Golden Scots: Brinker, Plummer's heroics aide Monmouth College
In the past 100 years, only one full season of Monmouth College football has ended without a single blemish. The Fighting Scots were a perfect 9-0 in 1972, winning four blowouts before a series of five straight contested victories, capped by a triumph over arch-rival St. Olaf. That victory over the Oles gave Monmouth its first-ever outright Midwest Conference football championship. There would not be another one for 33 years. By then, undefeated regular seasons were rewarded with a trip to the NCAA playoffs, so that 2005 campaign – and three others since – ended with postseason defeats. That makes 1972 the last undefeated season for Fighting Scots football.
In this series, players from that historic team, now in their early 70s, look back on that memorable fall, and so does their head coach, the legendary Bill Reichow.
MONMOUTH — In 1970, a hobbled Willis Reed entered Game 7 of the NBA Finals and helped inspire his New York Knicks to a championship. Years later, Michael Jordan’s famous “Flu Game” helped lift the Chicago Bulls to the 1997 title.
In between was the Cornell game and a memorable gutsy performance by captain and all-conference lineman Dave Brinker.
“Brinker had pneumonia, but he came off the bench that day and played,” said Rod Davies. “He was one sick dude. But he came in, and we just started getting in gear. Coach called him the All-American boy – blonde hair, blue eyes ...”
“And a red ass,” chimed in Bill Reichow, drawing a laugh from his group of visitors that day.
“Brinker came in and just started barking at us,” said Davies. “For our defense, if you gave up more than two or three yards on a play, you felt like you’d given up a touchdown. That was the standard, and it was the same for us on offense when Brinker was in the huddle. He’d just be chewing out everybody.”
Davies bore the brunt of much of the chewing.
“I remember Brinker and Davies always arguing on Brinker’s side of the line, right before the ball was being snapped,” said Dennis Plummer. “(Tim) Burk’s back there trying to make the call, and they were always shouting about which gap to cover, and they’d get in an argument. Brinker would get so upset with him. Then he’d just point and say something like ‘Hit that &@#$ number 72!’ It had to throw some other teams off. It was pretty funny.”
“Maybe not everybody on the team was his friend, but everybody respected him,” said Greg Derbak.
“It was the right chemistry,” said Reichow of the late Brinker’s role in motivating the ’72 squad.
“He was a loose cannon,” said Bill Honeycutt. “You never knew what he was going to do, except that when he’d get mad, he’d get beet red. When he turned red, you’d get the hell out of there. But he was a gifted athlete, and he gave it all.”
Brinker certainly gave all he had against Cornell.
“After that last touchdown (following a long series of running plays), everybody went to the sideline, but Brinker was still lying on the goal line,” said Paul Waszak. “He was done.”
Brinker would not be available for Monmouth’s next game, a road trip to Ripon, Wisconsin. But the depth on the 1972 team was outstanding.
“More than 50% of the team were all-conference or all-state selections,” said Honeycutt, Brinker’s backup. “I was used to starting. Sitting on the bench was hard for me.”
His first year, that didn’t matter, as freshmen were ineligible for varsity action in 1970. Honeycutt recalled looking forward to the 1971 opener.
“For our first game my sophomore year, Coach left me at home,” said Honeycutt. “I’m sitting there, and I’m not happy about it. I almost chucked it then. But I called Coach (Ken) Geiger, and he said, ‘Don’t do it. You’re too good. Things will get better.’ It was a hell of a learning curve, but he’d knock you down to bring you back up again.”
The next year, Geiger was on Monmouth’s staff.
“What are the odds that my high school coach would then coach me in college?” said Honeycutt, who had been steered west by Geiger. “I didn’t know where the hell Monmouth was. I’d visited a couple bigger schools and got some walk-on offers. Coach Geiger talked to me and said, ‘You can be a small fish in a big pond, or you can be a big fish in a small pond.’ The next thing I knew, I was going to Monmouth.”
Honeycutt’s big fish moment came in the Ripon game. Despite two narrow losses, the Redmen were not out of title contention, as a victory over Monmouth would put them one game back in the standings with one game to go, and the Scots still having to face their nemesis, St. Olaf.
“The Ripon game was a slugfest,” said Waszak.
“You knew you were going to be in that type of atmosphere,” said Reichow.
Indeed, Monmouth’s games with Ripon were usually close – that is, after Reichow arrived. Prior to that, the Redmen had posted seven straight victories over Monmouth, the first six of them by shutout. Even Reichow’s first Scots team in 1966 was blanked by Ripon, losing 47-0. But Monmouth responded by winning five of the next six meetings, capped by the 1972 thriller which, in terms of sheer entertainment value, was the highlight of the second half of that magical season.
“Ripon was really good, and we had to play well to beat them,” said Plummer. “That was probably our best game of the year.”
It was certainly Plummer’s. All the senior did was run for 107 yards and total 297 all-purpose yards. The latter figure remains, amazingly, the Monmouth school record still today.
“It was cold, damp and windy, and the field wasn’t in great shape,” said Davies. “Bill Honeycutt was playing for Brinker in that game. Both teams were trying to find their footing at the start. Ripon took a foothold and found a way to move the ball,” going ahead 7-0, the Redmen’s first of four leads.
Both teams totaled at least 340 yards of offense, but the Scots won the turnover battle, recovering four Ripon fumbles and intercepting a pass. Monmouth won the special teams battle, too, as Tom Roy booted two short field goals in the 40-30 victory, but the biggest highlight from that part of the game was Plummer’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
In fact, the hard-fought win can be called “the Dennis Plummer game,” as the all-conference running back added a 54-yard kick return and posted two TD runs, including a 42-yarder in the fourth quarter that put the Scots ahead 40-24.
The Scots had rallied from a 24-23 deficit earlier in the half on a Roy field goal and a 31-yard touchdown pass from Burk to Rueckert, their second TD connection of the day.
With the victory, the Scots moved to 7-0 in league play, and no team could catch them. With one game left, their first-ever outright MWC title was official.
“Scots Clinch Clear-Cut Conference Crown” read the alliterative Register-Mail headline.