There was a time when college football players weren’t the same tremendous size as we know them to be today. Prior to the 1950s, a lineman would be considered large if he were 6’3″ and 250 pounds.
Like an explosion, a dynamic change in the size of players rocked the college football world in the 1950s and ’60s. This extraordinary jump in size is related to a number of factors, including diet, training, and better health care for 1940s-era infants than care previously available.
There was, however, another change during this era—an increase in the number of African-American players participating in sports on the college level. A secret “philosophy” of some coaches and schools in the north and west at the time concerned how many black players could be on a team.
This was not an issue in most of the South, as Blacks rarely enrolled to play in the SEC and ACC prior to the 1970s. Not to say it didn’t happen, but instances were very rare.
For whatever reason, there were a number of tall and heavy college football players during this time. The following is a list of 11 of the biggest players from the era when “Giants Walked the Earth.”
11. Richard “Frankenstein” Sligh—NC Central, DE, 7’0″, 300 lbs., 1965-67
“Frankenstein” Sligh makes the list because he is the biggest ball player.
10. Bill Hayhoe—Southern California, DT, 6’8″, 260 lbs., 1966-68
Hayhoe saved O.J. Simpson’s 1967 national championship by blocking the extra point effort by No. 1-ranked UCLA, limiting the Bruins to a six-point lead (20-14) in the fourth quarter of their showdown with the Trojans.
Earlier in the game, Hayhoe blocked two Bruin field goal attempts. The final score: Southern California 21, UCLA 20.
9. “Big” Jim Dunaway—Ole Miss, DT, 6’6″, 292 lbs., 1960-62
Having previously discussed big Jim in great detail with an earlier article of mine, “The True Notorious Big,” we need only repeat the Rebels lost one regular season game during Dunaway’s three years as a starter, and claimed part of two national titles.
8. “Big” Ben Davidson—Washington, DE, 6’8″, 275 pounds, 1958-60 Washington
The true villain of the group may be Dunaway, but Davidson wanted the reputation as the meanest player of all time.
Who can forget Davidson with his handlebar mustache and his gravely voice? The Huskies upset No. 1 Minnesota in the Rose Bowl to complete Big Ben’s senior season.
7. Ron Mix—Southern California, OT, 6’6″, 275 lbs., 1957-59
The only pure offensive player on this list, Mix is best known for his role as “The Intellectual Assassin.” Ron used brains and brawn to destroy the great defensive players of his day, while eventually earning his Juris Doctorate degree from law school.
6. Lamar Lundy—Purdue, DE, 6’7″, 275 lbs., 1954-56
Lundy was one of the greatest two-sport stars in history. Lamar was named the Most Valuable Player of the Boilermaker football and basketball teams by his fellow players.
A real-life trailblazer, the late Lamar Lundy was the first African-American ever offered a scholarship to Purdue University. We can say he made the most of his opportunity.
5. Buck Buchanan—Grambling, DT, 6’7″, 287 lbs., 1960-62
Meet Buck Buchanan, possibly the greatest interior lineman in the history of college football.
Buck’s college coach, Eddie Robinson, said that Buchanan was the greatest lineman he ever saw play football. There is little else that needs to be discussed.
4. “Bubba” Smith—Michigan State, DE, 6’8″, 290 lbs., 1964-66
One of the most terrifying players of any era. Bubba’s followers chanted, “Kill, Bubba, Kill” as the Spartans went undefeated over his final two regular seasons.
3. Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd—Grambling, DE, 6’9″, 330 pounds, 1958-60
One of the most famous athletes of all time, Ernie led the Tigers to a 9-1 season in his senior year.
Ever the showman (see picture above), “The Big Cat” was a longtime United States and World Heavyweight Champion in professional wrestling.
Ladd continued to own the IHOP world record for consuming 125 pancakes in 10 minutes until he left this earth in 2007. Married for 45 years, the world of sports and entertainment surely misses the late, great Ernie Ladd.
2. Roosevelt Grier—Penn State, DT, 6’5″, 305 pounds, 1952-54
There have been a lot of great players who performed for Joe Paterno in his 59 years at Penn State.
Five will get you 10 he’ll say Rosey Grier is the finest player he ever coached, but he will add that Grier was an even better person that he was a player.
This man, like Pete Dawkins of The Army, is one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century. ‘Nuff said.
1. Doug Atkins—Tennessee, DE, 6’8″, 275 pounds, 1950-52
The first of the great giants of the era. This monstrous-sized native-born Tennessean led the Volunteers to a 29-4 record and a national championship during his time in Knoxville.
The best description of Atkins comes from former Louisville quarterback Johnny Unitas.
“One of Atkins’ favorite tricks is to throw my blockers at me,” said Unitas.
Suffice to say, whenever there is a discussion of who is the greatest defensive football player in college football history, the name “Doug Atkins” is always at the top of the list.
So, there we have it. The list of the uncommonly large men of the 1950s and ’60s—the era “When Giants Walked the Earth.”