Q&A with Central Michigan's 1979 football team: On Herb Deromedi, continuing a dynasty, building a brand
Seven Central Michigan players earned First Team All-Mid-American Conference honors.
Led by Herb Deromedi, the 1979 Chippewas finished 10-0-1 overall and won the MAC championship.
Quarterback Gary Hogeboom recorded 1,404 passing yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 417 yards and nine scores. He was selected as the MAC Offensive Player of the Year.
Hogeboom finished his four-year career 208 of 395 through the air for 3,088 yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He carried the ball for 957 yards and 16 scores. The quarterback went on to play 11 years in the NFL.
Those First Team All-MAC members were Hogeboom, offensive tackle Marty Smallbone, wide receiver Mike Ball, running back Willie Todd, defensive tackle Bill White, defensive back Robert Jackson and linebacker Tim Hollandsworth.
The 1979 season came just five years after Central Michigan jumped from Division II to Division I, and it marked the turn of the program at college football's highest level.
"It was Central Michigan's first football championship in the Mid-American Conference," Deromedi said. "It was an impressive football team."
The Chippewas picked up wins against Western Michigan (10-0), at Bowling Green (24-0), against Miami (19-18), against Ohio (26-0), against Northern Illinois (31-11), at Ball State (31-30), at Kent State (44-21), against Eastern Michigan (37-14), at Northwestern State (28-0) and at San Jose State (34-32).
Central Michigan's only blemish was a 7-7 tie against Toledo on Nov. 3 at the Glass Bowl.
"We kicked a field goal at the end but according to officials, we had an illegal number on the field," Deromedi said of the tie to the Rockets. "We had the right number of people, 11 people, but we didn't have the right 50-79 (numbered jerseys). We made that field goal, got penalized 5 yards back and missed."
The opponents Central Michigan faced were outscored by a combined total of 291-133.
"Defensively, the team had four shutouts, but it also held two teams to only one touchdown," Deromedi said. "That's six of 11 games."
That memorable campaign created a brand and continued a dynasty that formulated under prior coach Roy Kramer and continued through Deromedi.
Forty years later, the gang got back together in Mount Pleasant to be inducted into the CMU Athletic Hall of Fame. Central Michigan Life spoke to members of the 1979 football team to discuss the legendary season, what made them special, Deromedi's greatness and more.
Central Michigan Life: What did the 1979 team mean to you?
Herb Deromedi, head coach: "We didn't have a lot of time to worry about how far we'd go, but our first game was against Western. We just played one after another. There was an emphasis on toughness."
Gary Hogeboom, quarterback: "We had a team that was tough. We loved to work, and we loved to have fun. We were really close. We had fun doing it, and we had a bunch of studs. Man, we had some tough dudes. The coaches recruited great. We wanted to win, so we just went out and did it."
Tom Grobbel, defensive tackle/offensive guard: "For the guys that went through the service and war, that's what these guys are to me. These are the guys you invite to your wedding and will be the pallbearer at your funeral. You wish their kids marry your kids so you can be closer. When we get together, you start a conversation we finished 20 years ago – picking up where you left off."
Mike Ball, wide receiver: "Forty years later, it's amazing that it's been that long. You can't help but smile."
Marty Smallbone, offensive tackle: "Forty years goes fast. We really came together as a group. I know that's cliche, but we were pretty tight."
What was the atmosphere like during that era of Central Michigan football?
Deromedi: "We wanted to make the athletes we had better. Fundamentally, we were sound. We might not have been as complicated as some, but that's because it was more about doing things right."
Hogeboom: "The whole atmosphere was fun. We had great fans, and the band was killer. I don't have great memories of a lot of things, but when we walked from our dorms across the parking lot and to the stadium, everyone was going crazy. It's something you can't replace."
Ball: "We had a lot of great players and great depth. We had a lot of guys that played together and we were all friends. When you play for each other, it makes a big difference. Chemistry is a big part of what you do. It's part of who we are."
How did the triple-option wishbone offense produce that season?
Deromedi: "Gary Hogeboom was not your typical option quarterback except he was smart and could read it. He had all the skills, but he wasn't the type of person that you'd think of if you were going to be an option team. We became very physical, but the option helped us to be physical. Hogeboom was so efficient. He did so many things right. He also was a pinpoint passer. We probably didn't take advantage of that as much as we could've."
Hogeboom: "To play quarterback (at Central Michigan) was a little easier than at other schools. Our offensive linemen we're studs. We ran the triple option. I threw the ball like 10 times per game, so we ran the ball a lot. I was a runner, but I wasn't fast – just fast enough. We never ran out of bounds or slid. It was just a different era of football. My teammates were phenomenal. We had a blast together. There were no problems, and it showed in our team."
Ball: "Being a wide receiver, I would've loved to play in today's game rather than back then, but that's what everybody did. You defended against the triple-option and ran the triple-option. My goodness, our quarterback played in the NFL for 12 years and held the CMU rushing record for quarterbacks until Dan LeFevour came around. What a great quarterback. He could throw the ball, but he also ran the triple-option."
What were some of your favorite memories of the 1979 season?
