What does it take to bring an All-American offensive lineman and 11-year NFL veteran to tears?
For Marcus Spears, it was learning the No. 76 he wore from 1991-93 will become the sixth retired number in Northwestern State football history. Director of Athletics Greg Burke informed Spears of the honor in person Thursday, causing the two-time All-American to break down and cry.
“You talk about a surreal moment,” Spears said. “I was on a trip to visit Natchitoches. It’s like home to me. I drove on campus and said let me just see who’s here. (Having his number retired) is one of those things where you don’t know what to say. I don’t feel like I’m worthy to accept it.”
Spears’ number is the second retirement under the NSU Athletic Department’s new policy, which incorporated input from various sources to compile a list of criteria for this honor. He joins former Demon baseball great Danny Bob Turner in that group, and Spears’ 76 now stands alongside Bobby Hebert’s 12, Gary Reasons’ 34, Al Dodd’s 41, Joe Delaney’s 44 and Jackie Smith’s 80 as retired NSU football numbers.
While Spears says he may not feel worthy, his credentials speak for themselves.
A 6-foot-4, 320-pounder from Baton Rouge, Spears earned All-American honors in 1992 and 1993, becoming just the second FCS-level player to make the Football Writers Association All-American Team with his 1993 selection. He was one of 10 semifinalists for the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation’s best lineman, and is believed to be the lone FCS player to achieve that honor. Spears spent part of his career blocking for current NSU head coach Brad Laird, who set the Demon career passing yardage record in 1995.
A three-time All-Southland Conference selection and All-Louisiana honoree, Spears was drafted in the second round (39th overall) by the Chicago Bears. He spent three seasons with Chicago before playing the bulk of his career for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1997-2003. Spears concluded his NFL career with a one-season stop in Houston in 2004.
A 2011 N-Club Hall of Fame inductee, Spears has remained close to Northwestern State since concluding his career.
“This recognition of Marcus’ NSU career is appropriate as he was one of the most imposing and skilled offensive linemen to ever play at the FCS level,” said NSU Director of Athletics Greg Burke, who recalled Spears being in Auburn Hills, Michigan, in 2006 for NSU’s first-round upset of Iowa in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as being an example of the pride he has always had for his alma mater.
“The caliber of his play in the trenches as a collegian was further illustrated by his lengthy tenure in the NFL. He played with passion and has lived his life in like fashion. All of us at NSU are grateful for his undying ‘Demon passion’ and congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.”
Upon gathering his composure, Spears made sure to thank “every teammate” and Sam Goodwin’s coaching staff.
“He only played one year of high school football,” Goodwin said. “You could tell he had great movement and athleticism, but did he have the temperament? He did. We ran a lot of outside zone when he was here, and that meant he had to get to reach the end outside of him. He could hit that guy from the side or the backside, and they’d go reeling and land on their face. Then he’d keep running and get him another one. He was that athletic.”
He highlighted one of those teammates, one who will be with him in spirit on Oct. 17 when Spears’ number joins the five other retired numbers in NSU history during the Homecoming game against Sam Houston State.
“I’ll have Curtis Wilkins’ ashes with me,” Spears said. “He was my classmate, my roommate, my teammate. He was all three. I spoke at his funeral, and I bought a special urn. Now I know why I bought it. It was meant for him to be here at Northwestern, and I’m going to leave him here with my jersey. That’s the least I can do.”
Photos: Marcus Spears in action against Southern and being recognized as the Demon Great of the Game in 2011. Credits: NSU Photographic Services