The Animal

Why yes, I am a Redskin fan and I don’t believe in indian curses.  I think they were pounding their drums outside the stadium the last time we won the Super Bowl.  I was pleased when we drafted Iowa Hawkeye tackle Brandon Scherff as pick 5 in our first round draft choice.  Maybe GM Scot McCloughan knows what he’s doing.  Not sure on his wife.

Anyway, when the Redskins took Scherff, an outstanding college tackle, and converted him into a pulling guard, it made me think back 50 plus years when it happened to Mike Magac, the Animal.  Mike and I played football at the University of Missouri.  As I said, it was a few years back.

Mike and I grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois.  We referred to it back then as a tough industrial town.  In high school, we were not friends.  He was the quarterback at Assumption High and I was the QB at East Side High.  East Side never lost a game while I was in high school and we played and beat Assumption every year.  We were unbeaten in 42 games when I graduated and moved to MIZZOU.

Mike was 5′ 10″ and weighed 175 when he was in high school, but a year later when he arrived at MIZZOU, he was 6′ 3″ and weighed 225 pounds.  He still had the quickness and agility of a small guy, but the body of a really, really big guy.  Over his four years at MIZZOU, he became a terror and was All Big Eight (that’s right, back then there were only eight schools) his junior and senior years.  He also received All American honors.  Back then, there were no offensive or defensive teams.  We played both ways.  And Mike never left the field.  On a kick off, he crushed the ball carrier on the 15 yard line.  I think that was when everybody started calling him the Animal.  There was a local store in Columbia that would give a new pair of shoes to anyone who tackled a kick off return man inside the twenty.  Mike was real proud of his new shoes, but he had to give them back because of NCAA rules.

Mike’s sophomore year, he was having trouble passing ROTC.  Back in the 50’s all male students had to take two years of ROTC.  He and the other starting tackle, Norris Kelly, were flunking.  So the Athletic Department hired me to tutor Mike and Norris through the final ROTC exam.  One of the things you need to know is that all of the ROTC instructors were big football fans and wouldn’t want to be the reason that the Animal and Norris were ineligible.  The same test was given all day long, at 9 o’clock, at 10 o’clock, at 11 o’clock and Mike, Norris and I were scheduled to take the test at 4 o’clock.  We had a hot line setup to our dorm and the phone was ringing off the hook all day long.  By 3 o’clock we had heard all the questions and answers at least twice.

When we entered the exam room, we were assigned seats in the last row with me sitting between the Animal and Norris.  It was not necessary because they knew the answers better than I did.  In fact, while I was taking a break, one phone call came through that I missed.  So Mike and Norris got the question right and I missed it.  The question was what are the three ways an infantryman approaches his target.  Mike told me it was “walk, run or crawl.”  For some reason, it just seemed too dumb to me (something the Animal would make up).  Both Mike and Norris got B’s on the test and C’s in the course.  It’s just like Mike always said when asked how he managed to succeed – “Hard work, perseverance , and lots of study.”

Mike was a good looking guy, with tan hair and a few freckles on the pleasant face.  His body had the dimensions of a 150 pound wrestler.  He was just way, way bigger.  And he was quick like a cat. 

During practice our junior year, Mike and I got in a fight.  I don’t remember what started it, but once you arrive at that point, it is truly impossible to back down.  I stayed in close so he couldn’t whack me with one of those hams he had for arms.  It was right in the middle of practice and we were surrounded by players and coaches, so all I had to do was hang on until the players pulled us a part.  To me, it seemed a lot longer than it probably was.  We made up quickly and got back to practice.

Before my senior year, I quit the team, got married and started law school.  That had been my plan for some time.  Back then, a person could enter law school after just three years of undergraduate school.  So I went to law school and the team went to the Orange Bowl.  Before they left for Florida, the Animal and a few other friends dropped by the law library to say goodbye.  I suspected they were just pulling my chain, but it was still great to see them.  I was studying for first term exams and any distraction was appreciated.  As they got up to leave Mike said, “So long PJ, it was nice to meet you – – – again.”

Mike was drafted by San Francisco in the second round (the 16th overall pick – Don Meridith was the 32nd pick).  And like Brandon Scherff, he was converted from tackle to a pulling guard.  The Animal’s career lasted seven bruising years.  He told me the things that shortened his career were injuries and hanging out with Billy Kilmer!

Written by PJ Rice at

Copyright 2015

One thought on “The Animal”

  1. We could write a book about Mike stories and adventures at MIZZOU –Best years of my life–Go Tigers –Luke, BS1960–Med.1963

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