“I can’t feel whole,” said Washington. “It’s hard to celebrate when your friend is not with you.”
BTN will feature a special interview with Washington, the two-time All-American wide receiver, as he recalls playing football at Michigan State with his late teammate and friend Bubba Smith.
The feature will air during Saturday’s pregame show, which begins at 10:30 AM ET.
BTN producer Julian Darnell said that the feature honors two great football players. “The piece allows us to pay homage to Gene, but in turn, Gene also pays homage to Bubba Smith,” Darnell said.
Washington and Smith played against each other in high school in Texas.
Smith was one of the most highly recruited players to come out of the state, but even the talented defensive lineman faced limitations. Both players grew up there when African American players were not recruited into any major Texas university because of prevalent racial segregation.
Smith was recruited by Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty. Smith suggested to Daugherty that he should take a look at fellow Texas football player Washington. With no scholarships left on the football team, Daugherty found one for Washington on the track team. That’s how Washington came to participate in both track and football at MSU.
“Without his (Smith’s) recommendation to Duffy at the time I would’ve never gotten to Michigan State because they were really recruiting Bubba,” Washington says in the feature.
Washington also takes a look back at his experience playing for Michigan State and offers his insight into what it was like playing in what many dubbed then as the “Game of the Century” against Notre Dame in 1966.
Washington describes the game as very “hard hitting,” but he mostly remembers the frustration after the game ended in a tie.
“Duffy told us after the game that it was like kissing your sister,” Washington said.
Washington says he’s grateful to have recently joined Smith in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Washington said that Smith’s legacy will continue to live on through him and through Michigan State University.
“I’m going to miss him,” Washington said. “He meant so much to the Michigan State family and to me, for giving me the opportunity to be a Spartan.”
— Written by Mallory Treleaven