Former Utah State player still feels linked to Shockers

10/03/2010 12:00 AM

10/01/2013 4:49 PM

Tony Adams considers players on the 1970 Wichita State football team something close to teammates.

Saturday morning, he represented Utah State at the memorial service observing the 40 anniversary of the plane crash that killed 31 people on Oct. 2, 1970 in Colorado. The Shockers were traveling to Logan, Utah for a game against Utah State the next day.

"When you play sports, you establish a unique fraternity of people you play with and against," said Adams, a quarterback at Utah State in 1970. "You learn about these people when you watch them on film. You know their names, you know their numbers. You really develop, that week, a very intimate relationship. We felt the loss."

Adams joined a group of 250-300 people at Memorial '70 on the WSU campus. The attendance more than doubled the usual crowd. University president Don Beggs and pastor Reuben Eckels, himself a former Shocker football player, spoke. Adams placed a wreath at the monument, as did John Putt, a member of the search and rescue team that responded to crash about 40 miles west of Denver.

Dick Welsbacher, former director of the WSU theater, read the names of the 31 people — 14 players, 14 WSU staff and boosters and three crew members — who died on the Gold plane. As he read, a family member or friend placed a yellow rose in a vase. All seven children of State Rep. Ray and Yvonne King came forward when Welsbacher read their parents' names.

The Wichita State Madrigals held hands and sang "The Wish." Eckels concluded the program with a prayer for Randy Jackson, one of eight players who survived the crash. Jackson died in July from pancreatic cancer.

Friends, family and teammates gathered for a reception. The football players took team pictures on the steps of the McKnight Art Center. Many of them were on the Black plane that landed safely in Logan.

"It's remembering those young guys and what happened to us and what drew us all close and will keep us that way all our lives," said Kelly Cook, a junior lineman on the 1970 team. "We don't see each other all the time, but it doesn't make any difference. We just know each other."

Adams feels like he knows the players on that team. He was in his Friday afternoon quarterbacks meeting when the phone rang with news of the crash. He went to the hotel early the next morning, along with teammates and cheerleaders, to deliver sack lunches for the players to eat on their trip to Wichita.

The experience so touched Adams that he hiked to the site of the crash the next summer. He spent about two hours on Mount Trelease, looking at the wreckage and walking around the burned scar on the side of the mountain.

"I felt like it was something I had to do," he said. "There were players on there who had worked as hard as I had worked and were competitors. You think about a number of things, and how important life is to you. It was a humbling experience."

Adams, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1975-78, lives in Overland Park and came to the service at the invitation of WSU. Chuck Mills, his coach at Utah State, planned to come but was unable.

Adams came to Wichita on Friday and met the 1970 Shockers for the first time. He told them he used the memory of those days as a motivation during his playing career. When times got tough, he would remember the events of Oct. 2, 1970 and think about the lives lost. A nagging injury or a bad game didn't seem so important after that.

"That was the first time I've had a chance to tell my story," Adams said. "I don't think there's any question in my mind that it was a driving force in the success I had in college and in the NFL."

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