This is a huge weekend for the Clemson Tigers. The Tigers are currently ranked first in the nation in the current college football playoff rankings.
The Tigers are going to host the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, who are currently 16th in that same playoff ranking.
The Tigers and Seminoles have played in some classic games in the past. One of them occurred in 1989, when linebacker Wayne Simmons intercepted a pass and ran it back 73 yards for a touchdown, as the Tigers beat the Noles 34-23.
Simmons and the Tigers were even better in 1990, as they had the top-ranked defense in the entire country.
That defensive unit was outstanding, as there were 11 players on that defense who later played multiple years in the NFL.
That unit included NFL alumni such as cornerback Dexter Davis (No. 9), defensive lineman Brentson Buckner (No. 89), cornerback Jerome Henderson (No. 36), linebacker John Johnson (No. 12), linebacker Levon Kirkland (No. 44), linebacker Ed McDaniel (No. 93), defensive lineman Chester McGlockton (No. 91), safety Robert O’Neal (No. 15), linebacker Ashley Sheppard (No. 96), safety James Trapp (No. 27) and Simmons (No. 49).
By the way, that is Simmons holding the rope of the live tiger in front of the players from that defensive unit in the photo above.
In the middle of that photo, standing right in front of the massive McGlockton is safety Ty Mouzon, who wore No. 47.
Mouzon was part of the same recruiting class with Simmons and he became close friends with the Hilton Head, South Carolina native .
Mouzon was a high-school All-American out of Dunedin High School in Florida, where he played safety and running back.
I became good friends with Mouzon while we both worked at Xerox and we have remained friends ever since.
I had a chance to talk with Mouzon on Thursday and he gave me some insight about Simmons, who the Green Bay Packers drafted in the first round of the 1993 NFL draft with the 15th overall pick.
Mouzon talked about the day Simmons was drafted. Simmons had been told that he was going to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. A representative of the Cowboys was present at the apartment of Simmons on draft day, which also included a small gathering of close friends.
“Wayne got the call from Green Bay saying that they were drafting him,” Mouzon said. “Wayne yells out, ‘I’m going to Green Bay! I’m going to Green Bay! I’m going to Green Bay! Hey, isn’t it cold as sh#t there?’
“Once he realized that he was truly a Green Bay Packer, Simmons had a word for the representative of the Cowboys,” Mouzon said. “So Wayne says, ‘Mr. Dallas man, you have to leave. I play for the Packers!’
And play he did. Simmons arrived in Green Bay the same year that Reggie White was signed as an unrestricted free agent.
The defense of the Packers was ranked 23rd in the NFL in 1992. But after the arrival of White and Simmons, the defense moved all the way up to second in the league in 1993.
By 1996, the Packers had the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
The 6’2”, 245-pound Simmons played with the Packers for four and a half years. No. 59 played in 64 games for the Pack and started 47 games at left outside linebacker.
White may have been the leader of those great defenses of the Packers back then, but Simmons was truly the “enforcer” on the unit.
No play epitomized that designation more than this play:
Simmons best year probably came in 1995, when he had 68 solo tackles and 23 assisted tackles. Simmons also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and had four sacks.
Simmons also set the tone in a divisional playoff game that postseason against the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers.
On the very first play of the game for the 49ers, Simmons drilled fullback Adam Walker on a screen pass and forced a fumble. Cornerback Craig Newsome picked up the fumble and scampered 31 yards for a touchdown.
If that wasn’t enough, Simmons was throwing around tight end Brent Jones like a rag doll, as Jones tried to block him or go out in pass patterns. Simmons also had a sack in the game.
When it was all said and done, the Packers upset the Niners 27-17.
In 1996, Simmons had another very solid year. He had 66 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception for the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
The specialty of Simmons in Green Bay was to play over the tight end and to impede what ever the tight end wanted to do, whether it was run-blocking or receiving. No. 59 performed that assignment quite well.
The Packers finished 13-3 in ’96 and went on to win Super Bowl XXXI.
In 1997, the Packers brought in linebacker Seth Joyner, who was a former teammate of White’s with the Philadelphia Eagles. Simmons started the first six games of the season at left outside linebacker before he was traded in early October to the Kansas City Chiefs for a fifth-round draft pick in 1998.
Joyner became the starter at left outside linebacker after the trade. To me, Joyner was an okay linebacker then, but he wasn’t the same player he was in Philadelphia when he was named to three Pro Bowl teams. I thought the drop off from Simmons to Joyner was fairly significant.
Let’s put it this way, I couldn’t see running back Terrell Davis running wild like he did in Super Bowl XXXII (157 yards and three touchdowns) on a Packer defense had it included Simmons.
Mouzon talked to me about the relationship between Simmons and White.
“Wayne described it as big brother, little brother,” Mouzon said. “Wayne was surprised how much Reggie would let him get away with things. And just like with older brothers, Reggie drew the line and Wayne would cross it once in awhile.
“But he crossed it in a respectful way. Wayne sort of thought his job was to loosen Reggie up a bit. He was always respectful of Reggie, although his language and subject matter would get colorful at times.
“In Wayne’s mind, he thought he was doing Reggie a favor in getting him loose and making Reggie laugh.
“At Wayne’s funeral, Reggie probably took it the hardest. He broke down and was really at a loss for words, although he did speak at the wake.”
Mouzon got married in March of 2002 in Clearwater. I went to his wedding and reception. I was really hoping that I would get a chance to meet and talk to Simmons, as by then Ty knew I was a big fan of the Packers and he had told me many stories about Wayne.
But Simmons didn’t make the wedding. Still, it was a great time for all and I did get a chance to speak to a number of the guys who played with Ty at Clemson, including Ed McDaniel, who I talked with for quite awhile.
It was just a few months later in August when Simmons died in a car crash in suburban Kansas City.
“At the time, Wayne was starting to withdraw, as his NFL career was over,” Mouzon said. “He had purchased a bar and was drinking a lot. He was really depressed.
“A lot of us believe that had Wayne come down to my wedding, we may have been able to help him.”
Tragically, that didn’t happen and Simmons died at the age of 32 about six months later.
Two and half years later, White also shockingly died at the age of 43, as he suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia on the day after Christmas in 2004.
Bottom line, Simmons will never be forgotten. Certainly not with his family. Nor with his close friends like Mouzon.
The memory of Simmons should resonate in Green Bay as well. Yes, Reggie White was the “face” of the defense of the Packers in the early-to-mid 90s.
But it was Simmons who was the “attitude” of those great defenses back then.
An attitude that helped to bring a Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.