Blast from the Past: The 1969 Bucs took on Terry Bradshaw

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2018

by C.Y. Peters

Grantland Rice was, by any fair measure, one of the greatest – and unquestionably one of the most famous, and beloved – sports writers in American history.
The son of a cotton dealer and a grandson of a Confederate veteran of our Civil War, Rice was known as much for his style and the elegant prose contained within his sports stories. as with the actual accounting of the events themselves.
Rice was so famous, his legacy so enduring, that in 1951, an anonymous donor contributed $50,000.00 to establish the Grantland Rice Fellowship in Journalism with the New York Community Trust. Rice was himself a two-sport college athlete— baseball and football. He was captain of the 1901 Vanderbilt baseball team. So, it was of high honor that the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers we’re invited to play in the 1969 bowl game named in honor of Mr. Rice.
Terry Bradshaw was one of the best quarterbacks in National Football League history. He was so good in college that the Pittsburgh Steelers chose him as the top player in the 1970 NFL Draft. He would prove his high-potential prognosticators wise by leading the Steelers to four Super Bowl Championships in a six-season span, winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy in 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979.
Bradshaw also had a storied career at Louisiana Tech, but not until after spending his freshman season as backup to starting quarterback Phil “Roxie” Robertson. Yes, that Phil himself was a very good athlete. He is better known as the Vietnam War veteran who would forego playing football his senior season for his greater love of hunting, and most specifically duck hunting; the same Phil Robertson who would write his own legend as host of the A&E series Duck Dynasty; or as Robertson put it, “Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks.”
After running for two touchdowns and passing for two others in the Tech win over the Zips of Akron in the 1968 Grantland Rice Bowl, Bradshaw’s team was invited back in 1969. Even better for the Bulldogs, in an ironic twist, this time the game that had previously been hosted in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was played much closer to home in Baton Rouge. So, the team that went and won in Tennessee the season previous, would get to play in its home state against a team from that same state of Tennessee. So, a made-to-order game if ever there was one. That, plus the Bulldogs had a couple other future NFL draftees – Larry Brewer, and Bradshaw’s friend since Jr. high school, Tommy Spinks. Spinks and Bradshaw – and their coach, Maxie Lambright- are members of Louisiana Tech’s athletic hall of fame.
ETSU was also a quality team with quality players. Wide receiver Pat Hauser was selected in that 1970 NFL Draft. Hauser, defensive back Bill Casey, quarterback Larry Graham, and head coach John Robert Bell are members of their university’s athletics Hall Of Fame.
Bradshaw completed 20 of 39 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the 1969 game – good numbers, but for the three interceptions thrown to the ETSU defense and the now-legendary secondary known as “Bennett’s Bandits” in honor of their coach, Buddy Bennett.
The next season Bennett would leave ETSU to work for the new head football coach at Tennessee – Bill Battle. There Bennett’s Volunteer defenders would intercept 36 passes, still a Southeastern Conference record. Sweeter still, eight of those picks were snatched in the Vols 24-0 win over Alabama.
It wasn’t just the defensive secondary that humbled the Techsters. On this day the Bulldogs faced a complete air-and-ground assault that began when defensive end Ron Mendheim sacked Bradshaw for a nineteen-yard loss on his first drop back, the first of five first-half sacks by Mendheim.
Meanwhile, ETSU quarterback Larry Graham executed the veer offense to near perfection. The Bucs rushes the ball 53 times for 245 yards. Graham threw only 18 passes for 137 of ETSU’s 174 yards; the other 37 yards coming on a perfectly executed handoff-pass play by Graham to star running back Mike Young who lobbed the ball down the right sideline to wide-open teammate Pat Hauser.
Overall, Bradshaw was sacked 12 times for 143 yards in losses.
The Buccaneers of ‘69 were 9-0-1, with a 10-10 tie with Murray State the only blemish on their record.
The “experts” made Tech a 14-point favorite due to their two common opponent scores – La. Tech had beaten East Carolina 24-6; ETSU defeated the Pirates only by a 7-0 score; and ETSU defeated the Mocs of Chattanooga 17-13, a week previous to Bradshaw and company beating them, on the road, 23-7. These common opponents scores, the closer-to-home venue, and the All-American quarterback gave the Bulldogs a decided edge.
All this, plus Tech had averaged 35.2 points a game – a record that stood for 29 years – and scored 77 points against Lamar Tech.
The game didn’t start – or end – quite the way the Bulldogs must have envisioned. The swarming defensive Bucs sacked Bradshaw on his first offensive drop back, and his last three, plus eight more in between.
Jerry Daughtry scored from the one-yard line to put ETSU ahead 6-0 halfway through the first quarter, and though the PAT missed, the thrashing had begun in earnest.
Five-plus minutes into the second quarter Hauser caught the halfback pass from Young to complete the first half scoring at 14-0 – the first, first-half shutout for Tech all season long.
Bradshaw brought Tech back within one score after passing to Buster Harren for an 8-yard touchdown 3-1/2 minutes into the second half and after the extra point, it was 13-7, Bucs.
The Bucs would respond just two minutes later when Young rushed into the end zone from five yards out to make it 20-7.
The Bulldogs scored at 2:37 in the 3rd with Bradshaw’s second touchdown pass to Tommy Spinks to put Tech back to within one score, 20-14.
But, Graham began to do some nifty passing of his own by throwing two, fourth-quarter touchdown passes – the first at 9:47 to John Gibson; and the games final touchdown, a 10-yarder to Rick Anderson.
Louisiana Tech assistant coach, Pat Collins succinctly summed it up after the game: “They just flat beat the hell out of us. Tech offensive backfield coach nodded in agreement.”
Head Coach, Lambright stated simply, “East Tennessee State was the best team out there today. They are a fine, fine team. I didn’t think anybody could get to Terry A’s many times as they did.”
“It’s as simple as that.”
East Tennessee has not had another season without a loss, or won more than seven games but once since that incredible season – 1969. But, on that day, chosen to honor the greatest of sportswriters, against one of the greatest of quarterbacks, the East Tennessee State University Football Buccaneers – most of them local boys, played a game for the ages; a game that Grantland Rice himself would have devoted the highest of prose.
“We know how rough the road will be, how heavy here the load will be, we know about the barricades that wait along the track; but we have set our soul ahead, upon a certain goal ahead, and nothing left from Hell to sky will ever set us back.” —Grantland Rice

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