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A great Bluffton football story for Super Bowl Sunday

It's all about Bluffton Beaver number 44 -

Elbert Dubenion - 9 seasons with the Buffalo Bills



Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday.

Here’s a Bluffton hometown classic football story.

It’s Spike Berry’s version of something that only happens in movies – except this one is true. If you don’t believe us, ask Spike.

The story involves Elbert “Dobe” Dubenion, Bluffton College’s only football player to make it in the pros.

The story takes place in a football game between Bluffton and Hiram College, played at Hiram. Just sit back and listen to Spike recall this event:

Dobe was hurt. He didn’t even bring his uniform. We were behind 7 to 6 at halftime. Dobe went up to Kenny (Mast, Bluffton’s coach) and he said, “I believe I can go along for one play. But not anymore. I’ll run one.”

Glenn Snyder enters the picture

It was just like in the movies. Glenn Snyder, who later ended up being the Bluffton College men’s basketball coach, was the center. He also was hurt. He and Dobe went behind some bushes. He put Dobe’s street clothes on. Dobe put Duke’s (Snyder’s) uniform on. Number 67, I still remember that.

They kicked off to us and we took it out to about the 35. So we’re 65 yards away. I was playing quarterback then. I handed off to Dobe and he went 65 yards for a touchdown. And we went ahead and eventually won 13 to 7 and he came out and he said to Kenny, “Don’t ask me to go back in again because I told you I’d run one play.”

End of story, but not the end of the Elbert Dubenion Bluffton legend.

CLICK HERE to see Dubenion as a coach of the 1958 Bluffton Pirates midget football team.

More Dubenion stories Someday when they excavate Harmon Field they’ll uncover cleat marks from the late 1950s that will fill the field from end zone to end zone.

Dubenion left those for us. We watched him dance up and down that field, chased but seldom tackled by opponents, during four memorable season as a Bluffton College Beaver. Those season are 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958.

No, he never played in the Super Bowl, but he played in an AFL title game before the Super Bowl was created. He remains the only Beaver to ever play in the big leagues. And for a generation of Bluffton football fans, now in their senior years, nothing was quite like watching number 44 on a fall Saturday afternoon.

Following graduation, from 1960 to 1968 he played as a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. He wasn’t just another member of that team. He played in the Pro Bowl in 1964. In 1984 he was named by a special committee to the Bills Silver Anniversary team as one of two wide receivers.

Check out the other members of that anniversary team. The other wide receiver was Bob Chandler, who played for Southern California with the Bills from 1971 to 1979.

Other anniversary team members reads like a football hall of fame list: O.J. Simpson, Cookie Gilchrist, Jack Kemp, Paul Maguire, Ernie Warlick, Al Bemiller, Reggie McKenzie, Billy Shaw, Joe Devlin and Stew Barber.

While a member of the Bills, Dubenion caught 296 passes for 5,300 yards and 35 TDs.


Let’s focus on his Bluffton Beaver playing teams. There are so many stories.

The first question you might have is “How did a player like Elbert Dubenion get recruited to play football at Bluffton College? Again, let’s ask Spike Berry. It involved a Leland Garmatter-Dubenion connection and provides an intro to Kenny Mast's coaching abilities at Bluffton College.

Here it is in Spike's words: Bluffton College football in the 1950s - There was no conditioning program. No weights. None of that stuff. A couple weeks before the season started you’d say, “Boy I ought to running and I ought to start getting in shape.”

The program that we ran was a clone copy of what Heidelberg ran, and then we played them my freshman and sophomore year. It was kind of ironic. They had four players who played in the NFL. Jim Boeke played for Los Angeles Rams and Dallas, Conrad Hight played for St. Louis, Curby Smith played for (I don’t remember), and Bill Groman played for the Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills. He was Morris Groman’s cousin. And, of course, Dobe, played against those guys. Heidelberg was good. One year that game was our only loss.

Leland Garmatter played in a typical Kenny Mast recruitment. He was a very good quarterback. I was in the eighth grade and he was a senior in high school. After Leland’s senior year in high school was probably Kenny’s first or second year at Bluffton. And it was the same thing. He was after Leland.

Leland said, “I want to join the service.” And Kenny said, “Come nine weeks. Just come nine weeks.”

So Leland went nine weeks and I think made first team all-conference quarterback and then joined the service.

