Remembering CSU’s forgotten football superstar Mike Bell

Ethan Lee

During the mid to late 1970s, Colorado State University quietly boasted one of the nation’s premier defensive lines, headlined by defensive end Mike Bell. During Mike’s four-year tenure at CSU, the Rams had a modest overall record of 26-18-1. This unfortunate lack of head-turning team success has led many Ram fans to forget one of the University’s most decorated athletes.

Mike arrived at CSU in 1975 along with his twin brother, Mark. Hailing from Wichita, Kansas, the Bell brothers brought their hard-nosed Midwestern style of play to Fort Collins. The Rams were coming off a 4-6-1 season and were in desperate need of instant impact players. The Bell brothers were more than happy to oblige.

Ad

In their freshman season, the Rams captured a winning record of 6-5. With help from Mike, who set the edge for the defense, CSU saw the opponent’s average points per game drop from 24.2 to 21.3. The following season, the defensive unit led by Mike solidified themselves as one of the conference’s best, as opponents only managed to score a meager 16.9 points per game. 

As a sophomore, Mike racked up an impressive 86 tackles and 10 sacks. Mike’s performance throughout the 1976 season put him in the national spotlight and earned him a spot on the Football News Sophomore All-American team. While honored to receive national recognition, Mike was nowhere near finished.

During his junior campaign, Mike racked up 103 tackles and 15 sacks to go along with four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. These impressive individual numbers helped propel the Rams to the third best record in program history at the time: 9-2-1. 

During that 1977 season, Mike was recognized as not only a member of the All-WAC team but as a second-team All-American as well. He also received the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame College Athlete of the Year in 1977

Unfortunately, Mike and the Rams’ much-enjoyed success didn’t last long. In his senior season, the Rams finished with a disappointing 5-6 record. However, it wasn’t all bad news for Mike, as the nation once again recognized his outstanding individual performance, naming him a consensus All-American in 1978.

CSU also recognized Mike’s dominance by awarding him the Nye Award following his senior season. The Nye Award is given to the University’s most outstanding male athlete. Mike was also runner-up for the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s best interior linemen.

Following his career at CSU, Mike was selected with the second overall pick in the 1979 NFL draft. No other Ram has been selected higher in the modern draft era. Mike’s twin brother and former CSU teammate, Mark, was selected in the fourth round of the same draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

While both Mike and Mark jumped out to promising starts as pros, their careers reached a screeching halt in the summer of 1986. On June 13, 1986, both Mark and Mike were convicted of using a telephone to organize the distribution of cocaine, as well as attempted possession of cocaine. Several other NFL players were convicted of similar charges in a league-wide drug bust.

Both brothers were sentenced to one year in prison and charged a $5,000 fine. Each spent the months of August to December in jail and were then released, facing two years of probation.

Throughout the entire process, Mike maintained that he was innocent of all charges. Upon meeting all requirements set by both the league and the federal government, Mike was reinstated and went on to play five more seasons with the Chiefs. Mark, who was a free agent at the time of the conviction, never returned to play in the NFL. 

Ad

As a pro, Mike tallied career totals of 490 tackles, 52 quarterback sacks and 10 fumble recoveries. In his 12-year career as a pro, Mike led the Chiefs in sacks twice, and his career sack total ranked second on the franchise’s all-time list at the time of his retirement in 1991. Mike was also honored as a Pro Bowl alternate for the 1983 and 1984 seasons. 

Ten years after his professional retirement, Mike was inducted into the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame. Additional career honors include being a member of the CSU All-Century football team and being a member of the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame. 

The storied football legacy of the Bell family was continued by Mike’s son, Beau, who played linebacker for the University of Kansas, and Mark’s son, Blake, who started as the University of Oklahoma’s quarterback and appeared in Super Bowl 54 as a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ethan Lee can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @EthanLee_99.