A Skip off the Ol’ Block
A father-son duo enters the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
When former defensive back Gary “Skip” Grossnickle thinks about his football days at Mizzou from 1964–66, he appreciates great opponents such as Gayle Sayers at Kansas or Gary Beban at UCLA in general terms. When it comes to Florida’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier, the memory is specific.
“I can see it in my mind,” says Skip of his interception that helped the Tigers to a 20–18 victory over the Gators in the 1966 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. “Spurrier overthrew his receiver on a deep pass down the sideline. You only get a few chances, and I never wanted to drop one.”
He learned the value of seizing opportunity from his father, Gerald Elijah “Shag” Grossnickle. A softball-pitching whiz and a retired Adair County, Mo., sheriff, Shag introduced wild turkeys to northern Missouri in the 1960s and forever changed hunting in the Show-Me State.
The Grossnickles were inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Dec. 5, 2012, in the elder’s hometown of Kirksville, Mo. It’s the first time a father-son tandem have been simultaneously enshrined.
Shag moved from Carlisle, Iowa, to Kirksville on an invitation from a local doctor who owned a softball team in 1934. He provided Shag room and board at a hospital near Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University), his alma mater.
It was from the softball diamond that Shag spotted his future bride and Skip’s mother, Sarah, sitting in the stands after a game.
“She introduced me to her dad and mom, and we made arrangements to see each other the next day,” says Shag, age 97, of his wife who died in 2011. “That was the beginning of a four-year courtship.”
Skip, BS Ed ’71, knew at an early age he had inherited Dad’s athletic genes. He toyed with the saxophone in elementary school before retiring the woodwind in the sixth grade.
“He brought the horn home and put it in the closet,” Shag says. “I said, ‘Why did you put the horn away?’ He said, ‘Dad, I’m not going to be in the band; I’m going to be on the field.”
After leaving Mizzou, Skip went to training camp with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints but never played in a game. In 1971, he joined The Insurance Group in Columbia, where he is now a partner.
The Sugar Bowl victory might have been the highlight of his playing career, but the postgame festivities were the highlight of his life. Walking across the field, he asked the father of his girlfriend Daisy Willis for her hand in marriage. Later that night at the iconic Pat O’Brien’s bar on Bourbon Street, amid congenial Tigers and Gators (including Spurrier), Skip popped the question.
“This was a good day,” says Skip, again taken back to a vivid recollection.