Southern Conference football will kick off in less than two weeks, and it should be one of the more competitive seasons in the league in sometime.
This season, I will be starting a publication that will include power rankings, feature stories, previews, recaps and players of the week.
In case you missed it, Samford is a consensus favorite to take the 2018 Southern Conference football title, which marks the first time since joining the league as an official member a decade ago that the Bulldogs have been projected to win the league crown.
Who could really blame the coaches and media, as the Bulldogs return 10 on the offensive side of the football from a team that featured one of the top passing attacks in the nation last season, led by potential SoCon record-setting signal-caller Devlin Hodges.
Historically, we all know that the state of Alabama churns out great football players, fans and programs, and Samford is no exception. It’s alleged that former Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer once said that if Alabama and Auburn weren’t in the same state and didn’t have to go against each other on the same recruiting ground each year, one of the two would win the national title every season.
Samford has built its program into a regular FCS playoff contender over the past four or five years, and now it looks as if the program is ready to take that next step, which is being a SoCon title contender.
Clay Hendrix returns for year two of his rebuilding project at Furman, except that his first season at Furman wasn’t much of a rebuilding project at all. The Paladins, who were picked seventh in the preseason last fall, finished tied for second in the SoCon, made the FCS playoffs, and defeated Elon in the opening round of the playoffs after finishing 7–4 in the regular-season. The 28–27 win on the road over the Phoenix helped the Paladins avenge a 34–31 regular-season loss to open the campaign.
For more on the 2018 Southern Conference football preseason preview, check the PDF links below.
For SoCon Fans:
For Furman Fans:
Paul Maguire is a SoCon Living Legend
This past spring, I got a unique opportunity. I had the opportunity to interview a true living legend from the Southern Conference gridiron — Paul Maguire. Maguire was a former tight end and punter at The Citadel during the mid-late 1950s, and punted, played tight end and linebacker during his career in the AFL.
Names like Al Davis, Paul Maguire and Bobby Ross all have links to The Citadel’s strong football tradition. Earlier this spring, I caught up with Maguire at the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame banquet.
Maguire was a standout punter, tight end and linebacker for The Citadel before going onto a 11-year career and he is the all-time leader in punting yards and punting average for the American Football League (AFL).
Maguire, much like any Cadet who garners their degree and ring from the Military College of South Carolina, cherished his time and cherishes his memories as both a standout student-athlete and Cadet.
In our interview, Maguire acknowledged how much that helped prepare for him for his future career in the NFL and his acclaimed NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Chargers. He was born in what is considered a football hotbed in the Midwestern United States — Youngstown, OH.
“Well, John the first year is the worst year (also known as knob year) and being on the football team meant that you were on the athletic mess, so you really don’t have to do all the drills, but back in 1956 I was on the football, and right from there they went and put me on the basketball team. I played high school basketball, but I was the 12th man,” Maguire said.
“Remember Norman Sloan? He was the coach at The Citadel at the time. Al Davis owner of the Oakland Raiders? He was the one that recruited me in 1955 to come to The Citadel when I was there. So when I got done with basketball, which, because he [Sloan] wouldn’t put me. Then in the spring, I would run track because I was a miler in high school. So by the time regular corps came around, I had two weeks and I happened to be in an athletic company and they took care of me, so my freshman year wasn’t like much like what the other players had to go through.”
While Maguire acknowledged his “knob” year in Charleston wasn’t much like the other Cadets, the one thing that was also very distinct from any student-athlete on campus was his prowess as a student-athlete.
Maguire would go on to become one of the most decorated Citadel athletes in program history. According to a more extensive interview with former The Citadel Sports Information Director/Assistant Director of Athletics for Marketing and author of the book “My 25 Years in Citadel Athletics” Andy Solomon, one his fondest memories was a game that took place between The Citadel and NAIA power Presbyterian College in 1959. Solomon (The Citadel class of ’61) penned a story told to him by Lackey, a former teammate of Maguire’s, in a blog called “Tuesday’s with Tony.”
