For years, Wildcats from Abilene Christian University have had far more than a front-row seat at the annual championship game staged by the National Football League.
On Sunday, one of them will have a lot to do with what you see and hear when the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers square off in Santa Clara, Calif., for Super Bowl 50.
But more about that in a minute.
The NFL played an annual title game for nearly five decades before initiating in 1967 what is known as the Super Bowl, a contest to decide a winner between the National Football Conference and American Football Conference.
Wildcats have played in three NFL championship and seven Super Bowl games:
V.T. “Vitamin T” Smith Jr. (’49) became the first former ACU football star to play in an NFL title game, something he did three times for the Los Angeles Rams from 1949-53. The Rams lost championship games in 1949 and 1950 before defeating the Cleveland Browns in 1951 in the first NFL title game to be televised live across the nation. A halfback who caught passes from Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin for the league’s top-scoring team, Smith led the NFL in punt return yards in 1949 and in kickoff return yards in 1950. His three touchdowns on kickoff returns in 1950 stood as an NFL record for 17 seasons. Smith also starred in track and field (as a sprinter and javelin thrower) and was the first Wildcat football player named first-team All-America. He served in the U.S. Army during the D-Day invasion at Normandy before enrolling at Abilene Christian, and graduated in just three years.
ACU career rushing leader Wilbert Montgomery (’77) played in one Super Bowl (XV as a running back for Philadelphia) and coached in three others: XXXIV and XXXVI for St. Louis and XLVII for Baltimore, earning two world championship rings. A sixth-round selection by the Eagles in the 1977 NFL Draft, he played nine years (eight for Philadelphia and one for Detroit), twice earning All-Pro honors and setting numerous Eagle career rushing records. He then began a 19-year-and-counting career as assistant coach for St. Louis (1997-2005), Detroit (2006-07), Baltimore (2008-13) and Cleveland (2014-present), mentoring some of the top running backs in league history. He was inducted to the inaugural Philadelphia Eagles Honor Roll in 1987 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
Wide receiver and kick returner Cle Montgomery (’78) played for the world champion Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. The younger brother of Wilbert, he was a six-year NFL veteran wide receiver and kick returner for Cincinnati, Cleveland and Oakland. He also served as an ACU trustee from 2000-06.
Offensive lineman Dan Remsberg (’85) helped Denver to two Super Bowls (XXI and XXII) after being selected in the ninth round of the 1985 NFL Draft by San Diego.
Safety and kick returner Danieal Manning (’07) had a storybook first year in the NFL in 2006 when he was the Chicago Bears’ top draft choice (second round, 42nd pick overall) and helped lead them to Super Bowl XLI. He retired in 2015 following a nine-year career with the Bears and Houston Texans.
Lance Barrow (’77) was a Wildcat football player who never played professionally, yet his skills as coordinating producer of football and golf for CBS Sports have brought many of the world’s top sporting events – NFL games, The Masters and PGA Championship, NCAA men’s Final Four, Daytona 500 and U.S. Open tennis among them – to TV viewers for several decades. This year he will be the lead producer for his third Super Bowl telecast (along with XLVII and XLIV). Barrow, who has won 11 Emmy Awards, has been an ACU trustee since 2005.
Kickoff for Super Bowl 50 is 5:30 p.m. CST.