Former Michigan State wide receiver Kirk Gibson was named as part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class in January, and he will be officially inducted during the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 5 at the New York Hilton Midtown. He was honored over the weekend with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, when the Spartans hosted Notre Dame.
By Matt Fortuna, college football reporter for The All-American.
- Named First-Team All-American in 1978 while earning all-conference honors three times.
- Led Big Ten in receiving and helped the Spartans to a Big Ten Co-Championship and a No. 12 national ranking in 1978
- Finished his career as the university’s record-holder for career receptions (112), touchdown receptions (24) and receiving yards (2,347).
- Coached by Dennis Stolz and Darryl Rodgers.
- Becomes the ninth Spartan player to enter the Hall.
He may have hit one of the most iconic home runs in baseball history, but Kirk Gibson says his true fans will always point to another play, on another surface — at another position — as their favorite memory of Michigan State’s favorite son. A 1978 rout of Minnesota during Gibson’s senior season created the setting for one of the most telling plays of his career: A 71-yard chase down of a defender after the Golden Gophers recovered a Spartans fumble in the end zone.
“At the time it was legal, and I horse-collared him down from behind,” Gibson said. “The true fans that I know go: ‘I remember this.’ I’ll say the play against Minnesota is literally my favorite play of my whole career, just because I loved to run. I was a God-given runner and I worked hard to get faster, and it’s really what gave me an edge at what I did.”
Gibson is now running into the College Football Hall of Fame, the latest achievement in a two-sport career that has featured a Big Ten title, two World Series titles, an MVP award and even a Manager of the Year honor.
But back to the gridiron, where it all began. Gibson was playing for Waterford Kettering (Mich.) High when he caught the attention of MSU assistant Andy MacDonald, who was checking out a prospect from opponent West Bloomfield. Gibson dazzled with a couple of long touchdown receptions, MacDonald asked Gibson about his interest in the Spartans, and a storied career was off and running.
“He believed in me,” Gibson said of MacDonald. “I always tell people that get frustrated: ‘Get ready for your opportunity, because you never know who’s watching you. You’re always being scouted.’ There’s a perfect example. That’s why I played hard, did it the right way and got noticed that way.
“It’s kind of cool after you go back and look at it: There’s a puzzle, it just isn’t cut yet. The picture’s there, but it’s getting cut piece-by-piece as your life goes on.”
No kidding. Gibson looked ready to tackle his NFL dreams while in East Lansing before another coach, MSU head man Darryl Rogers, suggested the receiver go out for the Spartans’ baseball team. The thinking was that the second sport would give Gibson leverage with NFL teams interested in him.
Instead, Gibson became a First-Team All-American, hitting .390 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs and getting drafted in the first round by the Detroit Tigers, who allowed Gibson to return to MSU for his senior year of football provided he did not go to the NFL.
Another All-American campaign, in another sport, followed, with Gibson leaving MSU as the program’s all-time leader in catches (112), receiving yards (2,347) and touchdown receptions (24). He made that rundown against the Gophers and, as he also fondly remembers, he followed through on his word to the program that gave him a chance, even when the chips were down.
The Spartans were put on three years of probation following the 1975 season, which meant NCAA violations cost the program three potential bowl opportunities during Gibson’s career.
“The guys didn’t bail and say, ‘Oh, we’re leaving,’” Gibson said. “We stuck together and we made ourselves a damn good team and support each other to this day.”
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015, he established the Kirk Gibson Foundation, which is committed to raising money and awareness for neurological disorders research.