Sixty years ago, in the age before face masks were added to helmets, the first Bullough played at Michigan State.
Hank Bullough was a two-way guard for legendary coach Biggie Munn in 1952, playing on an undefeated national championship squad that year and the Spartans’ first Rose Bowl team the next season. Hank’s senior year was Duffy Daugherty’s first as head coach.
His sons, Shane (1983-86) and Chuck (1988-91) played linebacker for George Perles and were first-team All-Big Ten selections as seniors.
Now Shane’s linebacker sons, junior Max and freshman Riley, are bearing down on ball carriers and receivers for Spartans coach Mark Dantonio.
The family has won 13 varsity football letters at the school and could end up with 23 when the third generation completes play. Byron, Shane’s youngest son and a junior at Traverse City St. Francis, already has committed to MSU.
This season is Max’s turn to take center stage after leading the team with 89 tackles and becoming a second-team all-conference pick in 2011. Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has been impressed with his intensity, intelligence and production in preseason practices and controlled scrimmages.
“Max is doing a great job,” Narduzzi said. “He looks great, just like we thought.
“He’s our leader again. He might be the all-around leader — not only vocally as far as getting our defense lined up, but the whole boat.”
When that compliment was relayed, Max said, “That’s great. It means a lot coming from Coach Narduzzi.”
But there is a voice in the back of Max’s head — the one every perfectionist has — that would not let him stop his reply at that point.
“I need to be physically more consistent,” Max continued. “I was tired some last year. And when you are tired, you start thinking the wrong things.
“I took a few plays off. I can’t do that. Physically, I need to be there on every single play.”
His father, a real estate investor and assistant football coach at St. Francis, understands Max’s drive.
“Max has always been beyond his years in maturity and is a perfectionist,” Shane said. “He’s never satisfied … and always wants to be better and smarter.”
Max’s intelligence goes beyond the field. A finance major with a 3.8 grade-point average, he’s also much like his father academically. Shane earned his MBA from MSU.
“It really helps me to talk to my dad because he is someone who has been here doing what I do now,” Max said. “He knows what to say.”
Shane added, “Max is a great listener. He wants my input, but he’s got some great coaches there in (linebackers coach) Mike Tressel and Pat Narduzzi.
“I try to talk to him in real good generalities about the good and the bad. I know what it’s like to miss a play when it’s your responsibility.”
Shane understands being a perfectionist in a game where perfection never is attained.
The mental side of the game is as critical for a middle linebacker as anyone. They are like catchers in baseball, the controllers of play.
It was mentioned to Shane that his father, Hank, popularized the 3-4 defensive scheme that would have eliminated his future grandson’s position on the field if MSU didn’t go with the 4-3 front alignment.
“Isn’t that odd,” Shane said with a chuckle. “Max would be out of a job in the 3-4.”
He’d still be an inside linebacker in that formation, but not the center of attention — the man in the middle.
Hank and New England Patriots head coach Chuck Fairbanks, his former Spartans teammate, were significant in developing the popularity of the 3-4 front in the 1970s. Cincinnati Bengals coach Forrest Gregg hired Hank to install the 3-4, and his defense helped them reach a Super Bowl before losing to Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers in the Pontiac Silverdome on Jan. 25, 1982.
Hank also was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills for two seasons, the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers and spent one year on Perles’ staff in 1994.
“My grandpa talks football quite a bit,” Max said. “He brings football up whenever he can. It’s a game we all love.”
Hank played in a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA on Jan. 1, 1954.
The last Spartans team to reach Pasadena did so in the 1987 season. That was the year after Shane departed and one year before his brother, Chuck, arrived in East Lansing.
And so the father wants very much for his son to reach the Rose Bowl almost 60 years after his grandfather did.
“He wants it beyond anything in his life,” Shane said. “He has the drive to get there. But it was first important to focus on offseason workouts and the film room, and now on the goal to win each week.”
The season begins Aug. 31 at home against No. 22 Boise State, and the Big Ten opener for the No. 13 Spartans is Oct. 1 at Ohio State.
“It’s important not to look at the Rose Bowl first,” Shane said. “Take it one step at a time.”
“It seems like forever since we beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl,” he said. “You start looking forward to the next season almost right away. The days are long, but it goes fast.
“I’m pointing at having a great team record — to have a championship. And to have that, you have to have leadership.”