KU's All-Time Best Football Team

By Dave Toplikar, World Online editor

Bringing in an all-time best Kansas University football team into a sports site dedicated to KU fans is like walking into a pie-throwing contest with a target on your back.

Leave someone off the list and you're just asking for someone to pelt you with a nasty lemon-creme e-mail.

So we've decided to make some suggestions for an all-time squad - and ask you, the fans, to take it from there and make your own lists by posting on our special forum.

After checking with sportswriters at the J-W (who know the value of anonymity in this case), and some others, here are the offensive and defensive dream-team lineups, with some explanations later.

TE - Otto Schnellbacher* (1942, 1946-47)
OL - Oliver Spencer* (1950-52)
OL - George Mrkonic* (1950-52)
OL - Mike McCormack (1948-50)
OL - Fred Hageman (1959-60)
OL - Larry Brown (1968-70)
WR - Willie Vaughn (1985-88)
QB - John Hadl* (1959-61)
HB - Gale Sayers* (1962-64)
HB - Ray Evans* (1941-42; 1946-47)
FB - John Riggins (1968-70)

Line - John Zook* (1966-68)
Line - Dana Stubblefield (1990-92)
Line - Mike Butler (1973-76)
Line - Gilbert Brown (1989-92)
LB - Willie Pless (1982-85)
LB - Galen Fiss (1950-52)
LB - Emery Hicks (1967-69)
DB - Kurt Knoff (1972-75)
DB - Nolan Cromwell (1973-76)
DB - Leroy Irvin (1976-79)
DB - Gil Reich* (1952)
Punter - Bucky Scribner (1980-82)
Placekicker - Bruce Kallmeyer* (1980-83)
* indicates All-American

Before firing off any complaint e-mails, please remember that this list is an arbitrary compilation of players from various eras. It's easy to see how some of the selections were made - going with All-Americans is a safe bet.

But you might be scratching your head about some of them.

For example, you might wonder why Nolan Cromwell is listed as a defensive back, rather than as a quarterback.

Here's the answer I got from those who suggested this list: Many people forget Cromwell started as a free safety his freshman and sophomore seasons before being tabbed to run Coach Bud Moore's wishbone offense. And it was Cromwell's inherent natural speed that made him successful as the wishbone quarterback, not the throwing, scrambling and craftiness associated with that position.

Speaking of quarterbacks, why John Hadl and not Bobby Douglass? The answer we got was Hadl was a Lawrence hometown hero, so he's a shoo-in.

And where's Laverne Smith, one of the fastest Jayhawks to ever streak down the field? Smith, who played 1973-77, quietly ran up incredible yardage, including gaining 236 yards in a game against Missouri on 15 carries.

At one time, he was KU's leading rusher, ending up with 3,192 yards on 488 carries, or 6.5 yards per carry. So why was he left off the list? Possibly he just wasn't flashy enough.

The following are some brief writeups on each of the players from our all-time list.

Otto Schnellbacher

TE - Otto Schnellbacher (at left). A 1947 All-American pick, Schnellbacher was known as "The Double Threat from Sublette" for his prowess in both football and basketball. Schnelly had 58 career pass receptions for 1,069 yards - both marks standing as school records for 22 years. He later was an all-pro defensive back for the New York Giants.

OL - Oliver Spencer. Spencer, at 6-2 and 225, played right offensive tackle and helped power KU to a 15-5 record during the 1951 and '52 seasons. He received All-America honors in 1952 and went on to play for the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

OL - George Mrkonic. In the three seasons the 6-2, 225 Mrkonic was on the line, KU put together a 21-9 record. They finished 8-2 in 1951 and 7-3 in 1952. He was tabbed as an All-American in '51. He later played with the Philadelphia Eagles and in the Canadian Football League.

OL - Mike McCormack. The 6-3, 230 team captain was an honorable mention for All-American in 1950, his senior season, and went to the pros. Legendary Cleveland head coach Paul Brown called him "the finest offensive lineman I've ever coached." McCormack has a berth in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and later coached professionally and helped set up the Carolina Panther pro franchise.

OL - Fred Hageman (1959-60). Despite his 6-5, 220-pound bulk, Hageman had a linebacker's range. He was known as a ferocious tackler and was one of the three captains his senior year. His career as a pro Washington Redskin was cut short because of a heart-endangering blow to the chest.

OL - Larry Brown (1968-70). At 6-4 and 225, Brown, a tight end his senior year was considered to be the most versatile player on the team that season. He had played defensive end as a freshman, offensive tackle as a sophomore and defensive end as a junior and some tight end. He later earned four NFL championship rings as a tight end mainstay with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

WR - Willie Vaughn. Vaughn was one of those do-it-all players who rolled up stats as a receiver, passer, rusher and kick returner. During his 1987 season, he caught 25 passes for 672 yards to average 26.9 yards per catch. He connected with quarterback Kelly Donohoe to set a Kansas record for KU's longest pass reception, which was 98 yards.

John Hadl

QB - John Hadl (at left). He was named an All-American as both a quarterback and a halfback. In his three seasons, he had 1,281 yards passing and 1,016 yards rushing. He had a long and distinguished career as an NFL quarterback, once being named the league's man of the year. He assistant-coached at Kansas and in the pros, and head-coached the old Los Angeles Express in a fledgling pro league.

HB - Gale Sayers* (1962-64). Known as the "Kansas Comet," Sayers streaked through his career at KU with 2,675 yards rushing and 3,917 all-purpose yards. Picked as an All-American twice, Sayers topped the Jayhawks' charts in touchdowns, rushing and kickoff returns during his three seasons. Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1977 although he played only 68 games as a pro due to crippling knee injuries. He was an assistant athletics director at KU from 1972-76.

