Observers of East Texas State/A&M-Commerce football over the past 20 years or so can be excused for not appreciating the rich tradition of the program – a lot of losing seasons, no playoff appearances, let alone post-season victories. But it was not always thus.
From the 1930s to the 1990s, there were a lot more victories than losses, an NAIA championship in 1972, three Tangerine Bowl wins in the 1950s, two NCAA Division II playoff wins in the early 1990s, 21 Lone Star Conference championships, and a long line of Lions who enjoyed quality careers in pro football.
So, as a new era of Lion football begins this Saturday night against an old foe, the Sul Ross State Lobos, here’s one man’s top five ET/A&M-C football players of all-time.
First, my Lion Emeritus, Stumblin’ Sam McCord, the gritty, two-time first-team Little All-American quarterback who led the Lions of the late ’50s to three Lone Star Conference titles and two Tangerine Bowl wins. It was a different game in those days, and the statistics of that era do not compare with the pinball-like game of today, but Sam McCord was, as we say in big-time sports broadcasting, a winner. Full disclosure: He was my KETR broadcasting partner from 1978-83, and a superb analyst.
No. 5: “King” Arthur James, RB, 1966-69 (pictured above): The record-setting running back of the 1960s who is still the Lions’ all-time leading rusher with more than 4,200 yards and the all-time single game rushing record of 363 yards against Abilene Christian in 1968.
No. 4: Autry Beamon, DB, 1971-74: He played as a college freshman at the age of 17, having graduated early from high school. A starter and playmaker on the 1972 NAIA championship team, and a seven-year pro career with the Vikings, Seahawks and Browns.
No. 3 Wade Wilson, QB, 1977-80: Also on the list of the top five Commerce-area high-school players of all time, the one-time Commerce Tiger led the Lions to the NAIA semi-finals in 1980, and then carved out a 17-year pro career, mostly with the Vikings, including over 17,000 yards passing and 99 touchdown passes, engaging in duels with the likes of Joe Montana:
No. 2, Dwight “Mad Dog” White, DE, 1967-70: A mainstay of Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” defense of the 1970s. Four Super Bowl championships. He played on the excellent ET teams of the late 1960s that jousted with the slightly greater Texas A&I Javelinas for Lone Star Conference supremacy, at a time when sellouts at Memorial Stadium were not unheard of (no. 78 in this NFL Films video):
No. 1 “The Beautiful” Harvey Martin, DE, 1969-72: A dominating player on the 1972 NAIA championship team, Martin (also known as “Too Mean,” in contrast to his Dallas Cowboys counterpart Ed “Too Tall” Jones), went on to be named co-MVP of the 1978 Super Bowl as the Cowboys demolished the Broncos (no. 79 in this NFL Films piece):
Many others could well be on the list: Aundra “Boomer” Thompson, the second leading rusher all-time, who went on to six seasons in the NFL with the Packers and the Saints, mainly as a receiver; Jon Gilliam, the offensive lineman of the McCord era, who went on to a long career with the Dallas Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, playing in the first Super Bowl; Tim Collier, the defensive back who played on the 1972 national championship team and went on to a long career in the NFL; Bobby Bounds, the all-time passing yardage leader who led the Lions in their last great era of the early 1990s; Kevin Mathis, two time first-team All-American defensive back of the 1990s, who played a decade in the NFL. Lots of others.
Here’s hoping the best is yet to come under new head coach Colby Carthel.