Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of excerpts from The Advocate’s upcoming book, “LSU BY THE NUMBERS,” celebrating the best player (and other greats) to wear each number in Tigers football history. This week: No. 78, Ronnie Estay.
Maxie Estay was the pride of his family.
His father showed people newspaper clippings of his son’s accomplishments, and when he signed with LSU as a defensive lineman in 1964, that pride only grew.
But as Maxie was preparing for his first varsity season in 1965, his young life was cut short by an automobile accident. At the wake, LSU coach Charles McClendon met Maxie's brother, Ronnie Estay.
He promised to follow in Maxie’s footsteps and do what Maxie could not.
“I told coach McClendon that I’d be at LSU someday playing for him,” Estay said.
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Three years later, Estay signed with LSU, but there was more heartache in store. Estay’s father died of cancer before he could see his younger son take his first snap for the Tigers.
Maybe it was for them. Maybe it was the internal motivation that Ronnie Estay’s wife, Debbie, his high school sweetheart, said he always had. But from that vow to McClendon that he would play for him one day, Estay embarked on a brilliant career that took him from the bayous of his youth and Tiger Stadium to four sports halls of fame from LSU to Louisiana to Canada.
At every stop along his football path, Estay was a champion. As a player and coach he was part of 14 championship teams in all, from South Lafourche High School to LSU (where he helped the Tigers win the 1970 SEC championship) to the Canadian Football League where he played on six CFL Grey Cup champions with the Edmonton Eskimos.
“I’ve really been pretty lucky to be associated with excellent teams at just the right times,” Estay said modestly.
Maybe it was his teams that were lucky to have him. That certainly was the case for LSU, where Estay was a two-time All-SEC selection in 1970 and 1971 while also taking home All-American honors as a senior.
Born in 1948, Estay was a key player on some of LSU’s stingiest defenses ever. He helped the Tigers lead the nation in fewest yards allowed rushing in 1969 (38.9 yards per game) and 1970 (52.2). But it was his sportsmanship on a passing play in LSU’s 1970 regular-season finale against Ole Miss that Estay is perhaps remembered for most.
The Tigers hadn’t beaten the archrival Rebels since 1964 (the teams tied 13-13 in 1967), including losses the previous two years to Ole Miss teams quarterbacked by Archie Manning. Manning had broken his left (non-throwing) arm a month earlier but continued to play with a cast.
Late in the first quarter, with Ole Miss backed up to its 7, Manning dropped back to pass in the end zone and was swarmed by Estay. Instead of trying to slam into him, Estay lowered Manning to the ground for a safety and a 23-10 LSU halftime lead in what turned into a 61-17 rout.
“Ronnie took it easy on him,” former Tiger and then-LSU assistant coach Don “Scooter” Purvis said. “Manning’s mother called Coach Mac to say how she appreciated that Estay had been in position to unload on him, but he didn’t. She had a great deal of respect for what Ronnie had done and for the team as a whole.”
Picked in the eighth round of the 1972 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, Estay headed north of the border instead to play for the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions. It was the start of a CFL Hall of Fame career for Estay, who was traded to the Edmonton Eskimos in 1973 and stayed there until retiring in 1982. Estay was a two-time All-Canadian player and four-time all-Western Conference selection who played in nine Grey Cup games (the CFL’s Super Bowl) in all.
Estay, who later coached in the CFL and at high schools back in Louisiana, is also a member of the LSU, Alberta and Louisiana sports halls of fame.
“People say God gives you talent,” Estay said. “The way you use that talent is the way you give back to Him.”
Maxie Estay, and their father, would have been proud.
To pre-order “LSU BY THE NUMBERS” and receive a $10 discount off the $39.95 cover price through Nov. 30, please visit www.LSU.PictorialBook.com. The book will be published in November and ships Dec. 4.