The National Football Foundation celebrates “Football Moms” for good reason. They play roles big and small from encouraging their sons to learn the game’s life lessons to driving them to and from practices and games.
However, let’s also consider contributions from “Football Grandmothers.”
Look around at any college or high school football game. Mothers and fathers of players often escort their parents with them. Grandparents enjoy watching and supporting their grandsons on the gridiron, too.
There is no better example of football as a generational game than the Bulloughs of Michigan State. The Spartans call Hank Bullough “The Godfather” of the program.
He played and coached at Michigan State. He and his wife Lou Ann have had two sons, Shane and Chuck, play for the Spartans and three grandsons, Max, Riley and Byron, follow in their green-and-white footsteps out the Spartan Stadium tunnel onto the field.
That makes Hank’s bride of 49 years, “The Godmother.”
“The game has changed, but the lessons learned are still the same,” Lou Ann Bullough said. “It’s a team game. They get close to their teammates. You learn to help each other and work together.
“I love watching my grandsons play. It’s a lot more fun to root for a team when you know someone on the team. It makes it more interesting. I’m wondering what I’m going to do when they’re done playing.”
She still has a couple more years attending Spartan Stadium games until that is a concern.
Byron Bullough, the youngest grandson, is a sophomore on the 2016 roster that is playing a backup linebacker role. He is in position to replace his brother Riley, a senior starting middle linebacker. Riley is a third-year starter that was second-team All-Big Ten as a junior. Riley followed his brother Max, who was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten linebacker in 2012 and 2013 and now plays for the Houston Texans.
All three boys played at Traverse City (Mi.) St. Francis as the sons of Shane and LeeAnn Bullough.
Shane Bullough was a four-year letterman named first-team All-Big Ten in 1986 and second-team in 1985.
LeeAnn’s brother Bobby Morse was Shane’s teammate at Michigan State. Her father Jim Morse played at Notre Dame (1954-56) as did her brother, also named Jim (1976-77). She first knew the game as a daughter and sister and now as a mother and daughter-in-law.
Chuck Bullough, Shane’s younger brother, was a four-year letterman named first-team All-Big Ten in 1991 an second-team in 1990.
“The Godmother” says she’s enjoyed following her grandsons’ college careers more than her sons only because Hank has been retired and they’ve been able to attend all the home games. Hank was still coaching in the NFL throughout Shane’s Michigan State career before he left the NFL and they relocated to Okemos, Mi., near East Lansing during Chuck’s senior season.
Much of the time Shane and Chuck played their high school careers, Lou Ann had to be their male and female football support system.
Hank was putting in long hours as the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive coordinator when Shane played at famed Cincinnati Moeller, where Gerry Faust went from Moeller (1962-80) to Notre Dame (1981-85).
The same was true when Hank put in long hours as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills and Chuck played for Orchard Park High in N.Y.
“Hank was coaching and didn’t have a lot of time to spend throwing the football around them,” she said. “They went to their father’s games and liked it, but nobody said, ‘You have to play football.’ The neighborhoods we lived in didn’t have (youth leagues), so they didn’t really play (organized) football until high school. They loved football once they started playing.”
That love of the game was passed on from Shane and LeeAnn to their three sons. Chuck and his wife have two daughters.
As a mother and now grandmother, LouAnn says she feels the same about the sport she has over the decades.
“It’s a rough game, but I’ve always thought it’s a great game if the equipment is good and the coaches know the game,” LouAnn said. “If kids have it in their blood and love what they’re doing, it’s a great game. You learn teamwork and leadership.
Organized sports are great – for girls, too. Our granddaughter (Holly Bullough) is on the cross country at track teams (at Michigan State). Organized sports – football, basketball, baseball, track or whatever – are all healthy outlets for kids.”