By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
RUSTON – Very rarely, if ever, has such state sports star power gathered at their beloved alma mater like six legends of their games did Wednesday evening at Louisiana Tech.
Pro Football Hall of Fame members Terry Bradshaw, Willie Roaf, and the late Fred Dean, represented by his daughter Fredricka.
Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers Karl Malone, Kim Mulkey and Teresa Weatherspoon. And another, Leon Barmore, sitting front row while two of his players, Mulkey and Weatherspoon, were in the spotlight.
They came from all over to revisit their college days, to thank Tech for their springboards to national stardom, and to see their statues unveiled in the new A.L. and Sarah Williams Champions Plaza at the northeast corner of Aillet Stadium.
Thanks to Mulkey’s instigation, with a $25,000 check brandished at her 2016 Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions induction dinner in Shreveport, Barmore’s statue already stands outside the Thomas Assembly Center.
Wednesday night the Super Six joined him, with their likenesses unveiled 3-4 Bradshaw bombs downhill.
An audience approaching 1,000 savored a series of interviews with Bradshaw, Malone, Mulkey and company inside the TAC. It appeared nearly all supporters made their way outside over to the statue reveal under spotlights and a crescent moon about 90 minutes later.
Nobody enjoyed it more than the centers of attention.
“I’m not sure I’m worthy, but I’m honored,” said Mulkey. “I came off the bench when I was a freshman, that’s how good we were,” she said.
“I’m honored to be here. I’m humbled to be here,” said Malone, who has settled in Ruston after growing up in nearby Summerfield. He said he couldn’t imagine what his mother, Shirley, and grandpa Leonard would think of him being immortalized with a statue on campus.
“I’m in awe. I’m in awe of this honor, and who I’m being honored with,” he said.
There was plenty of common ground, as Mulkey noted.
“Other than you, Terry – this means you’re pretty damn old – I can honestly say I have some history with everybody.”
Mulkey, now the national championship LSU women’s basketball coach, was an assistant to Barmore when Weatherspoon led the Lady Techsters to the 1988 NCAA crown.
Malone and Mulkey played at the same time – “Karl, you remember, you guys played first, then we played,” she jabbed, and he grinned and nodded. The Lady Techsters won three national championships in the 1980s, and were the unquestioned big deal in town.
Malone, by this time a young NBA star, was a factor in Roaf deciding to come from Pine Bluff, Ark., to attend Tech. Roaf, who also played while Mulkey was an assistant coach to Barmore (“Willie had the skinniest ankles,” she said), recalled Malone’s snazzy sports car around campus, and recounted early 1990s interactions with “The Mailman.”
Weatherspoon said while Malone was emerging as a star as a junior, he “recruited me to Louisiana Tech” ensuring she succeeded Mulkey as the Techsters’ point guard in 1984.
Mulkey even had a link to Dean, who was in the NFL when she arrived in Ruston from Hammond in 1980.
“Fred Dean hit my ex-husband so hard in practice, the mangled face mask sat on our mantle for years after we married,” she said.
Bradshaw, the ebullient senior citizen of the group at 75, is a Shreveport-Woodlawn product who was the No. 1 pick in the 1969 NFL Draft. Dean grew up on top of the hill overlooking Aillet Stadium, watching Bradshaw play, and then became a devastating presence on the defensive line as the Bulldogs ran unbeaten through the Division II national playoffs in his junior and senior years (1973-74).
“Dad would stand on that hill, and say, ‘I’m gonna play down there. I’m gonna play on that field,” said his daughter. Not even the allure presented by the great Eddie Robinson coaching four miles to the west at Grambling could shake him. “It shows the power of dreams,” said Fredricka.
Bradshaw’s interview, predictably, set a rollicking tone. Mentioning his colleagues on the Fox NFL Sunday studio show, he said he was proud he came back to complete his degree at Tech after being drafted by Pittsburgh, and said his diploma put him in the degreed majority on the show.
“Michael (Strahan) and Howie (Long), unfortunately never started college, apparently,” he said. “They don’t have degrees.
“And now I’m the only one with a statue,” he chuckled.
Late in his NFL days, while helping San Francisco win a pair of Super Bowls on his way to 92 career sacks, Dean was asked if he ever sacked his fellow Bulldog great Bradshaw, who led the Steelers to four Super Bowl crowns in the ‘70s.
“I wrapped him up,” he said then, “and I just laid him down.”
There were poignant moments. Malone sat down for his interview with the man who gave him his indelible nickname, then Tech sports information graduate assistant Teddy Allen, immediately pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, and began dabbing his eyes in the first of many uses.
Weatherspoon, a passionate speaker, came to a halt for almost 10 seconds when she began to consider what Barmore meant to her.
Mulkey, known in her head coaching career for her steely stare, had sparkling eyes as she spoke.
As she pulled on a new Tech letterjacket – one was presented to each of the Super Six when their interviews finished — Bradshaw couldn’t resist.
“Hey Kim, I dare you to wear that in Baton Rouge,” he said.
“Oh, down there, they know where I went to college,” she said, grinning proudly.
Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org