Deromedi: "The '78 team was beaten soundly by Ball State in our own stadium, so that was a big game for us. We went down there on their homecoming and were down 24-0 in the first half. We had the ball one last time before the half, and we said we had to score. We did. We came into the locker room, and in that moment, we basically said we had the chance to have the greatest victory in the history of the school. We said how we were going to do it. Amazingly, it worked. We won on a field goal from Novo Bojovic."
Hogeboom: "We played Ball State and were down by 24 points, came back and won. That was big. We had a really big game against Miami (Ohio) here at Kelly/Shorts, and that was an exciting last quarter to win the game. Those were my most memorable times."
Grobbel: "Everyone just got along with each other. There were no fighting or clique groups. Hogeboom was our quarterback, and he was a great leader. Everyone followed his lead. That's how the seniors took care of the freshman every year."
Ball: "We came back from three touchdowns against Ball State. We had a tight group of players that played for each other. That's what was so cool about it. That's the thing I remember most. The whole season, being undefeated week after week, was a big deal."
Smallbone: "I don't think we were picked to win the MAC. We lost a couple of games the year before. We had some tight games, but we got to the point where we just expected to win. That carried us through the season, but it's probably the same thing that got us the tie against Toledo. They were inspired, and we figured we would win. We knew we had something special after the Ball State comeback. It wasn't like there was a whole lot of panic. Confidence carried us."
Does the name Herb Deromedi hold a special place in your heart?
Hogeboom: "I'm glad he came in. He was a good guy, and we had an open line of communication. We'd meet every Sunday and talk about what I thought went well or what didn't. He was young but confident in what he could do, and we did it."
Grobbel: "I thank God for what he did to allow me to come here and play football for the four years I had. Herb came to my high school when I was a sophomore. He said, 'I can't talk to you until you're a senior, but you're a big kid and have been in the weight room a lot.' I said, 'Yes, coach.' He said, 'You have the potential to play college football.' Well, nobody ever told me something like that before. Herb then said to me, 'If you don't work on your grades, you aren't going anywhere.' I was smart, but I just didn't give a hoot. He turned the lightbulb on. He drove me back from my recruiting trip because his parents lived two blocks from mine. On the ride back, I said, 'Coach, what do you expect of me?" He said, "As a freshman, you probably won't play a lot, but you'll start as a junior and senior.' My family didn't have any money, so I said, 'If I can get a full ride, I'd love to play here, but if I can't get that, then I'm going to enlist in the Marine Corps.' Sure enough, I got it. I'm sure there were guys that had more accolades."
Ball: "Herb's a coaching legend. We were unique because we got him halfway through. We had another legendary coach in Roy Kramer. Herb stepped right in and never missed a beat. He did a great job back then and for many years following. He's always been a good guy."
Smallbone: "He was such a motivator. To follow his career after we left was inspiring. The College Football Hall of Fame was well deserved."
What set the 1979 team apart from others?
Deromedi: "We had coaches that connected well with the players. There was a genuine appreciation. The offense appreciated the defense; the defense appreciated the offense. We could take the clock (down) seven minutes. We were a good, sound, physical football team that displayed skills. Our offensive line was solid. You didn't want to be Western when you played our teams."
Hogeboom: "Football is the ultimate team sport. I'm all about (the) team. We were the ultimate team. We were close, worked hard, fought and had fun. When you get that combination of young athletes, you're successful."
Grobbel: "It was so good to come to a tradition of winning, and everyone expected it. Everyone was a team player. All 11 players were doing their job, and that's how we excelled. You don't make mental mistakes. We were more scared about letting our teammates down than having the coaches scream at you in the film room."
Ball: "We had a bunch of leaders on that team, you could name a dozen guys. We had guys that played in the NFL for several years, and they were all team players. Gary's the most humbling guy. Robert Jackson was a stud, and he played for the (Cincinnati) Bengals for many years."
Smallbone: "We all hung out. There were rules, but the drinking age was 18 (years old) back then, but we were not allowed in bars. When we would get together after a game and party, we were all together. Everybody stood up for everybody."
What does Central Michigan mean to you?
Deromedi: "What a great opportunity I was given. I was a high school coach and met Roy Kramer when I was a high school coach, and he gave me the opportunity to come here. I was with him for 11 years. I was his defensive coordinator for nine of those 11, but I started as the offensive line coach. There are a lot of people that love this university, and I had a chance to be a part of where our thinking could take us. This place has meant a lot to me. I feel like I've been a part of where we are today. It's not done yet."
Hogeboom: "Means a ton to me. My four years at Central were a great four years. I had a blast and developed a lot of character as a young man growing up."
Grobbel: "I had the privilege of playing here. It wasn't a right. It was a privilege to play football, go to school and get a degree from Central Michigan. It's done nothing but give me steps up for the next phase of my life."
Ball: "We raised our family here, and our kids graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. Central Michigan means a lot to be beyond sports. I made lifelong friends, and we get together with our families and now our grandchildren. It's one big family."
Smallbone: "I had other offers, but I was set on Central Michigan. I have no regrets. I met my wife up here. Central Michigan is everything to me."
What was the best team in Central Michigan history?
Deromedi: "We used to play that game, but you can't do it. The players will do it, saying, 'If we played you, we would've beat you.' But I just can't do it."
Hogeboom: "Everybody knows – '79 team."