Close to the game

This entry is part 22 of 28 in the series Fall - 2017
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by Tony Phifer

Bill Schmitz (B.A. ’70, M.Ed., ’73) will never forget his first experience at Hughes Stadium.

Schmitz was a running back for the Colorado State University Rams when Hughes Stadium opened its doors in 1968.

The Rams’ opponent that day: The North Texas State Eagles and their All-American defensive tackle, Joe Greene.

As in future Pro Football Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene.

Bill Schmitz in his CSU Football uniform

“We had prepared all week in practice for a heavy pass rush from North Texas,” Schmitz recalls. “Our game plan included lots of screen plays and draws, to keep them off-balance. In the second quarter, I got the ball on a draw play. The key was to wait as long as possible before taking off. I saw a big opening and I took off, cutting through the line.

“All of a sudden Joe Greene stuck out his arm and whacked me across the chest like a grizzly bear. Then another guy hit me in the head.

“I got up, trying to act like I was OK. That’s when I realized I was in the wrong huddle.”

Schmitz and his Ram teammates still laugh about that play to this day. CSU lost that inaugural game 17-12 and struggled to a 2-8 record in 1968.

“We had some very good players but we were still a few people away from being able to compete with the best teams,” Schmitz says.

Schmitz, a Lakewood, Colo., native, began his career at University of Missouri, playing two years before transferring to CSU. He graduated in 1970 with a liberal arts degree, hoping to become a high school teacher and coach. After a number of stops in high school and college coaching, he went to work in his wife’s family business.

Staying close to the game

That’s also about the time he opted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a football official. His dad had worked games in the Big Eight Conference for 20 years, and officiating gave him a chance to stay close to the game he loved.

Schmitz worked his way up, starting with junior high games before working high school, small college, and major college football before landing a job in the NFL. He spent the next 28 years calling NFL games – including Super Bowl XXXV – before retiring at the end of the 2016 season.

“I had a great career with a lot of memorable experiences,” he says. “I decided to retire because you miss a lot of family stuff when you’re always gone on the weekends. I’ve got a second chance to do that now with my grandkids; I’m having a great time.”

Schmitz, 70, now lives in Berthoud and makes occasional trips to Fort Collins. He and wife Dianne have driven by CSU’s new on-campus stadium a couple of times.

“Hughes was a terrific place, and we had a lot of student and community support during my two years playing at CSU,” he says. “But, all things being equal, I worked a lot of college games as an official and the most exciting ones were in on-campus stadiums. When you’re playing on campus it changes everything.

“I know there are some people who don’t support the stadium, but I think if they just go to the games they will see what a difference it makes. Honestly, I think it is going to be one of the best things CSU has ever done.”

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