(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best football players in Montana history on July 2 with the launch of the #MTTop40. The series started with defensive backs and will run eight weeks, featuring one position each week, concluding with quarterbacks the week of Aug. 20-24 to coincide with Montana’s high school football season opener. We’ve wrapped up the defense, also profiling the defensive linemen and linebackers, and started the offense with the offensive linemen. We featured tight ends last week and focus this week on wide receivers.)
No. 1 wide receiver – Sam McCullum, Kalispell Flathead
A talented, hard-working receiver, Sam McCullum excelled both as a pass catcher and a blocker at Kalispell Flathead and Montana State before enjoying a 10-year NFL career.
Sam McCullum stat sheet
McCullum, who was born in Mississippi, moved to Montana with his family in 1967 when he was a sophomore. He ultimately developed into a standout three-sport athlete at Kalispell Flathead, first playing football his junior year in 1968. McCullum earned all-state honors as a senior to garner attention from colleges around the northwest.
The 6-foot-2 receiver decided to continue his football career at Montana State, where he became one of the best players in program history. McCullum set the Bobcats’ single-season touchdown receptions record with 12 scores on his way to first-team all-conference honors in 1972. His 16 career receiving touchdowns still rank fifth in program history. McCullum was inducted into MSU’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Montana Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
McCullum was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the ninth round of the 1974 NFL Draft, which started a 10-year professional career. He spent his first two seasons with the Vikings, playing alongside Hall of Famers Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller and Alan Page. The Vikings played in the Super Bowl in McCullum’s rookie season, but he caught just nine passes in 21 games with Minnesota. McCullum then joined the Seattle Seahawks for their inaugural season in the NFL in 1976, scoring the franchise’s first touchdown in a 30-24 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. McCullum started 13 games that season, catching 32 passes for 506 yards and four touchdowns. He ultimately spent six seasons with the Seahawks, his best year coming in 1980 when he had 62 catches for 874 yards and six touchdowns. McCullum, who played the final two seasons of his NFL career back with the Vikings, totaled 281 catches for 4,131 yards and 27 touchdowns during his 10-year NFL career.
… on McCullum:
Former Montana State coach Sonny Holland: “Sam was an extremely talented athlete, no question about that. He was gifted. Sam had a tremendous attitude about working every day on the practice field. He knew he had some strengths, yet he worked like he was the last one on the list. He was an extremely hard, faithful, gifted, driven athlete. That’s what it takes.
“Nobody could outwork Sam McCullum. He came to work every day with his hat on and his lunch bucket. It was going to take everything you could take with you to stay on the field with him, because he was going to challenge you in every way.
“I remember the University of Montana had a strong safety that really came to play like Sam did. The two of them collided on the field, physically collided on a pass pattern that we made our living with. Sam was the one that made it work all the time because he always caught the ball, but he had collisions with that strong safety from Montana like you couldn’t believe. They still echo in my ears, I can still hear the sound of their pads cracking each other, yet Sam was up and at it every time. He challenged the best, played with the best and was the best.”
Former Montana State receiver Dan Davies: “Sam McCullum was from Kalispell and unfortunately was here during a time when the Bobcats didn’t throw very much, but a talented, talented guy. The point I want to make about Sam McCullum is that we used to watch film of previous years, and he was here before I was here, and coaches would put on film and stuff, and I was a wide receiver. And we didn’t throw a lot then either, and it didn’t get thrown to me anyway much, and I didn’t play that much. But anyway, I know the coaches would bring out clips of Sam McCullum blocking, because we spent a lot of time practicing blocking. When you’re in a running game and running the (I-formation), receivers do a lot of blocking, and you have to practice that a lot, so we used to watch clips of Sam McCullum blocking downfield and just running guys out of bounds after locking them up. You have to be a good athlete to be able to do that. But after that he had a great career with the Vikings and a great career with the Seahawks. A great person, also a great ambassador for Montana State, but had a really nice NFL career after he left here.
“If you got a really big, good offensive line and really good running backs, then you really don’t have to throw it. But yeah, for him to be able to get that many touchdowns, that just shows what kind of skill he has. If you can run some play-action stuff, we’re going to run, going to run, then all of a sudden, we’re going to dump it deep, that’s where he excelled. … He could get deep and stretch those guys, no question about it. And that’s what made him so valuable, to be able to do that.”
Kalispell Glacier head coach Grady Bennett: “I never got to watch him, obviously, but it was, it was the legend and we always knew about him. As a kid growing up, I was so in to it. Things are different now. We didn’t have the social media, we didn’t have the TV, I grew up without a TV, but just knowing the legends, the Zanons and all the great names from Flathead, that was my dream and my goal was to be those guys. We would go out in the backyard and I was Sam McCullum the receiver, or I was Scott Zanon the quarterback. Yeah, growing up with those names was pretty neat as a kid.”