At the time, The Citadel was among the top teams in the Southern Conference, with a 7–1 record in that contest and a 5–1 record in Southern Conference action, with the only loss being a 47–6 setback at Florida State.
Though just an NAIA program, the Blue Hose had a good football program. In fact, to give you an idea of how good, just know that Bo Schembechler — future Michigan and college football Hall-of-Fame coach — was an assistant at at Presbyterian just five years earlier.
Future Western Carolina and Southern Conference Hall-of-Fame head coach Bob Waters, who went on to play quarterback in the National Football League for the San Francisco 49ers, was the quarterback for the Blue Hose in that 1959 game with The Citadel.
Waters, who sadly passed away after a heroic battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in May of 1989, and despite being scoreless late in the game, as Col. Lackey recalls and Solomon so eloquently writes, it was also a matchup between two All-American signal-callers, in Bulldog signal-caller Jerry Nettles and the aforementioned Waters. With the game scoreless at a rainy Johnson-Hagood Stadium on an early November Saturday afternoon, The Citadel coach at the time, Eddie Teague, decided to insert Maguire into the football game as a running back.
The Hall-of-Fame punter received a pitch from his signal-caller Nettles and then on a play that was not fourth down, according to Solomon, Maguire received the ball on the run and proceeded to punt, and seemingly was earmarked by Maguire for a muddle puddle near the PC goal line. On PC’s first play of the ensuing offensive possession, The Citadel defense forced and recovered fumble. On the Bulldogs’ first offensive play following the possession, The Citadel scored a TD and then converted a successful two-point conversion to come away with the thrilling 8–0 win.
The story relayed to Solomon by Col. Lackey gives you an idea of just how reliable, athletic and accurate Maguire was during his time at The Citadel. For the complete story penned by Solomon, just click the link.
Maguire was named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year in 1956, and was also named Southern Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 1959, leading the nation as a seior in TD catches in ’59, hauling in 11 scoring passes. He was a two-time All-Southern Conference honoree
A couple of weeks after that memorable performance against Presbyterian during his senior campaign, Maguire registered an 83-yard punt in a 20–14 win. Maguire’s first taste of the NFL would come in 1960, as he was a part of the inaugural AFL Draft.
“John I was drafted 17th by the AFL and that’s when they started in 1960, and 17th by the Washington Redskins [NFL], and John the choice I made was to go to the AFL for the simple reason it’s a brand new league and nobody had agents in those days. Nobody even had attorneys, hell we couldn’t afford it and my first year I made $8,000, are you kidding?”
“I decided I am gonna go there [to the AFL] and I had somebody…Al Davis…call me and he says come to the new league because he hadn’t been hired yet and at least you’ll have a chance because I was the only punter they brought into camp, which is one of the reasons I made it. But little did I know when I got to camp and signed that Al Davis was the wide receivers coach because Sid Gilman had hired him. I played there [Los Angeles Chargers] for four years and I spent seven years in Buffalo and it was a great ride.”
Maguire may have been known for his prowess as a punter, but back in this era in professional football, players were often asked to play both ways. Maguire played and started for the Chargers at linebacker in the first four years of his professional career.
“I started at linebacker from 1961–64 for the Chargers, and then when I got to Buffalo, we had three great linebackers and I was a just a backup guy, but I played all special teams and I didn’t mind it because I had already had my chance to play, but I knew after I got there and having been around for a while, John, I just knew that hell I am not as good as these guys and I can play if one of them gets hurt, but they didn’t get hurt for four years.”
Maguire’s time with the Chargers and Bills was highlighted by three-straight AFL championships, winning in 1963 with the Chargers, while being apart of the Bills teams in ’64 and ’65 to win AFL titles, which is a very rare feat.
