Big Ten: Brad Van Pelt

Big Ten lunch links

September, 14, 2010
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Michigan State will add two more names to its "Ring of Fame" this fall, as the school plans to honor College Football Hall of Famers Brad Van Pelt and John Pingel.

Before the Sept. 18 game against rival Notre Dame, Michigan State will add Van Pelt's and Pingel's names to the upper east deck of Spartan Stadium. The Ring of Fame already includes former Spartans players Don Coleman, George Webster and Bubba Smith, as well as former Michigan State president John Hannah.

"Brad Van Pelt and John Pingel are two players that didn’t simply compete at the collegiate level -- they excelled," Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio said.

"Van Pelt has been labeled the modern day Jim Thorpe by his teammate Joe DeLamielleure, while Pingel has been described as the Doak Walker of his era," Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis said. "As members of the College Football Hall of Fame, they truly rank among the greatest players in Spartan history."

Van Pelt was a two-time first-team All-American for Michigan State and in 1972 became the first defensive back to win the Maxwell Award, given to the nation's top college player. He recorded 256 tackles and 14 interceptions in his Spartans career and was a five-time All-Pro in the NFL.

Van Pelt, who also played baseball and basketball at Michigan State, died of an apparent heart attack last February at age 57.

Pingel starred at halfback, quarterback and punter for Michigan State from 1936-38, helping the Spartans make their first postseason appearance. He accounted for 12 touchdowns in both his junior and senior seasons, and he led the nation in punting as a junior with a 42.6-yard average. Pingel, who died in 1999, was the No. 7 overall pick in the 1939 NFL draft but played only one season in the pros.

Pingel was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1968, while Van Pelt was inducted in 2001.

Michigan State's Mount Rushmore

February, 20, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Without the faintest idea that ESPN would do this Mount Rushmore project, I got a head start on Michigan State's list in August when I took a tour of the school's new Skandalaris Football Center. The lobby might as well be a museum of Spartans football history, with tributes to national award winners and All-Americans. 

There was some deliberation with Michigan State's Rushmore, and much like Minnesota, the Spartans force you to look back quite a few years. Aside from dominant stretches in the 1910s, 1930s and 1950s and Rose Bowl appearances in 1966 and 1988, Michigan State has been solid but not spectacular. The program underachieved for most of this decade until head coach Mark Dantonio arrived.

Here's the Spartans' fab four:

  • Duffy Daugherty -- Daugherty guided Michigan State to two Rose Bowls and back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1965 and 1966. He coached in "The Game of the Century" against Notre Dame and was named National Coach of the Year in 1965. The College Football Hall of Famer coached 29 first-team All-Americans. 
  • Bubba Smith -- An athletic marvel at 6-foot-7, Smith was a two-time All-American defensive lineman who starred for the Spartans league title-winning teams in 1965 and 1966. Named UPI's Lineman of the Year in 1966, the immensely popular Smith led Michigan State to two unbeaten seasons before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 1967 NFL draft.
  • John Hannah -- Any university president who has a number retired for him deserves a place on the team's Rushmore. In 1969, Daugherty had the No. 46 retired as a tribute to Hannah's 46 years of service to the school, 28 as president. He lobbied for Michigan State to get into the Big Ten, which took place in 1950, and raised the profile for both the university and the football program.
  • Brad Van Pelt -- The countless tributes this week after Van Pelt's sudden death underscore what the multisport star meant to the Michigan State program. An oversized safety, Van Pelt was a two-time All-American for the Spartans and became the first defensive back to win the Maxwell Award in 1972. Van Pelt had 14 career interceptions and is one of only five Spartans players inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. 
Other candidates considered included: Clarence Munn, George Webster, Don Coleman, Lorenzo White, Percy Snow and Art Brandstatter.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

"For Threet, who was literally born a Wolverines fan, to decide to transfer for the second time in three years after declaring a month ago he had no such intentions, it had to be painfully obvious to him that his career at UM was all but finished."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The sudden death of former Michigan State and New York Giants star Brad Van Pelt on Tuesday brought tributes from around the sports world. Here are several statements from current and former Michigan State dignitaries about Van Pelt, a two-time All-American safety for the Spartans. 

