Our All HBC-Universe Team (Part Five)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: April 29, 2009

Black College Football PHILADELPHIA — As we enter this path toward the All – Universe summit, the good news is that some of the work has been done for us.

What has been an underlying theme in presenting these teams is how the American Football League destroyed the preconceived notions of the National Football League.

I would argue that from a talent standpoint, the AFL from the time of its’ existence until the time of its merger had superior talent to the NFL – so much so that I believe even if Kansas City had somehow lost to Minnesota in Super Bowl IV, a merger would’ve been expedited.

This further complicates making an argument for, say a Doug Wilkerson being a Hall of Famer because the writers and banner carriers for the old guard of the NFL didn’t look at them as being on par talent wise; but havin’ dat ass whupped a couple times in front of millions put a huge dent in that agenda.

So while this discourse seems to be more about the selfishness of the NFL with their unspoken racial quotas for numbers of Black starters in the 1950s, longevity as a starter in the AFL has never been placed on par with the NFL when used as a determining factor for induction; and the trend continues to this day, even right down to voting someone into the Hall of Fame.

Either way, Wilkerson deserves a bust in Canton.

If there is any significant variable to this particular team, it is in covering the largest time gap of great early era players to modern day ones. We also get to see the first recognitions of HOF talent without us needing to have to expound on it.

This is also the first team with more players who a case for the Halls of Fame (don’t forget Canada!) can be made. We speak up for 17 of the 27 players on this particular team…

THIRD TEAM: HEAD COACH, JAKE GAITHER, FLORIDA A&M

If there was ever a man who influenced the face of collegiate football, it was Alonzo Smith “Jake” Gaither. While Eddie Robinson’s longevity made him the face of Grambling State, Gaither ruled over all in the Southern Intercollegiate Athlete Conference before Florida A&M (then called Florida A&M College for Negroes) would become part of MEAC.

Like Robinson, Gaither sent his share of young men to fill out pro football rosters; but unlike any other coach before or after, Gaither would carve his own unique niche as a winning coach and innovator.

Gaither compiled a record of 204-36-4; an unreal win rate, over 84% – a number unsurpassed by any coach at any level. Among those victories are 22 SIAC championships and six Black College National Championships.

In addition to being a successful coach, Gaither was a master motivator, and coined a phrase which would become football lexicon in the 1950s and 1960s.

When asked about how he prepped his players for a big game, Gaither would say, “I like my boys to be mobile, agile, and hostile.” Rattler dominance was so prominent in the 1950s that it allowed Gaither to build an effective “in-house” recruiting network; by the 1960s, Gaither didn’t even bother to recruit players from outside the state of Florida.

Gaither was so respected by his peers that he instituted an annual coaching clinic at FAMU in the late 1950s, recruiting major college coaches such as, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, Frank Broyles, and Woody Hayes to staff the clinics.

It was through endeavors like this which would lead to the landmark game between Alabama and the University of Southern California, where Bryant indirectly opened the eyes of Crimson Tide fans to what Black talent could do were they wearing their uniforms.

The development of the Split-T formation was also credited to Gaither, and he used it to defeat the University of Tampa 34-28 in the first football game between a white college and an HBCU in his final year of coaching (1969).

Gaither was named SIAC Coach of the Decade in 1960, awarded as College Division Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association in 1962, and voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.

In 1978, when FAMU won the first Division I-AA national title, the annual award for the best Black College football player was appropriately renamed – the Jake Gaither Trophy. Gaither, who was also athletic director and basketball coach, has the Jake Gaither Gymnasium named in honor of his achievements as well.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK:

QB: STEVE MC NAIR, ALCORN STATE*

(Lloyd Vance: Everyone will always talk about McNair and Eddie George leading the Tennessee Titans within one yard of winning Super Bowl XXXIV against the Rams, but to me one word “warrior” sums up the signal caller. No matter the injury or opponent, you always knew number #9 was going to give you everything he had for sixty minutes.

