1. Earl Campbell – Texas RB: One of the greatest power backs in the history of the game, Campbell’s runs were the stuff of legends. He played three seasons as a Wishbone Fullback at Texas before moving to Tailback as a senior and running for over 1,700 yards. Campbell moving to Tailback was behind the Longhorns going undefeated in the regular season and playing Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl for the national championship. The Irish won that game and the national title, but that takes nothing away from Earl Campbell’s senior season. Campbell was the 1st pick in the entire NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers who then earned the nickname of the Houston Earlers. Campbell was a one man show during his senior year, and was again as a Pro player. As great as Earl was at
Texas, he was even more so at Houston and some of his highlights there are still shown from time to time on television. Campbell ran for over 4,400 yards in college in spite of missing some of his junior year to injury. In the NFL, Campbell ran for over 9,400 yards on his way to Hall of Fame honors. His career was cut short by a knee injury. Campbell grew up in Tyler, Texas and led his high school team, Tyler John Tyler High School to the Texas 4A state championship when 4A was the highest level and only one school got in the playoffs. He was reluctant to play Running Back, but his high school coach Corky Nelson was able to convince him to switch from Linebacker. He grew up idolizing Dick Butkus. The Tyler Rose was one of the greatest football players of all time.
2. Terry Miller – Oklahoma State RB: Senior Miller was a finalist in the Heisman voting in 1976, finishing in fourth place. Barry Sanders was the top Oklahoma State Running Back of all time and then there was Thurman Thomas, but before those stars came along was Terry Miller. His best season was actually the year before in 1976 when he ran for 1,714 yards and 23 Touchdowns. In 1977, Miller still ran for 1,680 yards and 14 Touchdowns. Miller finished up at Oklahoma State with a really nice 4,754 total yards rushing and 49 Touchdowns. Miller was a 2nd round draft pick taken by the ever Running Back hungry Buffalo Bills and he was sensational as a rookie running for 1,060 yards. But, that success did not last as his rushing totals dropped off in his 2nd season and then he was replaced by the next Running Back that the Bills drafted early. Miller only lasted 4 seasons in the NFL which should be red flags for all of these guys wanting to declare early for the big bucks. Unless you are a top 10 or 20 pick, guaranteed, stay in school and get that free degree. Miller got into some legal troubles later on and the NFL didn’t pay as much back in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
3. Ken MacAfee – Notre Dame TE: Nobody has produced the Tight Ends like Notre Dame, and MacAfee was one of their best. He was a super productive Tight End in the run game and he was a great receiver as well. During his senior season of 1977, MacAfee caught 54 passes for 797 yards and 6 Touchdowns. He was a 3 time All American, but was a Consensus pick during this season.
MacAfee caught 128 passes during his 4 year career for 1,759 yards and 15 Touchdowns. He was the last Tight End to finish in the top 10 in the Heisman Voting.
MacAfee was a second generation college football player following in the footsteps of his father Ken MacAfee Sr who played at Alabama and then with the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins. MacAfee was a 1st round pick of the San Francisco 49ers and he caught 46 passes in 2 seasons before head coach Bill Walsh wanted MacAfee to move to Offensive Guard. Instead, MacAfee decided to leave football and he became an Oral Surgeon in his home town in Massachusetts. MacAfee was something of a freak of nature being 6-5, 260 and running like a much smaller man. He was also an outstanding blocker which explains why Walsh wanted to move him inside to Offensive Guard. There wasn’t the money in playing pro football back in those years like there is today and MacAfee took the correct route for him even though football missed him. I ranked the Notre Dame Tight Ends over the years in this post: Notre Dame Tight Ends
4. Doug Williams – Grambling State QB: There’s a huge difference between the historically black colleges of today compared with the same schools in the 1970s. A lot of the area schools, the SEC, were brand new in accepting black players and a lot of talent remained on these schools and especially at Grambling under legendary head coach Eddie Robinson. During Williams senior season in 1977, he threw for an amazing 3,286 yards and 38 Touchdowns and led his team to a 10-1 record. The NFL was not much better than the colleges back in that era and there was not a lot of interest in
Doug Williams outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their Offensive Coordinator Joe Gibbs. The Bucs took him in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft and with the 17th pick. Williams was the first black Quarterback to win the Super Bowl and he threw for 340 yards and 4 Touchdowns, but that was later on when he was a member of the Washington Redskins and their head coach Joe Gibbs. In the NFL, it was not all roses for Williams. But, he did have that Super Bowl victory and he threw for right at 17,000 yards. After football, Williams got into coaching and eventually became the head coach at Grambling. Presently, Doug Williams is an executive with the Washington Redskins.
