Sept. 18, 2012
Michigan State will induct six new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Sept. 20. In the first of a six-part series this week on msuspartans.com, online columnist Steve Grinczel profiles former football All-American Carl Banks.
The idea that a person is a product of his or her environment doesn't quite hold true for Carl Banks.
Thanks to interpersonal interactions throughout his life, four years of sub-.500 records at Michigan State didn't prevent Banks from becoming a winner in every sense of the word, which is why his induction into the Michigan State University Athletics Hall of Fame is tinged with a hint of solitude.
"I think it's great, but if I could have a ton of people who really deserved this honor up there with me, it would be even better," said one of the greatest linebackers in Spartan and Big Ten history. "I'm good at taking direction and following directions, and I've had so many really good teachers in my life that played a role in shaping who I've become.
"And by teachers, I'm talking about life teachers."
Banks was so programmed for success at an early age, the racial slurs spray-painted on his Flint Beecher High School team buses didn't embitter him, and being uncoordinated as a teenager didn't prevent him from being recruited by Michigan's Bo Schembechler, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Southern California in addition to MSU.
Beginning his Spartan football career with a 3-8 record under coach Muddy Waters in 1980 didn't discourage him from becoming one of the best linebackers in the league.
A misunderstanding of Banks being a prima donna by then new MSU coach George Perles in 1983 didn't stand in the way of him becoming the team's only captain, an All-American, a three-time All-Big Ten selection and one of the greatest defenders in school and conference history.
An unsatisfying MSU career consisting of an overall mark of 14-29-1 and no bowl appearances didn't deter Banks him from being picked third overall in the 1984 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
Starting out as the low man on the Giants' linebacking totem pole that included established superstars Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson didn't stop Banks from: Starting 151 of 173 career games during nine seasons in New York, one in Washington and two in Cleveland; earning two Super Bowl rings with the Giants; playing in the '87 Pro Bowl; being named to the NFL's 1980s All-Decade Team; and having his name added to the Giants' Ring of Honor at MetLife Stadium.
And, the sobering reality of having an illustrious football career come to an end didn't mean Banks couldn't move on to a new challenge as the president of G-III Apparel Group's sports division, which features the Carl Banks Collection. He also works as a broadcaster with WCBS-New York, the New York Giants radio network (WFAN), WNBC-New York, FOX5-New York and Sirius Satellite Radio.
"As with anything that gets recognition or gets an award, there are always a lot of good people who have been supportive and helpful," Banks said. "With me getting to this point, it's no exception.
"I have a great deal of gratitude to a lot of people, but in particular the entire community of Flint, Mich., a lot of great teachers and a wonderful high school coach, Moses Lacy, who instilled in me the value of work ethic and hard work, and then winning, and never compromising my values no matter the circumstances. They served me well during the lean years at Michigan State."
Had Banks not attended the Magic Johnson-Dr. Tucker Basketball camp as a youth, he probably wouldn't have attended MSU.
"I owe Magic Johnson a big thank-you and Charles Tucker has been a friend through so many things and has always been so encouraging," Banks said. "He really was my compass while I was at Michigan State and even post-Michigan State."
Former Spartan players and assistant coaches Sherman Lewis and Charlie Baggett were extremely influential during the recruiting process.
"They sat on my parents' couch and assured them they would be there for me during my career and also make sure I conducted myself in an appropriate manner so I didn't lose my home training," Banks said with a laugh. "That was big to my parents."
Although Banks' relationship with Perles got off to a rocky start, it continues to resonate.
"I don't know why, but I chose Michigan State and Muddy Waters and there were some lean years there," Banks said. "But I never let it shape who I was or how I performed. I never stopped caring about winning and I never stopped valuing a very strong work ethic.
"Then George Perles came to Michigan State and it became such a wonderful experience with him because I learned to understand how to focus my work ethic and I became a little more purposeful on how to do things.
"I wouldn't trade my experience for the world. Some of my best friends to this day are my teammates."
Despite the lack of team success during Banks' Spartan career, things may have turned out differently had he played somewhere else. They have been better, or maybe worse, but certainly not the same, which is why the mark he left on MSU is indelible.
"The hardest decision a recruit can make is whether to choose a school not as popular or as successful as one in state or out of state that's recruiting you," Banks said. "It takes believing that you can be part of a change and a part of a legacy."
Although he never won a Big Ten championship or played in a Rose Bowl, Banks is proud of the impact he had on the success that followed his departure from MSU. The Spartans did win a Rose Bowl with Flint native Andre Rison at wide receiver, and in 2000, the basketball team won a national championship with "the Flintstones," - Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell.
"I believe that the pipeline of athletes that have come from Flint has made a major contribution to the basketball and football programs," Banks said. "I'm proud to have blazed the trail for them as if to say, yes, Michigan State is good enough."
The communications and writing skills Banks developed at Michigan State as a communication major continue to serve him well as a businessman.
"I cared about going to class, I cared about learning and I cared about getting a degree," he said. "I never thought there wasn't a way. The only thing for me was to keep focused on being the best person and football player I could be so I could represent the school both as a student and an athlete, and making sure everyone around me played as well as they possibly could to have success."
Although the high-water mark for Michigan State football was the 28-23 upset of Notre Dame in 1983, it wasn't all bad.
"It laid a wonderful foundation for me," Banks said. "We had some good things. We had some fun."