Dell and Cunningham Have Big Shoes to Fill
Michigan State has garnered a great deal of recognition over the years as one of the schools that best produces NFL wide receivers. Potent offenses rarely lack a big play receiver and some of MSUâ€™s best offenses had two of them.
When you look at JLSâ€™s record-breaking offenses, rarely was there a true standout wide receiver. Some will argue Matt Trannon and Jeremy Scott were among the best to come through MSU. I have a differing opinion. I think that Matt played out of position and had below average hands. Scott, on the other hand, while effective catching the ball was undersized and a little slow. As many records as our previous offense broke, the talent gap continued to widen during Smithâ€™s tenure and our best receiver was sitting the bench (Devin Thomas) while Smith and his staff were being shown the door.
When you look at Michigan Stateâ€™s best receiving tandems, they were all produced playing a run-first pro-style offense. During those years MSU had a typically dominant tailback and a quarterback that didnâ€™t try to do too much. When you look at MSUâ€™s current offense, it is hard not to think of our glory days when Perles had it going and Saban had the Spartan machine rolling. Are things that different now? The biggest factor that will determine the success of MSUâ€™s current receiving tandem is time. Are Cunningham and Dell the next Muhammad / Mason? Only time will tell. They certainly have lots of eligibility to prove that they belong in this camp. They collectively have 6 seasons of eligibility to play together.
I have broken down MSUâ€™s top receiving tandems during the period that I was alive and can remember. So donâ€™t send me any e-mail with receivers from the 50â€™s, 60â€™s and 70â€™s. My years of Spartan football recollection started in the early 80â€™s. This is based more upon their MSU careers and not the years they spent playing professionally.
#4) Courtney Hawkins and James Bradley: Courtney was â€˜Mr. Big Playâ€™ and James was â€˜Mr. Reliable.â€™ Hawkins wasnâ€™t going to intimidate anyone with his stature. He was listed at 5â€™9â€ and 180 lbs. He was also a track star during his MSU days and that translated well to the football field. He was the octane of this receiving corp. while Bradley was the possession receiver that caught everything that was thrown at him. Hawkins would often draw a double team and Bradley would be open and waiting for the ball. This was a formidable duo.
#3) Andre Rison and Mark Ingram: This is the Flint Michigan MSU receiving tandem. Ingram was one of the Perles recruits that set the table for 1988 Rose Bowl team. Ingram departed MSU shortly before the Rose Bowl, but did much to reestablish the MSU football program in the 80â€™s. He only had a couple seasons with Andre Rison, but it was more than enough to make the top tandem list. Andre Rison was as talented as any wide receiver to play at Michigan State. He made more acrobatic catches in his career than any receiver I can remember. His most memorable moments came against USC (88 Rose Bowl) and Georgia (89 Gator Bowl). His fourth quarter, 1st down reception from Bobby McAllister was the key play that preserved a Rose Bowl victory. Both of these guys went on the have enormous NFL careers.
#2) Mushin Muhammad and Derrick Mason: Some could argue that these guys belong on the top of the list. It would be an argument that would last well into the wee hours of the night. Mushin was a local product out of Lansing Waverly while Derrick was from Detroit Mumford. Both were fearless competitors and both were big gamers. They are still playing in the NFL and contributing regularly. Mushin Muhammad was a big receiver with great hands and he loved to block downfield. He was never afraid to lower the boom on someone to reach the first down marker. Mason was lightening quick and the ball just stuck to his hands. His fourth down reception against UM in Sabanâ€™s first season will go down as one of the biggest plays in Spartan football history. Mason was one of the greatest return men of all time at MSU.
#1) Plaxico Burress and Gari Scott: The words dominant, powerful, fast and competitive sum these guys up nicely. Burress was pure ethanol while Scott was kerosene. Burress would explode on opposing defenses while Scott would get into space and keep the fire burning. Plaxico is an easy receiver to remember. He is 6â€™5â€ and 230 pounds. He will be best remembered for making David Terrell (UM receiver / had a brief stint as a DB one particular game against MSU) a permanent fixture on You Tube. His game winning catch for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants will be a memory many of us will share for years to come. His game against Florida in the Citrus Bowl left Steve Spurrier scratching his head and pro scouts frothing at the mouth. Scott was not as big or flashy as Plaxico, but he was sure handed. Scott was not only a reliable receiver, but he was fantastic after the catch. He had the ability to make defenders miss and he had a knack for finding a crease. Scott was a standout return man and was a perfect compliment to Burress.