This is the team that flattened the opposition and uplifted its university.
The Central State Marauders were the talk of small college football in 1990. They averaged 492 yards and an NAIA-record 54.8 points per game during the regular season, overwhelmed their opposition by an average of 35.4 points, and finally romped over Mesa State University, 38-16, to win the school’s first national football title.
In the process, they would fill McPherson Stadium with overflow crowds, and their high-profile glory as they went on to win two more national titles in five years helped boost the school’s enrollment for a while and soon they captured the attention of President Bill Clinton.
With a mix of greatness and swagger, the 1990 Marauders put CSU on the map.
This weekend the school forever says thanks.
The national championship team — led by celebrated coach Billy Joe — will be enshrined in the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame at a sold-out luncheon this afternoon at Country Club of the North.
Saturday, the players and their 74-year-old coach will be featured in the homecoming parade through campus and then introduced on the field at McPherson during halftime of a game with Miles College.
“This team is well deserving,” Joe said by phone the other day from his home in Hoover, Ala. “They were a dominant bunch. We were loaded with extraordinary personnel that year and we really had no weaknesses. Those young men have earned every honor they get.
“The seniors on that team had the opportunity to be part of history. We were the national black college champions for five sequential years from 1986-1990. If they were freshmen on that team, they also participated in our 1992 championship and played on the ’91 team that made it to the title game but lost to Central Arkansas.
“Some of them were also part of the group that was invited to the Rose Garden. To this date, I believe, they’re the only small college and most definitely the only black school invited to the White House.”
The 1990 Marauders set themselves apart not only by what they won, but how they did it. Their fans loved them, some opponents did not. They mixed the domination of New York Yankees of the 1950s and early ’60s and the muscled strut of the Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s.
They knocked out Kentucky State, 69-14, Morgan State, 63-13, and Knoxville, 70-44, in the homecoming game. The year prior they trounced Lane College, 101-0, on homecoming.
In the final game of the 1990 regular season, they manhandled West Virginia State, 64-14, and turned the Yellow Jackets’ highly-rated quarterback, Kenny Grier, into a punching bag. They sacked him six times and were flagged on seven of their first eight possessions for roughing him.
After the game, the Marauders’ 6-foot-7, 280-defensive end Roosevelt Nix told me:
“Pain — that was the object today. We wanted him to hurt. We wanted to knock him out of the game … legally.”
Other teams — except for Northeast Missouri State, which edged visiting CSU, 43-42, in that 10-1 season — suffered the same fate as West Virginia State and that enhanced the Marauders’ mystique through much of NAIA football and certainly on their rural Greene County campus.
“The campus was buzzing back then, things were really hoppin’ and poppin’,” said Joe, who was both the CSU football coach and athletics director. “A lot of good things were happening then. It was just an exciting time to be at Central State University.”
Loaded with talent
Joe, a fullback at Villanova University in the early 1960s, was the MVP of the Sun Bowl in 1961 and voted the Most Valuable Back in the Liberty Bowl a year later.
Although also a world-class shot putter who represented the United States in the Pan Am Games in Brazil in 1963, he stayed with football and was drafted by both the National Football League and the American Football League that year.
He chose the AFL’s Denver Broncos, was the league’s rookie of the year and ended up playing several seasons with the Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, where he once tied an NFL record with three touchdowns in one quarter against New England, and then won a Super Bowl ring in 1969.
He also earned an NFC championship ring as the running backs coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, who then lost to Oakland in the 1980 Super Bowl.
Before the Eagles, he had been the head coach at Cheney State and he missed running his own show. He said that’s the reason he left the NFL for Central State in 1981.
His first year at CSU the Marauders went 4-7, but after that they never had a losing campaign in his 13 years at the school.
He credits the coaching staff he assembled and his own pro football ties with the school’s ability to start drawing top athletes.
“When you pull your Super Bowl ring off your hand and let one of the kids put it on their finger, they get excited about it and their parents do, too,” he laughed.
Within two years Joe had the Marauders in the NCAA Division II national title game against North Dakota State, which won the ABC-televised contest, 41-21. Central State then moved to the NAIA and went to the playoffs seven straight years before making the championship game in 1990.
That team was loaded with talent, beginning with Henderson Mosley, the sophomore quarterback from Washington, D.C., who was also a starter on the CSU basketball team and, as a baseball player, had been a draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles. He threw for 2,483 yards and 36 touchdowns that season, including five scores in the national championship game.
The stalwart of the offensive line was All-American tackle Erik Williams, who would be a three-time All-Pro for the Dallas Cowboys and was one of a handful of quality NFL players to have played for Joe at CSU.
The heart and soul of the defense was 240-pound linebacker Marvin Pope, who had 13 solo tackles in the title game.
“He was phenomenal,” Joe said. “He had the biggest guns — the biggest biceps — I ever saw on a linebacker. I remember a game in Minnesota, there had to be a 10-degree-below-zero wind chill — and he came out for warm-ups in just a t-shirt. He wanted the other team to see those guns and they did. They always did.”
Joe lured talented players to the Wilberforce campus from across the country, in part because unlike now, football had a nearly $1 million budget and offered almost $300,000 in scholarships.
“A real plus for us was that we had the support of the university president,” Joe said of Dr. Art Thomas, who is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend, along with CSU baseball player Thelanious “Laney” Prioleau.
“Dr. Thomas was an athlete himself at CSU and that’s been the common denominator I found at the other places where I was successful,” Joe said. “When I was at Cheyney State and later when I was at Florida A&M, the presidents at both places had been an athlete at their school. They all realized the benefits a good football team can have for the university.”
Following the 1993 season Joe left Central for Florida A&M, where he spent 11 seasons and put six teams into the NCAA Division I-AA (later FCS) playoffs. After that he spent two seasons at Miles College and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
During that time, CSU football — after winning the NAIA title again in 1995 under Joe’s former assistant Rick Comegy — has mostly struggled.
Financial problems and declining enrollment were part of the reason the school decided in 1997 to disband the football program. After eight years, the sport finally was reinstated — at first on a limited basis with no scholarships.
In the 10-plus seasons of revival, the Marauders haven’t had a winning season and are now on their fourth head coach, Cedric Pearl, who looks to be a good fit and has the team 2-3 going into Saturday’s game.
Now an NCAA Division II program, CSU still offers few scholarships, far less than most of the teams it plays.
The team has three games at McPherson Stadium this season and last Saturday’s home opener against Kentucky Wesleyan drew 817 fans.
The turnout certainly will be different this weekend with homecoming, the campus return of the 1990 team, and because of the other CSU legends who are being honored Saturday.
The Marauders’ unbeaten 1965 NAIA championship basketball team is being celebrated and Trona Logan, the standout CSU basketball player, coach and administrator who is battling ALS, will have her No. 30 retired.
Over 60 of the players from the 1990 football team are scheduled to return for the festivities and Joe is looking forward to the reunion.
“I’m extremely excited about this weekend,” said Joe, who was separately inducted into the CSU Hall of Fame several years ago and has the locker room and weight room facility named after him. “I keep in touch with a few of the guys and several more on Facebook, but some of them I haven’t seen since 1990.”
Retired now, Joe said he still gets “his kicks” by going to games — he’s been to a couple of college games this season — and by watching them on television.
“I record a lot of games and most nights I don’t get to bed until two, three or four o’clock in the morning because I want to watch everything I tape,” he said. “I like watching good football.”
So did the folks at Central State, and that is why they’re celebrating Joe and his 1990 champions this weekend.