The missing legend—and great guard play
When I last posted Tuesday evening, I mentioned about my first meeting with three LSU athletics legends, none of whom took the field for the Bayou Bengals. All three–Kent Lowe, Bill Franques and Dan Borne–are still alive and well in Baton Rouge, still proudly representing the purple and gold.
The man I knew prior to the 1994 football media day, Herb Vincent, has gone on to bigger and better things as an associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. I was sadly disappointed he didn’t become LSU’s athletic director when Skip Bertman retired in 2008, but Herb, Jamey and Kennedy are very happy in Birmingham.
There was someone else I should have met at the 1994 football media day.
Instead, Michael Bonnette was at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, recuperating after knee surgery.
Michael suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a recreational softball game earlier in August. He had just been hired full-time by Herb after five years as a student assistant and graduate assistant in the sports information (now sports communications) office. Michael had the unenviable task of promoting the LSU women’s basketball team during its darkest period, one which saw the Lady Tigers suffer three consecutive losing season, bottoming out at 7-20 in 1994-95 and nearly causing coach Sue Gunter to lose her job. Fortunately, LSU turned it around beginning in 1995-96 and Gunter eventually was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Sadly, she died in August 2005 of cancer as LSU was in the midst of five consecutive trips to the Final Four.
Michael’s bloodlines destined him for a job in the sports media business. His father, Louis, became McNeese State’s sports information director in 1966, and it was assumed Michael would replace him. Michael made his way 125 miles east and stayed there, but the Cowboys’ post is still in the family, since younger brother Matthew assumed it upon Louis’ retirement in 2011. Louis’ legacy at McNeese is secure, as the playing surface at Cowboy Stadium is named for him.
I met Michael the week before classes started. There were plenty of times I wanted to be far away from him, but the times he bailed me out of trouble and supported me far, far, far outnumbered the bad ones.
In 2000, Michael succeeded Herb as leader of the LSU sports information office and enters his 20th football season at the helm. Michael has lived through the full tenures of three football coaches, worked under four athletic directors, and has witnessed the women’s basketball coaching position pass from Gunter to Pokey Chatman to (temporarily) Bob Starkey to Van Chancellor and now to Nikki Caldwell-Fargas.
Just like the late, great Paul Manasseh groomed Herb for the job, just as Herb groomed Michael for the job, Michael has groomed his students for other jobs, most notably Bill Martin, who’s now in charge at Mississippi State. Michael and Bill are both from Lake Charles, although they went to rival high schools (Michael to LaGrange, Bill to Barbe).
Herb, Kent, Bill, Dan and Michael all deserve sainthood for putting up with me all those year. Unlike the others, Michael isn’t Catholic, so I’d have to see if the Vatican will give him an exemption.
Herb’s adroit handling of Curley Hallman’s four years of misery also deserves him sainthood. I would have gone nuts trying to deal with both sides.
With this being the National Football League’s 100th season, I’m trying to compile a list of the greatest player at each uniform number.
I can already tell you two of the winners on my list. I never saw either play live, but thanks to NFL Films, I could tell they were legends by time I was 11.
Number 64 is Jerry Kramer, the author and Packers guard who was the brawn behind Vince Lombardi’s famed “power sweep”. Teaming with Fuzzy Thurston and later Gale Gillingham, Jimmy Taylor, Paul Hornung, Elijah Pitts and Donny Anderson all found plenty of green grass in front of them after defenders had been wiped out by the green and gold marauders.
It was a damn shame Kramer had to wait 44 years to get into the Hall of Fame. He should have been a first ballot inductee in 1974, or at worst, inducted by 1988, his last year of eligibility on the writer’s ballot. Thank God this was rectified in 2018, and even better, Kramer was able to give his induction speech on stage in Canton despite being 82 years old. Several men his age were unable to give a live induction speech (Hank Stram, Mick Tinglehoff, Johnny Robinson), or worse, passed away before their enshrinement. With the passing of Forrest Gregg and Bart Starr earlier this year, and Jimmy Taylor’s passing last October, Kramer, Willie Davis, Dave Robinson, Herb Adderley and Willie Wood are the last of the living greats who played for Lombardi.
Old Jerry was also a fine placekicker. In the 1962 NFL championship game, Kramer sliced three field goals and a extra point through vicious winds at Yankee Stadium, providing the margin of victory in Green Bay’s 16-7 triumph over the Giants.
Kramer, drafted in 1958 in the third round out of Idaho, missed the entire 1964 season when he needed to have slivers of wood removed from his abdomen, an operation which nearly killed him. He recovered to play four more seasons, helping the Packers win three consecutive NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls. He retired following the 1968 season.
Runners-up: Dave Wilcox (49ers LB, 1964-74); Randall McDaniel (Vikings G, 1989-2001)
Number 73 was slightly more challenging. Very slightly.
Like Kramer, this man also was a great offensive guard.
John Hannah toiled for 13 seasons for the Patriots and is, in my opinion, still the greatest to play for the franchise. Sorry (not sorry), Tom Brady.
Hannah was a two-time consensus All-American for Bear Bryant at Alabama, where he led the Crimson Tide to unprecedented offensive success in the Wishbone, which Bryant adopted in 1971 after seasons of 6-5 and 6-5-1 in 1969 and ’70. He is still regarded by many as the greatest offensive lineman to ever play college football.
Chuck Fairbanks, who took the Patriots job in January 1973 after six seasons at Oklahoma, wasted no time in selecting Hannah in the first round. By 1976, the Patriots reached the playoffs for the first time since 1963, and Hannah was a big reason, opening huge holes for Sam “Bam” Cunningham while giving Steve Grogan more than enough time to spot Russ Francis, and later, Stanley Morgan.
Hannah reached the Super Bowl with the Patriots in 1985, his final season. The Bears’ 46 defense, led by Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary and Richard Dent, proved to be too much for New England, which lost 46-10.
The Patriots won the AFC East in 1986, but starting in 1987, they went into a steep decline, bottoming out in 1990 when they went 1-15 and were outscored 446-181.
That wasn’t the worst thing which happened to New England in 1990.
Four players were charged with sexually harassing Boston Globe sportswriter Lisa Olson, and owner Victor Kiam doubled down by calling Olson a “classic b***h”. Two years later, the Patriots very nearly moved to St. Louis, but the hiring of Bill Parcells in 1993 and Robert Kraft’s purchase of the franchise in 1994 kept the team in Massachusetts.
Sadly, the good feelings about Kraft would evaporate a few years later.
Runners-up: Ron Yary (Vikings OT, 1968-82); Joe Klecko (Jets DL, 1977-87); Leo Nomellini (49ers DT/OT, 1950-63)