McNair survived various injuries to play week in and out week over his career. When speaking about his resiliency, he replied, “Over 13 years, I had a lot of injuries because I played the game physical, because I gave 110 percent every game”.

After two seasons on the bench after the 1995 Draft, McNair would have his breakout season in 1998, leading the newly relocated Tennessee Titans, starting 16 games and setting then career highs in attempts (492), completions (289), yards (3,228), and passing touchdowns (15). He went on to lead his teams to the playoffs ten times, finishing with a respectable 5-5 record and winning the aforementioned 2003 NFL Co-MVP award sharing the honor with Peyton Manning.

But it is McNair’s toughness that will be everlasting; a classic drop back passer with fullback size who was also a punishing runner. To me the “warrior” does deserve to get a look by the selection committee as he has the numbers including six 3,000 yards passing seasons on his outstanding resume. While bridging the gap between Randall Cunningham and today’s more athletic quarterbacks, McNair’s career numbers are impressive with 161 games played, a regular season record of 91 – 62 as a starter, passing numbers of 2733 for 4544 (60.1 %), 31,304 yards with 174 TDs and 119 INTs plus an additional 3590 yards rushing (5th all-time rushing for quarterbacks) and 37 touchdowns.)

OFFENSIVE LINE:

OL: ORLANDO BROWN, S. CAROLINA STATE

OL: JAMAAL JACKSON, DELAWARE STATE

OL: HENRY LAWRENCE, FLORIDA A&M*

OL: DOUG WILKERSON, NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL

OL: FRANK MIDDLETON, FLORIDA A&M

(Scout’s Notes: Jackson has quietly gone from an undrafted free agent to one of the better centers in the league; although among the heavier centers in the league, Jackson is very nimble and, if given more of an opportunity to consistently drive – block, could easily become a Pro Bowl quality lineman; huge upside career wise for Jackson, who recently signed a lengthy extension. Brown, who played 12 credible years in the NFL will always be remembered for a game during the 1999 season; the penalty flag incident where referee Jeff Triplette, while throwing the penalty flag, hit Brown in the eye. Brown reflexively pushed Triplette, and was suspended. While being out for three subsequent seasons due to the injury, Brown took the league to court – and won a $25 million settlement.)

(MLI: For the San Diego Chargers of “Air Coryell” fame, Dan Fouts & Co. would never have got off the ground if it were not for an offensive line that did the best job of pass protection this side of Miami and Dan Marino. Wilkerson was one of the strongest and steadiest at the position over his 15 seasons in the league. A three time Pro Bowler, Wilkerson anchored the offensive line which enabled Fouts to succeed with the Jeffersons, Joiners and Winslows downfield; but many AFL players who were of similar, if not superior talent were ignored by the beat guys from the senior league.)

(FAMU Sports Information Director Alvin Hollins: “If you ask me, I would say Henry Lawrence should have been inducted a long time ago. No lineman ever had the kind of combination of light feet and a heavy body than “Killer.” He went about his business very quietly, but was very effective on the line; hard to move, great feet – pulled like a dream at guard; that he played with someone like Art Shell in Oakland just made him that much better {as a pro} that much sooner.

“When everyone was making a fuss about how good “Too Tall” (Tennessee State’s defensive lineman Ed Jones) was, we would just smile ’cause Killer handled him with ease when they went head to head against each other. Our school has a long history of great players – and Henry “Killer” Lawrence proved he was one of the best ever – and belongs as a FAMU Rattler and as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”)

RECEIVERS:

TE: BEN COATES, LIVINGSTONE COLLEGE*

WR: JOHN TAYLOR, DELAWARE STATE*

WR: OTIS TAYLOR, PRAIRIE VIEW A&M*

(MLI: Otis Taylor was the first of the big receivers; at 6’3″, 215, he was the forerunner of pass catchers like Cris Carter & Terrell Owens – a long strider with great hands and ability to haul ass after the catch before such a statistic was created. Was one of the best and most exciting wide receivers of his era; Taylor played in three AFC-NFC Pro Bowls, following the 1970-72 seasons; His 410 career receptions rank second in team history behind Tony Gonzalez; Twice topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season, getting 1,297 in 1966 and 1,110 in 1971; Led Chiefs in pass receptions on five occasions (1966-67 and 1970-72); Hauled in a key 46-yard TD pass helping the Chiefs upend the Minnesota Vikings 23 – 7 in Super Bowl IV; Was made a member of the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame in 1982; Had his college number 17 retired by Prairie View A&M;