Head football coach Mark Dantonio: "A three-sport athlete at Michigan State, Brad Van Pelt didn't simply compete at the collegiate level; he excelled. Brad is truly one of the all-time greats in Spartan football history. I had an opportunity to visit with Brad during his tour of the new Skandalaris Football Center last year, and I could sense his Spartan pride. He impacted a lot of lives during his college and pro careers. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Van Pelt family in this time of grief."

Athletic director Mark Hollis: "Brad Van Pelt ranks among the greatest multi-sport athletes in Michigan State history. He truly was a bigger than life sports figure. Brad was a loyal Spartan, who cared deeply about everyone associated with this university."

Former Michigan State basketball player Gary Ganakas, a teammate of Van Pelt's: "Brad Van Pelt was a wonderful person. He seemed to be everybody's friend because he acted like a big kid in sports and in life. He will be missed by everyone he touched during his life. Brad had a good heart. He never forgot that he came from Owosso [Mich.]. Despite all of his success in college and during his 14-year NFL career, he never big-timed people.

"He was simply a nice guy. He was an avid golfer and some of my fondest memories come from the golf course. Brad was certainly fun to watch on the tee box because he swung so hard. He swung as hard as any amateur or pro that I've ever seen. Everybody near the tee box took a step back because his ball could fly anywhere. When Brad swung his golf club, he took people's breath away. It truly was a pleasure to play a round of golf with him."

Former Michigan State football player Joe DeLamielleure: "Brad Van Pelt was the modern day Jim Thorpe and that's no exaggeration. He played three sports at Michigan State and excelled in all three. Anything he picked up he could do well and if he concentrated, he would do it great. Obviously, Brad was a tremendous college football player because he's in the Hall of Fame, and if he had played on better teams with the New York Giants, he'd be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too.

"Honestly, Brad played the wrong position in college. He could have been our starting quarterback because he could throw the ball a mile. Brad also had an offensive player's personality. We spent my entire college career searching for a quarterback. If Brad had played quarterback, we would have won a lot more games. He was a natural athlete and looked smooth in everything that he did. Unfortunately, George Perles and Hank Bullough pulled him away [from quarterback] to become the big playmaker for our defense.

"Brad and I played against each other in the NFL and we had several head-to-head battles. He loved to play the game. In so many ways, he was just a big kid. Brad was a humble man -- the guy next door."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's hard to envision an athlete accomplishing more at a school than Brad Van Pelt did at Michigan State. 

He earned seven varsity letters for the Spartans in three different sports. He earned first-team All-America honors as a safety in his final two seasons and became the first defensive back to receive the Maxwell Award as the game's top player in 1972. He also pitched for Michigan State's 1971 Big Ten championship baseball squad and played three seasons on the hoops squad. 

Few collegiate athletes today would be allowed to take on such a heavy sporting load. Fewer could excel like Van Pelt, whose talent on the diamond nearly led to a pro baseball career before the New York Giants drafted him and he became a star.

Van Pelt died suddenly Tuesday of an apparent heart attack in Harrison, Mich. He was 57.  

Former Michigan State football coach George Perles was an assistant during Van Pelt's playing days and remembered the Spartans star.

"Brad Van Pelt was Duffy Daugherty's favorite player," Perles said in a prepared statement. "Duffy loved him like a son. Brad was a talented high school quarterback, who got moved to strong safety in college. During his college career, he might have been the biggest safety in the Big Ten, if not the country. ... He really was like a movie star: talented and good looking. Brad had a big heart and was a real giver. He carried a lot of people [on his back] when he was on top."

I haven't posted my Mount Rushmore for Michigan State football, but there's a pretty good chance Van Pelt will be on there.