Colleges

CHAD FINN | SPORTS MEDIA

ESPN flashes back to the inimitable Gordie Lockbaum

November 14 1987 / Gordie Lockbaum ' Holy Cross / Globe Staff photo by Barry Chin
Barry Chin/globe staff/1987 file
Holy Cross’s Gordie Lockbaum (right) finished fifth in Heisman voting in 1986 and third in 1987.

A period of uninventive specialization seized college football in the mid ’80s. Even the premier athletes, such as future multisport icon Bo Jackson, stuck to a single position come Saturday afternoon.

Gordie Lockbaum starred in that era for Holy Cross, but was anything but a product of it. He was special, not just in ability but in his unfathomable versatility, particularly in the 1986 and ’87 seasons, when he became a national phenomenon and a back-to-back finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

No, Lockbaum was not specialized. To call him a two-way player would be to undersell his duties. He was your standard running back/receiver/cornerback/strong safety/free safety/outside linebacker/return man.

Advertisement

That’s both punt and kick returns. What, you thought he would slack off on special teams? Lockbaum did so much well that it’s practically an upset that he didn’t join the band for a sax solo at halftime.

Get Breaking Sports Alerts in your inbox:
Be the first to know the latest sports news as it happens.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Holy Cross fans have never stopped reminiscing about Lockbaum’s career, in which he became the first college player since Purdue’s Leroy Keyes in the ’60s to play full time on both offense and defense.

But for those who may never have heard about him during that two-way heyday, or perhaps let his name slip from memory not long after the “Today” show came to Worcester and Sports Illustrated profiled him three decades ago, ESPN has put together a short film that serves as a fitting reintroduction.

The film, titled “The Throwback,’’ is part of ESPN’s “30 for 30 Shorts” series, an offshoot of its acclaimed full-length film series. Produced and directed by Erin Leyden, “The Throwback” is a pleasant flicker of a flashback, just a little more than 11 minutes long, but it tells Lockbaum’s story in full.

It was recently screened at the Seelos Theater at Holy Cross and the Harvard Club, and debuts online Dec. 5, the 30th anniversary of his first Heisman nomination. The affable Lockbaum, now a vice president at Sullivan Group Insurance in Worcester, attended the Holy Cross screening with his family.

Advertisement

“I never thought that this would be remembered so long, only because you expect the next generation of athletes to come through and have a similar-type impact,’’ he said. “Conversely, I think because of the two-way play and the Heisman conversation at the 1-AA level, that’s the thing that’s unique about it that keeps it out there.

“The Throwback’’ opens with a montage of Lockbaum making plays in virtually every possible manner on the field, even downing a punt right before it could hop into the end zone. There’s an amusing recollection of how he ended up playing both ways, the offensive and defensive coordinators all but having a tug-of-war over him. There’s the strange juxtaposition of him seated next to Oklahoma showboat Brian Bosworth at the ’86 Heisman ceremony.

But the best part is the remembrance of the game that brought him to unexpected and rapid fame.

In a 17-14 victory over Army in 1986, Lockbaum was the Crusaders’ leading rusher and receiver while making 21 tackles on defense. All told, he played 143 of 171 snaps on the day. Jim Lampley marveled at it on ABC’s studio program, and a legend was born.

‘There’s a lot of legwork that went on behind the scenes that led up to [the national attention],’’ said Lockbaum, who acknowledged the efforts of then-sports information director Gregg Burke. “But I would say from the standpoint of having it really take off, it was the Army game that was a big part of that.”

Advertisement

“The New York media jumped on it, and it was a very special game for us as a team and me as an individual, having played so many plays.

“A lot of the writers and media were attracted to that story, people who were Heisman voters. A lot of them had remembered it or grew up in that era of two-way play, so when they saw it happen live and in person again, it made them a little nostalgic and it kind of took off.

“All these years later, it has been fun to revisit that time again through the film, especially to see when I was young.”

A coup for WEEI

Since 98.5 The Sports Hub hired its initial staff in advance of its August 2009 debut, there has been very little shifting of on-air talent between the CBS-owned station and its sports-radio rival, Entercom-owned WEEI.

There was talk of WEEI pursuing Marc Bertrand to pair with Kirk Minihane a couple of years ago, before Bertrand landed the midday job on the Sports Hub and Minihane’s profile grew exponentially on WEEI’s morning program. That didn’t materialize, and when a change has happened, it’s usually been a fairly minor transaction.

So it raised eyebrows when WEEI plucked away Rich Keefe — the sidekick on 98.5’s evening program, hosted by Adam Jones — to become its third voice on the afternoon drive “Dale and Holley” show. This is an inspired choice by WEEI, and perhaps a bit of a coup, taking away an underutilized young talent from its competitor. Unlike his former cohort Jones, whose approach to Boston sports is basically five hours of Here’s Why What You Like Stinks, Keefe offers nuanced opinions, but in a dryly funny and informed way, especially regarding the NBA.

It will be interesting to see how he meshes initially with Dale Arnold and Michael Holley, but he’s a more polished radio presence than predecessor Jerry Thornton, so it should be fairly seamless. Keefe signed his new contract Thursday, and will start Monday.

Schefter adds NBA

ESPN has signed Adam Schefter, its prolific news-breaking NFL reporter, to a multiyear contract extension. Schefter will have some new duties with his new deal; he will join Lisa Salters as a sideline reporter on the network’s wild-card game telecast next month. More intriguingly, he will serve as an in-game NBA reporter on occasion during the football offseason. If you’ll recall, during the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, it was Schefter who first reported on Twitter that the Thunder-turned-Warriors superstar would announce his decision on the Players’ Tribune, which proved correct.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.