HB - Ray Evans* (1941-42, 1946-47). He was considered one of the greatest athletes in KU history and was named an All-American in 1947. Evans distinguished himself as being the only player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both passing on offense (1,117 yards) and interceptions on defense (10) in the same season. Those 10 interceptions are still the KU record. He was also a KU All-American in basketball and played one year as a tailback with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

FB - John Riggins (1968-70). Smashing through lines like an unrelenting piledriver force, Riggins piled up the yardage, leading KU in rushing for three seasons. He finished with 2,659 yards, which ranks him in fifth place on KU's all-time rushing chart and 14th for total yards. He was named Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XVII as the key man for the champion Washington Redskins. He is in the pro football hall of fame.


John Zook

Line - John Zook* (1966-68) (at left). Zook was named to All-America honors as the Jayhawks' defensive standout on the 1968 Orange Bowl-bound team, the year KU was named No. 6 by the Associated Press. Zook had 202 total tackles during his career, putting him at No. 4 on KU's all-time defensive line list.

Line - Dana Stubblefield (1990-92). During his three seasons at KU, Stubblefield recorded 19 quarterback sacks, including 10 in 1991. As a team captain in 1992, he helped lead the Jayhawks to the Aloha Bowl, where he was named most valuable player. He finished at KU ranking among the all-time leaders in total tackles (tied for sixth with 168), sacks (four with 17) and tackles for loss (tied for fifth with 30). He's now with the San Francisco 49ers.

Line - Mike Butler (1973-76). At 6-5 and 265, he was considered an All-America candidate his senior season. For his role in KU's 23-3 victory over national champion Oklahoma in 1975, he was named national defensive player of the week by Sports Illustrated. He was a first-round draft pick in 1977 by the Green Bay Packers

Line - Gilbert Brown (1989-92). At 6-3 and 305, he was one of the best in the nation against the run and ranks among KU all-time leaders in tackles by a defensive lineman (tied for sixth with 168), tackles for loss (tied for fifth with 30) and sacks (time for sixth with 7.5). He played with the Green Bay Packers for nine seasons.

LB - Willie Pless (1982-85). At 6-0 and 215, Pless is KU's all-time leading tackler, with 206 for a single season and 633 for his career. He was also the Big Eight's all-time leading tackler. He was a pre-season Playboy All-American in 1985. He became the Canadian Football League's career tackles leader in 1994.

LB - Galen Fiss (1950-52). He was seen as one of the most powerful, rugged players in the conference. He was nicknamed the "Earthshaker" because of the punishment he could deal out with his 208-pound frame. Fiss was also an offensive fullback for Kansas and a devastating blocker. He later played with KU's Mike McCormack with the Cleveland Browns and had an outstanding pro bowl-type career as a linebacker.

LB - Emery Hicks (1967-69). Hicks, at 6-0 and 235, was seen as a prime All-America candidate in his senior year in 1969. He had been switched from middle guard to linebacker before his junior season opened. In the Orange Bowl, Hicks made three straight stops to prevent a touchdown when Penn State threatened on the two. He also recovered a fumble and was credited with eight solo tackles.

DB - Kurt Knoff (1972-75). Knoff was the Jayhawks' No. 1 All-America candidate for 1975 as a strong safety. Considered a block-busting tackler, Knoff repeatedly shook fans from their seats with his stops. He was considered one of the best all-around athletes in the Big Eight, also playing baseball and a little basketball for the Jayhawks.

Gil Reich

DB - Gil Reich* (1952) (at left). Reich, who was one of the most versatile players to take the field, earned all-conference and All-American honors as a defensive back. And he traded off as starting quarterback with Jerry Robertson. Reich piled up 428 yards in total offense and had five TD passes. He also was a punt returner, averaging 17.2 yards on 19 returns. As a transfer from Army after his sophomore year there, he had only a single year with Kansas, where he also was a starting and starring guard on the 1953 Jayhawk basketball team that finished second to Indiana in the NCAA title game by a single point.

DB - Nolan Cromwell (1973-76). Cromwell shined at two positions at KU - free safety his freshmen and sophomore years and quarterback his junior and senior seasons. During his freshman season, Cromwell showed his skills as a free safety, earning a starting role in the Liberty Bowl. He also started as free safety his sophomore year. He played safety in outstanding fashion with the Rams, being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1980.

DB - Leroy Irvin (1976-79). The 6-0, 180-pound Irvin was the only freshman to earn a starting spot in 1976. His sophomore year, he led the team in tackles with 106, including 15 against UCLA. In his junior year he registered 127 tackles, the best-ever for a KU defensive back. He had 21 tackles against Missouri in 1979. He went on to play with the Los Angeles Rams until 1989. He was inducted into the KU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.

Punter - Bucky Scribner (1980-82). Scribner, a left-footed punter from Lawrence with a marksman's toe, ranked in the nation's top 10 in each of his first two seasons for both distance and net punting. In 1982, he average 43.8 yards on 75 punts, with a 39.5 yard net average.

Bruce Kallmeyer

Placekicker - Bruce Kallmeyer* (1980-83) (at left). A 1983 All-American, Kallmeyer kicked in 233 points during his KU career, ranking him as Kansas' No. 3 all-time scorer. Kallmeyer finished his career as Kansas' most accurate place-kicker, with a 77.9 percentage in career field goals. He also set single-season marks of most field goals made (24) and most attempted (29).