Former Michigan State two-time All-American Gene Washington is one of 14 players and two coaches named to the College Football Hall of Fame Tuesday, May 17. National Football Foundation President/CEO Steve Hatchell and FOX Sports analyst Charles Davis announced the 2011 Class at the NASDAQ MarketSite in New York City.
A three-year starter for Coach Duffy Daugherty from 1964-66, Washington helped Michigan State to a combined record of 23-6-1 during his career, including back-to-back Big Ten and National Championships in 1965-66. During that three-year span, the Spartans posted a 17-3 record in Big Ten games. A two-time First-Team All-American and two-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection (1965-66), Washington led team in receptions for three-straight seasons.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I received the news," Washington said. "This is a tremendous honor and I want to thank all of the voters who decided to mark my name on the ballot.
"I came from a completely segregated high school system, so I'm most grateful for Michigan State providing me with opportunities to receive a great education while competing in a totally integrated environment. Beyond my athletic achievements, I'm most proud of my education because I knew It would be important to have a second career after football.
"I appreciate the tremendous leadership skills of Duffy Daugherty," Washington continued. "He created a comfortable environment for the players and coaches alike. Duffy had a calm, business-like approach to things, so players understood and accepted their roles for the good of the team.
"I was fortunate to be a member of some great Michigan State teams. I was surrounded by great teammates, like George Webster, Bubba Smith and Clinton Jones, and Duffy knew how to pull it all together."
The La Porte, Texas, native burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 1964, setting then-school single-season records for receptions (35) and receiving yards (542) to go along with his five touchdown catches. In 1964, Washington also set then-Spartan single-game records for receptions (nine) and receiving yards (150) at Notre Dame. In addition, he earned Academic All-Big Ten and Academic All-America (second team) honors as a sophomore.
As a junior in 1965, he hooked up with quarterback Steve Juday to establish career bests in receptions (40) and receiving yards (638). Washington also tied for the Big Ten lead in TD receptions (four) while ranking second in receiving yards (544) and fifth in receptions (30). He earned Lineman of the Week honors from Sports Illustrated after catching three TD passes against Indiana, as MSU scored 17 fourth-quarter points en route to a 27-13 victory to clinch the Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Washington had a game-high four receptions for 81 yards against UCLA in the 1966 Rose Bowl. His 42-yard grab from Juday set up MSU's first touchdown against the Bruins.
As a 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior, Washington was utilized primarily as a blocker, as the 9-0-1 Spartans averaged 230.5 rushing yards in 1966. He caught 27 passes for a then school-record 677 yards and a career-best seven TDs. Washington averaged an incredible 25.0 yards per catch as a senior.
In an interview late during his senior season, Daugherty said, "Gene is a tremendous threat just being in the lineup. No defense can ignore him. None of the Spartans' great ends of the past posed the threat of Washington. He has super coordination and speed."
His position coach Cal Stoll added, "He's the greatest I've ever coached. He has great natural abilities, but still works hard all of the time. Even when he was a senior, he put in extra time to become even better than his previous years." "The 10-10 tie against Notre Dame in 1966 set the standard," Washington said. "With the Rose Bowl's no-repeat rule, the seniors all knew that it was our last game and our last in Spartan Stadium. Both teams entered the game undefeated, so that game meant everything. You gain an even greater appreciation for that game now, knowing that people still talk about that matchup 45 years later. I'm confident that game-day atmosphere in Spartan Stadium rivals that of today's National Championship Games.
"Duffy built those great teams around a stingy defense, and he complemented it with a strong running game. With Webster and Smith, that defense was a major fort. With the heavy emphasis on the ground game, it provided me with opportunities to make plays down the field in the passing game. I'm proud of what we accomplished as a team."
Washington closed out his career as MSU's all-time leader in receptions (102), receiving yards (1,857) and TD receptions (16). His 18.2 yards per catch still rank ninth on MSU's all-time list. Washington had six career 100-yard receiving games.
He also was a remarkable track athlete at Michigan State, winning one NCAA indoor title (1965 60-yard high hurdles) and six Big Ten championships (three indoor and three outdoor in hurdles).
"I'm thankful that Duffy allowed me to compete in track because I certainly didn't have a great interest in participating in spring practice," Washington said. "Duffy said I could run track if I could contribute. Like Duffy and my position coach Cal Stoll, (assistant track coach) Jim Gibbard played an important role in my personal development. I learned a ton from Jim - not only as an athlete but as a person and leader. With different drills, he actually helped me run better pass routes as well as improve my speed in the open field. Jim also helped me to remain humble and hungry."
Washington was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round (No. 8 overall) of the 1967 NFL Draft and became a two-time Pro Bowl selection (1969-70). He was named First-Team All-Pro by The Associated Press in 1969 after recording 39 catches for 821 yards (21.1 avg.) and nine TDs. Washington had 182 career receptions for 3,237 yards and 26 TDs in seven pro seasons (Minnesota, 1967-72; Denver, 1973).
Following the 1969 season, Minnesota Viking quarterback Joe Kapp said, "As a pass receiver, he is a quarterback's dream."
In 1975, Washington was named to the All-Time All-Big Ten Team, selected in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the league. In 1992, he became a member of the inaugural class inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Washington becomes the sixth former Michigan State player to be selected for the College Football Hall of Fame, joining halfback John Pingel (inducted in 1968), tackle Don Coleman (1975), linebacker George Webster (1987), defensive end Bubba Smith (1988) and safety Brad Van Pelt (2001). As MSU's latest inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, his name will be added to Spartan Stadium's "Ring of Fame" at the Oct. 22 Homecoming game against Wisconsin (8 p.m. EDT kickoff).
Washington will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at the NFF College Football Hall of Fame's 54th Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 6 at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York City.