounds) but the "midget backs" played tough and well defensively too. Against Minnesota, the squad had to form a concealing and protective barrier around Bolden as his uniform pants and jersey were literally torn off of his body, yet he was the first State player to be named All Big Ten and All American as was end Don Doheny. Doheny was also an Academic All American.  "Diamond" Jim Ellis continued his great return and DB work and soph QB Earl Morrall ably backed-up Yewcic who went on to a brief pro baseball career after being named the MVP of The College World Series of 1954. Yewcic played for the Patriots as a punter and QB from 1961-'66. Wells completed his fine career as Rose Bowl MVP, even dating actress Debbie Reynolds before moving on to the Redskins, Steelers, Eagles, and Patriots in a seven year pro stint. The twenty-eight game winning streak came to an end against Purdue as Danny Pubojewski who wasn't good enough to get playing time at State and thus transferred to the Boilermakers, scored the only TD in a 6-0 Purdue win. With end Bill Quinlan who would later play for five NFL teams but be a key in Vince Lombardi's early Packer defenses, and All American tackle Larry Fowler driving the defense through four more wins to end the year, the Spartans won the Big Ten title and went on to defeat UCLA 28-20, representing the conference in the big bowl game in their inaugural Big Ten season. They also represented themselves and the team well when a fire broke out in the team hotel and many squadmen rushed to remove elderly and invalids who were trapped in their rooms, earning praise nationally. Munn stepped from the sideline after his seven great years at State gave him a 54-9-2 College Football Hall Of Fame record. He immediately was named the new Spartan athletic director and in turned named assistant Daugherty as the new head coach.

If interested in any of these MSU helmets please click on the photos below.