The conclusion has arrived in our series on the best players ever to wear the uniforms of the 14 Big Ten programs.
Remember, this is not to serve as a judgment on NFL careers. It’s based entirely on each player’s college career and how it was viewed in his respective time period.
Last up are the safeties.
1. Jack Tatum, Ohio State, 1968-70: One of the hardest hitters in the history of football, according to his College Football Hall of Fame bio, Tatum earned All-America honors in 1969 and 1970 and finished both years in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting. Three times an All-Big Ten selection, he was named the national defensive player of the year as a senior and earned a spot on Sports Illustrated’s all-century team. Ohio State originally recruited him as a running back before, as legend states, assistant coach Lou Holtz convinced Woody Hayes for Tatum to play in the defensive backfield.
2. George Webster, Michigan State, 1964-66: In today’s game, Webster would likely serve as a hybrid linebacker-safety. He did something similar 50 years ago, in fact, from his rover spot on the Spartans’ great teams in his junior and senior seasons. Michigan State recognized Webster as the No. 2 linebacker to play at the school. Others consider him the among the best in the secondary for his explosive play. Michigan State retired his jersey after Webster earned All-America recognition in 1965 and 1966. He was picked as one of on SI’s all-century team and entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
3. Al Brosky, Illinois, 1950-52: A master of the interception, Brosky picked off 29 passes in three years, an NCAA record that lasted for 23 years. He played just one year of high school football in order to serve in the Army and packed a major punch for his size at 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds. Inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998, Brosky helped lead the Illini to a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford after the 1951 season. That team claimed the most recent national championship won by the school.
4. Brad Van Pelt, Michigan State, 1970-72: An All-American in each of his final two seasons and the first defensive back to win the Maxwell Award, Van Pelt intercepted 14 passes while also playing basketball and baseball at MSU. A Michigan native, he started three years for coach Duffy Daugherty and finished his career with 256 tackles, earning induction to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He died in 2009 at age 57 of a heart attack after a 14-year NFL career.
5. Tom Curtis, Michigan, 1967-69: Another College Football Hall of Fame member, Curtis played quarterback as a freshman in Ann Arbor, learning how to think like a college QB. It helped him notch 25 interceptions, second to Brosky in Big Ten history. Curtis’ 431 career interception return yards set an NCAA record. To cap his 1969 All-America season, Curtis picked off two passes in the Wolverines’ upset of No. 1 Ohio State as Bo Schembechler’s first team at Michigan earned an invitation to the Rose Bowl.
Honorable mention: Mike Doss, Ohio State; Willie Glassgow, Iowa, Tyrone Carter, Minnesota; Bob Sanders, Iowa; Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State; Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin; Mike Brown, Nebraska; Tripp Welbourne, Michigan; Lloyd Cardwell; Nebraska; Rich Lucas, Penn State; Mark Robinson, Penn State; Billy Hillenbrand, Indiana; Neal Smith, Penn State; George Saimes, Michigan State; Vic Janowicz, Ohio State; Mike Minter, Nebraska; Will Allen, Ohio State.