“Someone called me about a year ago and said you may be the only guy in history that played in three championships in a row and won all three and it was kind of neat, but you got understand something, John, I played 11 years and in my last year with Buffalo in 1970 I made $25,000 and that was a hell of a lot of money and I played in the championship games and the winning check was $2,300, but in those days, we didn’t play for money.”
Maguire had the chance to play with several great players during his 11-year career in the AFL, and he names a pair of players that will resonate with all fans of the great American sport.
“In San Diego, offensively no doubt about it, it was Lance Allworth, and I mean he is still down as one of the greatest receivers of all-time, and on the defensive side of the ball in Buffalo, and a guy who was my roomate on the road and played defensive tackle was a guy by the name of Tom Sestak, who has since passed away and he’s from Texas. The guy was such a great player, and in those days, John, when we finished the game everyone went out together, as opposed to today you see a guy get in the car with his agent and attorney and he just goes home.”
Interestingly, the late Sestak is another guy that came from a great small football school with a great tradition at the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) level, having attended McNeese State in Lake Charles, LA.
Maguire seemed to imply that friendships in his playing days was less about the money, and more about the relationships and the camaraderie you form with teammates on the field, but more so off the field. That’s something the game is missing today at the highest level, and there’s not much of a doubt about that.
“In Buffalo, we had a meeting every Tuesday night and we had already looked at the film, and then we would break off and go to dinner at the restaurant upstairs and the offense would be on one side of the room and the defense on the other side of the room, and we had guys that didn’t drink at all and nobody was allowed upstairs and we would be critical of each other about what we did in a game, and I mean, more critical than the coaches were, and that’s why we won two championships in a row.”
That model of success that was undertaken by the Bills is probably something that is rarely, if ever, seen in the game today. But I would think if that was a model undertaken by NFL organizations today, such an endeavor each week could only be a positive for most teams in this day and age, as long as the criticism was constructive and each player understood his teammates on a level to know what to say, when to say it, how to say it and how to give good advice, as if he were talking to his brother. I am betting that’s not something that is scene regularly in today’s NFL.
Since, Maguire has gone to the NFL broadcasting booth and became one of the voices that became as familiar as other greats we remember from Sunday’s past, like Dan Dierdorf, John Madden and Phil Simms among others.
Maguire began his career as a color commentator in the late 1970s, first as a member of the NBC broadcast team, and then as a member ESPN’s telecasts for both NFL and college football. Maguire worked his last regular-season NFL game as a color commentator on Jan. 7, 2006, as Washinton played Tampa Bay in the opening round of the playoffs.
He continued to work college football for ESPN, working alongside Brad Nessler and Bob Griese in the booth, while Bonnie Bernstein covered the sidelines as the on-field reporter. He worked college football with ESPN until 2009, and after his broadcast team was split up, went on to work the United Football League on HDnet in 2010.
Maguire admits that following his 11-year career in the NFL, he didn’t miss being on the field at any time, even when he was watching from above in the broadcast booth.
“I didn’t miss it at all. We were such a bad team in Buffalo in 1970 and there was a coach that came in that season and nobody could stand him, and I am not going to tell you who it was, you’ll have to do that research on your own, but going into television and I am seeing a lot of the guys I was playing against and playing with and it was a real joy, and I never really looked back at all and I never said geez I could still play. No I couldn’t.”
Maguire was enshrined into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame in mid-April, and he continues the tradition of legends from the Palmetto State to have played in the Southern Conference to be inducted into the elite association.
The Youngstown, OH, native is also a member of The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame as well as the Youngstown Sports Hall of Fame.
Maguire currently resides in Charleston, so don’t be surprised to see him around Johnson-Hagood Stadium on a given Saturday this fall. If see and recognize him, be sure to introduce yourself to a true living legend of the game and of Southern Conference football.
Special Thanks to: The South Carolina Football Hall of Fame, Paul Maguire, The Citadel Sports Information Department, Andy Solomon and Col. Tony Lackey for their informational assistance for this story.