Michigan State legend Clinton Jones joined the Spartan Nation radio to discuss a number of different topics, ranging from his decision to attend Michigan State to the dominant 1965 and 1966 Spartan football teams he was on, to the highly anticipated debut of the ‘Men of Sparta’ documentary and much more.
Looking back on his own recruitment and college decision, Jones admitted that Michigan State wasn’t even on his radar considering he had his sights set on playing for a Catholic school and eventually made his way to East Lansing with an unintentional assist coming from legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes.
“I became aware of Michigan State because of Woody Hayes - Woody Hayes saw me and wasn’t interested in me until he saw me run in the state track meet in the Horseshoe at Ohio State University and I broke the national record in the high and low hurdles - I was 6-feet, weighed 196 pounds - and then he became interested,” he said. “But at the time, I was primarily interested in attending a Catholic University. But one of my mentors - I told him I wanted to go to the University of Detroit because they were interested in me and, to be honest, I was interested in anybody that was interested in me. Father Vinny was the first one and he signed me to a contract and we signed it early and because we signed it early and I leaked it out that I had signed, Woody Hayes found out about it, he voided the contract and said I could come to Ohio State. I very politely said let me think about it, but I had no intentions of going to Ohio State, I wanted to get out of the state of Ohio as well as Cleveland. So I wind up taking a trip to Detroit and I wanted to go there, but my coach said ‘I don’t think that’s a good place for you to go, I want you to take a trip to Michigan State’.”
Jones went on to add that once he stepped foot on campus at Michigan State, he knew it was where he wanted to spend his college years and immediately felt right at home.
“When I saw that campus, I fell in love with the campus and for me, I said my life was synchronized with that university and campus,” he said. “I said ‘You know, I’ve got to get a chance that any other freshman has come here, this is where I want to go to school.’ It was out of Cleveland, it was out of the state of Ohio because I made a vow to myself that I was leaving Ohio when I was 13 years old. I had no idea where I was going, but that was my determination because I didn’t like the racial situation when I was in Cleveland. So when I saw the University with the arboretums and the Red Cedar River, it somehow connected with my life.”
Jones rushed for over 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns in his college career as he helped lead the Spartans to back-to-back National Championships in 1965 and 1966 and a combined 19-1-1 record over that two year period. In 1966, Jones finished with 784 yards rushing and six touchdowns, good enough for a ssixth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting.
In the 1967 NFL draft, four Spartans were drafted in the top eight picks as Bubba Smith was drafted No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts, Jones went second to the Minnesota Vikings, George Webster went No. 5 overall to the Houston Oilers and Gene Washington went eighth, joining Jones in Minnesota.
Jones said that he continues to appreciate that achievement he and his college teammates made and also added that he looks back on the blue collar era of football that he played in fondly.
“The rarity for that to happen, Bubba No. 1, I’m No. 2, George Webster was five and Gene Washington eight, even over time to look back and the rarity of that and the impact that we made, especially at that time, you didn’t have the social media that we have today,” he said. “There’s a generation of the ‘Baby Boomers’ that will always remember the 10-10 tie and there’s a generation of people that remember the dynamics of that team at the time. Notre Dame and Michigan State, there’s guys that are my age - 10 years younger or 10 years older - that really appreciate the significance of that time and the caliber of players and how the game was. So much of it was related to life, it was very organic, just blue collar. There was no hype, it was just real, blue collar football, the players made the game, the fans made the game.”
The documentary “Men of Sparta” is based on the 1965 and 1966 Michigan State football teams and is directed by another Spartan legend, Bob Apisa. The film is set to be released at the Traverse City Film Festival, which takes place at the end of July.
Jones said that the documentary is something that is very important to himself and his teammates at the time because it goes in depth on Michigan State’s historic season and one of the most important times in American history.
“That movie had a very, very tremendous impact on my emotions and on my life because it’s told by the people, the way Bob (Apisa) did this,” he said. “The way it’s done - I laughed, I cried, I reminisced and it brought out things that are real deep in my life. A conscious mind can only hold so much, but when things get real, real deep in your life, you feel like, ‘Wow, this is very impactful’. It’s very important right now.”
With the documentary set for its debut, Jones noted that he understands that it will continue to help sharee the story of those Spartan teams and also hopes that it will encourage others to read a book written by another teammate, Jimmy Raye.
“I talked to Bob yesterday and I said, ‘Bob, you have immortalized us with this project, with this documentary’,” he said. “I’m going to be very honest about this, Jimmy Raye’s book, Raye of Light, not enough people have read that. As a matter of fact, it disappointed me that not enough players or students at our school have read that book. We live in a very visual and media environment over the last couple of decades, so I think that seeing this documentary will be so impactful that it will encourage people to really read Jimmy Raye’s book.”
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