5. Ross Browner – Notre Dame DE: From the famous Browner family that had 6 players in the NFL. Ross Browner was a 4 year starter at Notre Dame beginning in 1973 when the Irish won the Sugar Bowl over Alabama and the national championship. Browner, Ken MacAfee, Joe Montana and the Fighting Irish beat the Texas Longhorns and Earl Campbell to win the 1977 national champion. Browner was a consensus All American in 1976 and 1977. In 1976, Browner won the Outland Trophy and in 1977, he won the Maxwell and the Lombardi, plus both seasons he was the lineman of the year. No doubt, Ross Browner was one of the top players in Notre Dame history and then he was picked with the 8th pick of the 1st round in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was also one of the Bengals best all time players and played there for 9 years. Browner is now in real estate in Nashville, Tennessee. I will never forget Ross Browner at Notre Dame and his brothers for the Irish and for their chief rival the USC Trojans. The Mannings, the Matthews, and the Browners are some of the bigger families in the history of the game.
6. Guy Benjamin – Stanford QB: In earlier eras, Stanford was known for producing top
Quarterbacks. After Benjamin, came Steve Dils and then later the great John Elway. The 1977 version of the Cardinal finished 9-3 and won the Sun Bowl against LSU. Benjamin split time with Mike Cordova as a sophomore and then took over completely as a junior in 1976. Benjamin was a senior in 1977 and threw for 2,521 yards with 19 Touchdown passes. The Miami Dolphins picked the 6-4, 210 Benjamin with their 2nd round pick. The NFL wasn’t so kind to Benjamin and after the Dolphins he played for the New Orleans Saints and then he backed up Joe Montana at San Francisco. Currently, Benjamin lives in Hawaii and is an executive for a hospital. But, right after playing football, he was a football coach and was the Offensive Coordinator at the University of Hawaii and was head coach at some arena football teams.
7. Matt Cavanaugh – Pittsburgh QB: Senior Matt Cavanaugh was Tony Dorsett’s Quarterback on their national championship team in 1976. The Pittsburgh Panthers were a running team behind the talents of Dorsett in 1976 and he was gone in 1977 with Cavanaugh throwing the ball considerably more. It seems extremely conservative by today’s standards, but Cavanaugh completed 110 passes good for 1,844 yards and 15 Touchdowns. Cavanaugh was an effective runner in 1976 with Dorsett on the team, but he was limited in 1977 and he had considerably less yardage on the ground mostly due to taking a few sacks. He was drafted in the 2nd round by the New England Patriots and he played there for 5 seasons before moving on to the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Giants before retiring in 1991. When he retired as a player, the former Panther Quarterback got into coaching. He is currently the Quarterback coach for the Washington Redskins.
8. Rick Leach – Michigan QB: Leach was another one of my youthful favorites. Leach was a left handed Quarterback and a star in both football and baseball at Michigan. He was more of a runner than a passer, but was a tough, gritty leader for the Wolverines. 1977 was his junior season and he passed for just over 1,100 yards. Michigan, under head coaching legend Bo Schembechler was a
power running team with a little bit of Rick Leach passing mixed in. Leach went on to finish higher in the Heisman voting in the 1978 season. Leach led the Wolverines to a 10-2 record in 1977 which ended with an exciting finish in the Rose Bowl where Leach threw an interception that ended the game. More on Leach in the 1978 Heisman Voting article.
9. Charles Alexander – LSU RB: The junior Running Back out of Galveston was a big power back like the Tiger backs of more recent times. At 6-1, 225, Alexander was a hard man to bring down and he ran for 1,686 yards and 17 Touchdowns. He was a 1st team All American in 1977 and 1978, but 1977 was by far his best season at Baton Rouge. Alexander was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round with the 12th overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft. He had a fairly unsubstantial career in the NFL rushing for only 2,645 yards in 7 seasons, but he did play in one Super Bowl. He was nicknamed Alexander the Great while playing for the LSU Tigers.
10. Wes Chandler – Florida WR: Chandler was an All American at Florida, but this was not the Florida of Steve Spurrier and the fun n gun offense. He caught only 93 passes during his entire career at Florida on a running team. He actually had a better season in 1976 when he caught 44 passes, but he finished up with 25 catches in 1977. Then, he was drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the NFL Draft and he had a really good career in the NFL playing for the New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers. He caught 559 passes for almost 9,000 yards in 11 seasons in the NFL.
After football, Chandler got into coaching and has coached all over the United States and even Europe. He is the uncle of Dallas Baker a current NFL Wide Receiver.