Black Colleges and the Hall of Fame (Part Two)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: January 17, 2008
Pro Football Hall of Fame
PHILADELPHIA — According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s web site, the procedure in naming finalists wasn’t fully defined until 1970. One sportswriter representing every NFL city would enter the smoke-filled room and lobby for their guy, thus making the procedure a very political process.
Politics notwithstanding, one question that spoke to criteria was, “Did they (player) dominate at their position?” Our first time starting receivers can answer that one.

Mississippi Valley State ‘s Jerry Rice owns nearly every receiving and scoring record spanning 21 years of dominance. Bob Hayes, still in limbo for elevation to the Hall, is our other first team starter.

Why? You don’t need my response; let’s hear it from Hall of Fame defensive back and Dallas Cowboys’ teammate Mel Renfro. “Bob Hayes was singularly responsible for the creation of zone defenses,” recalls Renfro.

“It was impossible to backpedal on Hayes. You’d be two steps backward, and he’d be five yards downfield. We saw in practice the need to provide deep help or Bob would’ve scored every time he ran downfield.”

After scoring 13 touchdowns — most on long bombs — in his rookie season, the rest of the league saw it too. Hmmm…creating league lexicon and forcing changes in defensive philosophy that have been utilized since the 1960s.

Sounds like dominance to me.

To the credit of these men, it was merely one more issue to dismiss. Ken Riley, who many Florida A&M fans would say was the original ‘Snake’ after a stint as FAMU’s star quarterback in college, moved over to cornerback when he joined the fledgling Cincinnati Bengals in 1969. He would stay there for another 14 years.

And these gentlemen aren’t even in the Hall yet.

South Carolina State defensive lineman David ‘Deacon’ Jones is in the Hall–and was sacking quarterbacks long before he created the term. If you listen to Jones, he still contends no one has more sacks than he.

“One year, I had 26 sacks in one season. How do I know? The CBS affiliate in Los Angeles ran back footage of all the Los Angeles Rams’ games.

“I went in the studio, and they rolled back videotape of each game. One season’s worth counted out to 26, including playoffs, and the following season counted out to 24 sacks. Now that’s gettin’ after it, man.”

But regardless of whether our HBCU players are in the Hall or not, they brought something else to professional football that assured their success at the highest level.

The fulfilling of the academic obligations and subsequent graduations that allowed these men to leave their schools with something of value beyond football.

Grambling’s Willie Davis’ off-field accomplishments far exceeded his Hall of Fame accomplishments, becoming so successful, he attempted to buy into the league as part of a group seeking to expand in Memphis 15 years ago.
If there could be an “owner” of this HBCU all-star franchise, it would likely be Davis .

With dozens of football players co-opted by Division I schools after their usefulness is gone, HBCUs guaranteed against academic casualties; because no matter how talented you are, you won’t play if you don’t hit the books.
One day, the light may come for many of these young men and they’ll realize they can just as easily get exposure through schools which cater to balancing their lives instead of steering them to highlights that fade at the speed of a television scroll.

The other thing our HBCU heroes brought was a penchant for skill, passion and ferocity unrivaled anywhere in sport. The American Football League (AFL) was an integral part of the awareness of HBCU talent.

The AFL was a showcase for players like Lanier, Buchanan, Shell, Grambling’s Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd , Texas Southern’s Winston Hill, who protected “Broadway Joe” Namath’s blind side; Bishop College ‘s Emmitt Thomas, part of a great Kansas City Chiefs’ secondary;
George Atkinson of the Oakland Raiders and Morris Brown University, who paired with Jack “the Assassin” Tatum to become arguably the hardest-hitting safety tandem of all time; and the sledgehammer power of Jackson State and Houston Oiler linebacker Robert Brazile.

The reputations carried by their ability had many in the ‘other league’ more than a tad concerned. After the defeat of the Minnesota Vikings by a Kansas City Chief team laden with HBCU talent in Super Bowl IV, the NFL was nudged into merging the two entities.

Rest assured, had there been an AFL Hall of Fame, all of the aforementioned players would be in it. The prospects for future talent infusion are bright as well. At the beginning of the 2007 season, there were 45 diffreent HBCU players adorning NFL rosters.

Of the active players, Alcorn State’s Steve McNair (Ravens), Bethune-Cookman’s Rashean Mathis (Jaguars), and Texas Southern’s Michael Strahan (Giants) are still vital components of their respective teams, and will warrant strong consideration when their playing days are over.