Leland and Elbert Dubenion played together in Germany where they played other Army units. Leland was the quarterback and Dobe was the halfback.

After the service, people were after Dobe. He had a full ride to Minnesota. Of course, you’ve got to know Dobe too, “It was too cold in Minnesota,” and he ended up in Buffalo.

He and Leland kept corresponding, of course. Leland was driving back from Columbus and he took Dobe down to meet Kenny and that’s how he came to Bluffton.

Attached are several snippets of Dubenion stories from his college days, written by Charles Hilty, Bluffton News editor, who followed Dobe’s career:

• Elbert Dubenion carried the football over two and a half miles during his four-year career at Bluffton College.

• In 1955 he gained 1,236 yards in 107 carries. Hampered by injuries in 1956 he fell to 870 yards in 91 carries, but in 1957 he bounced back to gain 1,340 yards in 161 tries.

• In 1958 he picked up 1,288 yards in 143 carries this year, giving him a career total of 4,734 yards gained rushing in 502 carries. He averaged 9.434 yards per carry in his career.

• He added another honor last week when he was named first string halfback on the United Press International All-Ohio squad. Chet Foraker, Beaver end and co-captain, was given honorable mention.

• Dubenion was the only player from a small school to make the club. Four men from BGSU, three from Miami, one each from Muskingum, Ohio Wesleyan and Dayton joined him on the team. Named a third string halfback, far behind Dubenion, was Lima’ Joe Morrison, drafted by the New York giants.

Dec. 18, 1958 - Elbert Dubenion added the most coveted honor a football player can receive – All American honors. He was notified by national headquarters of the Williamson Football Foundation that he was chosen on one of the All-America teams for 1958.

Dubenion danced past all except two men in the country this fall, placing him third among the small college football players in rushing. He gained 1,200 years in 151 carries during the nine-game schedule, scoring 17 touchdowns.

Feb. 5, 1959 - The highest honor in his college career came to Elbert Dubenion last week when he received a bid to play in the All-Star game next summer between the College All-Stars and the professional champion Baltimore Colts.

The annual game played in Chicago’s Soldiers Field is one of the five biggest sports attractions in America. The squad is limited to 33 men. They will be coached by former Cleveland Browns star Otto Graham.

June 11, 1959 - After signing a professional contract with a Canadian football team Dubenion was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. After negotiating over the winter the Browns also signed him to a contract, which has been approved by pro football commissioner Bert Bell.

Member of the Silver Anniversary team

July 9, 1959 - Elbert Dubenion took his first steps in professional football this week when he attended the three-day early training school conducted by the Cleveland Browns at Hiram College.

July 16, 1959 - Fleet footed Elbert Dubenion was recognized as the fastest man at the early camp conducted for Cleveland Browns rookies last week at Hiram College.

He was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40 yard dash, which rates with the best times turned in at the Browns’ summer camp last summer. The former Beaver star was the subject of a feature article in the Cleveland Press sports section on July 9.

Aug. 20, 1959 - A knee injury suffered the previous week in a scrimmage kept Dubenion from appearing in the College All-Star game. He dressed for the classic but did not play. The Baltimore Colts won the game 29-0.

Dec. 31, 1959 - Headline: New pro league could mean new chance to Dobe

Founding of the new American pro football league has put a new ray of light into the complicated pro football picture of Elbert Dubenion.

Based upon two big ifs, Dobe may yet realize his ambition of playing on pro football.

The first if, of course, is the condition of the leg which was badly injured in workouts for the All-Star game in Chicago last summer.

Second it involves the complicated contract problems which grew last season after he signed with one Canadian club and was then drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Presently free of his Canadian obligation, he may get a shot at making the Browns if his leg is in shape.

Emergence of the new pro league will mean many more jobs for many more men. Some of them will probably come from the established NFL, others will be recently college graduates but the league probably will be alert for any sleepers like Dubenion to fill its ranks.

He might be going to the newly founded Buffalo Bills. Their new general manager is Dick Gallagher, for years the head scout for Cleveland. Gallagher has been a booster of Dubenion from the start and could be attracted to the idea of giving the former Bluffton College flash his chance at pro ball.

Below are several clippings from the Bluffton News during his playing career for the Beavers and following his graduation.

Dubenion's stats with Buffalo Bills


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