In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Zach Silka talked with Tom Duncan, a Bowsher graduate who was a defensive back for University of Toledo, including the first two seasons of the Rockets' 35-0 run.
Tom Duncan has been gone from the University of Toledo football program for some time now, but two of his impressive records still stand nearly 40 years after they were set.
Duncan holds the record for the longest interception returned for a touchdown (93 yards) and the most career interception return yards (217).
He started every game in his college career after being the only sophomore starter on the defense in 1968.
After finishing with a 5-4-1 record in Duncan's sophomore season, Toledo went undefeated in during his junior (11-0) and senior (12-0) seasons, the latter of which he was a captain.
Duncan was named to the All-MAC first team in his final year and was invited to play in the Senior Bowl.
After college, Duncan signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots but was cut in training camp. He then played two seasons with the Columbus Bucks, a minor-league affiliate of the Chicago Bears, before trying out with the New York Jets and then spending one season with their minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Jets in Connecticut.
A native of Toledo, Duncan was an All-City League performer in football and track at Bowsher. He has been inducted into the Rebels and Rockets halls of fame.
Duncan works as a color analyst for football, basketball, baseball, and softball games on the local BuckeyeCable Sports Network.
"I GUESS I was a little
nave. I was recruited by most of the MAC schools and maybe a couple Big Ten schools. [Toledo defensive coordinator] Jack Murphy started recruiting me when I was a junior. He showed me a lot of attention. He showed that they were interested, which I was always impressed with, and anybody else that recruited me, I always seemed to be secondary. I was recruited as a quarterback. They told me if I didn't play quarterback, there's a possibility I could play running back, wide receiver or defensive back. I ended playing as a freshman as a quarterback [on the scout team] before freshmen were eligible. Then in spring ball, they switched me from quarterback to running back and then they decided on defensive back.
"THE CHAMPIONSHIP seasons we had, I played with a lot of great guys. And not only guys that were good but also a lot of guys that were from the city of Toledo so that made it even more special. I played in 23 of the 35 games of the undefeated streak."
"When you think of being undefeated now, you think of all the guys you shared that with and you played with and how special they were. It's just a great moment that you'll always have because you're always going to be undefeated. You're always going to have that record so that's a great feeling. The experience going into that was incredible because we knew we had a good team, and every week we seemed to get better and better. We were never overconfident, but we had a confidence about us.
"We just had all the right players like the Chuck Ealeys, and the Mel Longs, and the John Niezgodas, guys like that. Everybody was kind of a leader. I was a captain my senior year, but we could have had 40 captains for that matter. We had a lot of really good leaders, and the challenge never got overwhelming to anybody. We just said we're going to get better next week. We'll improve every week. It was kind of an interesting situation because we never let it get to our heads as we continued to win. We just got the point that we had no choice but to win now. We just have to win every game. It was just a great experience. It was a great attitude experience with the guys because everybody was on the same page as far as their approach to the game. We had a lot of different personalities on that team, but we all came together when it was time to play.
"[TOLEDO] HAD a good defense for a number of years. When I was a freshman, I had to play against the first-team defense on the scout team. They were great defenders. My sophomore year we ended up 5-4-1 but we still had a great defense. We lost four games by a total of 17 points. Just that experience, it built momentum. My junior year we had Curtis Johnson, who won Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins, and it just kind of snowballed. There was a sense of pride. We just weren't going to let anybody score on us.
"We had goals set by our defensive coordinator Jack Murphy basically to play a perfect game. Anything less than that, we weren't satisfied with and we bought into the program. Of course Frank Lauterbur was there, and he was a very demanding coach. Defensively, we just kind of built an attitude that we didn't want to give anybody first downs. We didn't want them to score. My senior year, in 11 games we gave up 69 points, so that was less than a touchdown a game. We just had a pride about us. We just had the right personalities and great athletes. We had an attitude that nobody could mess with. We didn't want to let each other down.
"We had good ball players [with the Bucks and B-Jets]. That was before the arena leagues or anything like that. They had a smaller roster in the NFL, so there were a lot of good football players that had nowhere to go. Minor league football was big. We got paid a couple hundred bucks a game. It was a really competitive situation. It was a good fit for me.
"AFTER MY TRYOUT with the Jets, they told me they couldn't keep me on their roster but they didn't want me to go away so they asked me to play for the Bridgeport Jets. I played with a lot of guys that moved on and played in the NFL or some guys had played in the NFL previous to that. It wasn't a situation where you had a bunch of guys with beer bellies out there running around. These were very skilled athletes. There just wasn't enough room on the NFL rosters for them. They had to do something. It was for the love of the game and you did it because you really enjoyed doing it.
"Three [UT] teammates of mine, I got those guys all together, and we rented a beach house for the summer in Fairfield, Conn. We were right on Long Island Sound, and we just had a blast. It was a lot of fun, and the guys from Ohio were a big hit out there. We had guys from all over the country [on the team]. It was a lot of fun, and we had a lot of fun along the way."41.66867 -83.5826