EAST LANSING, Mich. – Former Michigan State All-American Allen Brenner, one of college football’s most talented two-way players in the late 1960s, died Monday, Feb. 13 in Clinton, N.C., following an extended illness. He was 64.
Born Nov. 13, 1947, in Benton Harbor, Mich., Brenner earned three letters at Michigan State from 1966-68, while playing wide receiver and safety for legendary head coach Duffy Daugherty. He came to MSU after earning second-team all-state honors as a senior halfback at Niles (Mich.) High School while leading the team in rushing, receiving and scoring. Brenner also emerged as one of the Big 6 Conference scoring leaders in basketball as a prep senior, averaging 31.2 points per game.
The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Brenner burst onto the scene in 1966, becoming one of only two sophomores to start on MSU’s Big Ten and National Championship team that finished 9-0-1. He ranked as the Spartans’ second-leading receiver behind All-American Gene Washington, with 22 receptions for 357 yards (16.2 avg.) and one touchdown. Brenner also returned 22 punts for 256 yards (11.3 avg.) and one score. He finished 11th in the Big Ten in receptions (conference games only), with 19 for 328 yards (17.3 avg.), and third in punt returns, averaging 15.3 yards (15 for 230). In his first Big Ten game, Brenner produced a school- and conference-record 95-yard punt return for a TD in MSU’s 26-10 victory at Illinois.
Prior to the 1966 season, his position coach Cal Stoll said, “Let them double-team (Gene) Washington. We’ll surprise them with (Allen) Brenner. He’s got the sixth sense. He’ll start out doing one thing but adjust for a better pattern if he’s cornered. You don’t have to tell Brenner anything more than once. He’s one of the most coachable young men I’ve ever seen.”
As a junior in 1967, he was named honorable mention All-Big Ten after leading the team in receptions (26), receiving yards (462) and TD receptions (4).
As a senior in 1968, Brenner earned First-Team All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA). In addition, he was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection as a defensive back by The Associated Press and United Press International and a second-team all-conference pick on offense as an end by UPI. Brenner ranked fifth on the Spartans in tackles with 63 (31 solos, 32 assists), including a team-leading eight TD-saving stops. He also intercepted two passes. Brenner finished second on the team in receptions with 25 for 413 yards (16.5 avg.) and one TD. He had two 100-yard receiving games in 1968: six catches for a career-best 153 yards against Baylor and six receptions for 101 yards at Northwestern. The 1968 team MVP played 449 out of a possible 600 minutes.
Brenner recorded 12 tackles in MSU’s 21-17 victory over fifth-ranked Notre Dame in 1968, including three TD-saving stops. His only reception against the Irish went for 13 yards to the ND 1 and set up Tommy Love’s go-ahead TD run in the third quarter. He ended Notre Dame’s next possession, intercepting a pass intended for Jim Seymour in the end zone. His biggest stop against the Irish came in the game’s final minute on a fourth-and-goal play from the Spartan 2, as Brenner dropped Terry Hanratty for a 3-yard loss and forced a fumble to preserve the win.
Following his performance against Notre Dame, Daugherty presented Brenner the game ball and told the media, “He was a terrific player for us today. I think he’s the finest two-way player in the nation today. He’s a tremendous leader and a real inspiration to our team.”
Brenner closed out his career listed second in MSU’s record book in both receptions (73) and receiving yards (1,232), trailing only Washington. He was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection (1966-68) and two-time Academic All-American (1966 – second team; 1968 – first team). A political science major, Brenner graduated with a 3.7 grade-point average.
Following his senior season, he played in three postseason all-star games: East-West Shrine Game, Hula Bowl and Senior Bowl.
Brenner was selected by the New York Giants in the seventh round (No. 170 overall) in the 1969 National Football League Draft. He spent two years with the Giants (1969-70) and seven seasons in the Canadian Football League (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 1971-74; Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 1975; Ottawa Rough Riders, 1975-77). Brenner won two Grey Cup Championships (Hamilton, 1972; and Ottawa, 1976) and earned CFL All-Star honors in 1972. He led the CFL in interceptions in back-to-back seasons, with nine in 1971 and a league-record 15 picks in 1972. Brenner had a career-best and franchise-record four interceptions against Toronto’s Joe Theismann in 1972. His 37 career interceptions (485 return yards) rank second in Tiger-Cats’ history.
In 1996, he was named to the Lansing State Journal’s MSU Centennial Super Squad.
Brenner is survived by his wife Suzi; sons, Ron and Allen; daughter Kelly; mother Patricia