The 1966 Michigan State Spartans football team was one of the best collegiate athletics squads ever put together. Finishing the year undefeated, and ranked #2 in the AP and Coaches polls, MSU was selected as the Football Research poll National Champion and the Helms Foundation Co-Champion.
Even after the season was over though, the impact of this team reached the NFL. Four of the first eight selections in the 1967 NFL Draft wore Green and White in college, including the first and second picks in the draft class. The magical season of 1966 brought back terrific memories for all Spartans, especially Clint Jones, who recently reflected on his time in East Lansing with Spartan Nation.
The first selection in the 1967 NFL draft was Defensive End Bubba Smith, who was taken by the Baltimore Colts. In August of 2010, he spoke with Spartan Nation and revealed that Michigan State practices were the hardest part of his week. He believed that going up against Spartan offense, and more specifically Clinton Jones, was his toughest task. As his teammate and running back, Jones had never heard Smith offer that praise before.
“That is a great compliment from a dear friend, teammate and brother in Bubba,” said Jones. “I had never heard that and he has played against some of the very best in the game so coming from Bubba, I take that with a deep gratitude and appreciation.”
The early and mid-1960’s were a different time for this country. Racism was still prevalent in the south and many African-Americans didn’t have the opportunity to attend segregated schools or play on segregated athletics teams. Jones, who grew up in Cleveland, lived in a segregated town.
His community featured Blacks, Sicilian’s, Orthodox Jews and Eastern Europeans, who Jones says were all closely mixed. Even though he had experience with segregation, it was still amazing to him that for some of his new teammates, 1963 was their first experience in a melting pot.
“When we came together in 1963, it was kind of an unusual experience,” explained Jones. “We had Dick Kenny, who was a Pacific Islander. We had guys from the south who had not gone to segregated schools. So we had this melting pot, but I had experience going to school with White students. It wasn’t a cultural shock for
me like it was my teammates. I felt very comfortable in that environment at Michigan State, but some of my teammates didn’t.”
With all of the wonderful accolades that Jones picked up in his collegiate career, the fondest moments he had were beating Ohio State. “Coming from Ohio, I really didn’t have much love for Ohio State and Woody Hayes,” said Jones. “Nothing personal, but he wasn’t really nice to me when he found out I didn’t want to go to Ohio State. He had a lot of unkind words to say about the Spartans so becoming a Spartan, playing in my Junior and senior years and thoroughly thrashing them… I got a great deal of satisfaction from that.”
Attending the Rose Bowl to cap off the 1965 season was a special moment for Jones, but he says beating Michigan sticks out in his mind. “Beating Michigan was the other big game [that I remember],” said Jones. “It never gets old.”
Even with all of the games and especially all of the wins, it was the raw emotion that Jones remembers best.
“Before the games, we would get together and make the determinations in the Kellogg Center,” explained Jones. “Then we bust through the doors and we would
make that trip from Kellogg Center along the Red Cedar River and across the bridge and into Spartans Stadium. By the time we got into Spartans Stadium, we
were levitating. We were ready to go out there and play, even if we didn’t have out pads on.”