Steve “Bucky” Denton is proud of his playing days with the Newton Nite Hawks, a semi-professional football team here in Newton during the mid to late 1970s.
“On a Saturday night in central Iowa, people could come to Patterson Park and see of the best football played. Holland-Patterson Park was rocking back then,” Denton told the Daily News in a telephone interview Tuesday evening. “We had guys playing on the team that played at Iowa State, Iowa and a lot of the small colleges in the area. The Newton community supported us so well and people came from all around to pack the stadium.”
Denton is the fifth former Newton Nite Hawk player inducted into the American Football Association Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a member of the 2013 class enshrined June 28 in Canton, Ohio.
“Man, I got the call on Mother’s Day evening and my parents were here,” said Denton, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. “It took me a few weeks to breathe. It was an humbling two weeks and I’m so honored because I was blessed to have the teammates I had, on and off the playing field.”
On hand for his induction, along with his family, were former teammates Stan Allspach and his wife, Sharon, and Jerry Petsch. Allspach, who played quarterback for the Nite Hawks, was inducted into the semi-pro football hall of fame in 1991.
“What was really special was my dad, who is 86, was there to enjoy the walk with me,” Denton said.
Denton played for the Newton Nite Hawks in 1976, 1977 and 1978. He said he was in Des Moines in 1976 and there were several “guys throwing a football around at the Valley High School field. I talked to them and they told me they were going to try out for the Newton Nite Hawks.”
Denton said he thought it was a great opportunity for him to tryout also, so he went to Newton. He remembers the tryouts were held in a patch of grass surrounded by corn fields north of Patterson Park.
“When I got there I found a childhood friend was playing for the football team. David Summy was a captain for the team. There was a little luck in my making the team because the young man who had played tight end broke his hand,” Denton said.
“The Nite Hawks were a championship team before I got there and had great players on both sides of the football. We had tremendous players who would drive in from all over the Midwest to play. We practiced on Tuesday and Thursday and played on Saturdays,” Denton said.
Allspach was the quarterback of the Nite Hawks. Denton said the team had a core of players from the Des Moines Vikings, which was a conduit team for the NFL Minnesota Vikings.
Denton proved his abilities that first season with Newton as the 1976 team MVP and all-league tight end. He led the Northern States Football League in all the receiver categories until Bill Larson, who was waived by the Washington Redskins, was signed to play tight end.
“Actually, that was a good thing for me. I played a lot of other positions for the team and I was on the field a lot. I was the backup quarterback for Stan. I played wide receiver, defensive back, defensive end and linebacker, plus was on the special teams,” Denton said.
He was on the team in 1977 when it made the tour of European cities. Denton was the Pro Football Weekly Minor League All-American tight end in 1977. He also earned all-league honors in 1978.
“When we got back from the 1977 tour of Europe, six of us were invited to a preseason NFL combine in Chicago. NFL Films went on the European tour with us, so some of the NFL teams were interested in us,” Denton said.
Denton was signed by the Denver Broncos and made it through the fifth preseason game. He said the team put him on waivers then kept him on the inactive call-back list. He came back to Newton for the 1977 fall season.
“Denver was ready to call me back following our last regular-season game, but I broke my arm,” he said.
Denton called Des Moines home even though the family moved around a lot because of his father’s career. He said his grandparents were farming families from the Grimes and Carlisle areas.
Denton went to Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., for his high school and junior college days. He played receiver in high school.
“I was just 5-6 and 138 pounds when I showed up my sophomore year, but I grew into the position. I received my officer’s commission after my two years of college but I was waiting for it. A friend of mine convinced me to be a walk-on at the University of Arkansas while I waited.”
Denton said he was fortunate at Arkansas to have Frank Broyles as his head coach and the NFL Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry as his wide receivers coach.
“Coach Berry taught me to be a receiver and a student. I learned much more than just football from him,” Denton said.
Newton Nite Hawk founder Jim Foster asked Denton to be the tour captain for his Quad Cities Blackhawks’ European tour of 1979. Denton played for the Blackhawks and was the team captain. He played the 1980 season for the Shreveport Steamer Football Club in Shreveport, La.
Denton said following the 1980 season, as a captain in the U.S. Army, he was called back to active duty. He spent 12 years in the army. He became a chaplain for the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Just last year, the Nite Hawks had a reunion. It was wonderful to see my teammates I hadn’t seen for 35 years. We were leaving the building we had the reunion in and a man came up to us with his son,” Denton said. “In 1977, the local McDonald’s had player cards made up for the Newton Nite Hawks with our photos and stats and where we were from on them. This man was one of the kids who had been collecting the cards and wanted us to finish signing them for his son.”
“What a feeling. I was blessed with great teammates but also to be around great people during those days. I’m looking forward to our next reunion in 2015.”