Because of his dominance at his position, his combination of size, speed and strength {having played in the Bump & Run era} and being one of the premier receivers in the AFL, I humbly submit Otis Taylor for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)

(MLI: When it comes to weighing the merits of John Taylor, I find that no receiver has been hindered in their overall assessment at this position more than Taylor. A sleek receiver who had the fortune and misfortune to play alongside the great Jerry Rice, Taylor’s style of play in many ways mirrored Rice. Like Rice, Taylor’s speed came into full effect on Game Day. He was rarely caught from behind in spite of his quickness not translating into a fast 40 yard sprint time. Taylor was exceptional on special teams as a punt and kickoff returner. A sleek, graceful receiver with huge hands, Taylor is one of a very select group of wide outs credited with two touchdown receptions of over 90 yards in one game. Was a pivotal player in SB XXIV, catching the winning touchdown from Joe Montana with 10 seconds left to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals; Selected to the All – Decade Team (1980s) as a two time Pro Bowl participant and three time SB winner; On most other teams in that era, Taylor would have easily been the primary target of the quarterback.

That John Taylor was able to be recognized as a great player in spite of playing along the greatest receiver to ever play this game shouldn’t be reason to penalize him; which is why I feel he deserves to be inducted into pro football’s Hall of Fame.)

(BASN Editor – in – Chief Tony McClean: Here’s my case for Ben Coates:

– Born on 8/16/69 in Greenwood, S.C.

– Didn’t begin playing football until senior year at Greenwood High and was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player.

– Multi-sport star with Livingstone (earned degree in sports management)

– All-CIAA performer in 1990

– Selected by the Patriots in the fifth round (124th overall) of the 1991 NFL Draft

– Ranks second on the Patriots’ all-time career touchdowns list and leads all Pats tight ends with 50. He ranks third in franchise history with 490 career receptions and fourth in receiving yards (5,471). Those numbers rank first among all Patriots tight ends.

– Set a Patriots franchise record with receptions in 63 consecutive games from 1992-96.

– A five-time Pro Bowler (following the 1994-98 seasons).

– 499 career receptions, a figure that includes his nine seasons with New England in addition to one season with the Baltimore Ravens (2000), rank him sixth all-time among NFL tight ends.

– Played in seven playoff games for the Patriots – including Super Bowl XXXI – and caught 22 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown. He posted a game-high six receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown in Super Bowl XXXI.

– In 2000, he teamed up with Shannon Sharpe and the Baltimore Ravens for their Super Bowl run.

– Served as an assistant coach at LC from 2001-2004

– Inducted into the Patriots’ Hall of Fame in 2008.

RUNNING BACKS:

RB: CLEMON DANIELS, PRAIRIE VIEW A&M*

RB: HEWRITT DIXON, FLORIDA A&M

(Scout’s Notes: Hewritt Dixon was born a generation too soon. Drafted out of FAMU by the Denver Broncos in 1963, Dixon languished on the bench for three years; partly because of the great Canadian star Cookie Gilchrist. When traded to Oakland, Dixon showed in his pass – catching and running ability the combination of hands and power that would have made Roger Craig envious; averaged four yards a carry over seven seasons and an almost even split of 6000 total yards (3100 rushing, 2800 receiving); his size at 6’1″, 230 pounds not only made Dixon a legitimate power back from that era (4 Pro Bowls and one first team All-Pro) but a true East Coast offensive back (the so – called ‘West Coast’ offense was first deployed by Allie Sherman’s New York Giant teams of the mid-1960s)

(MLI: Clem Daniels is another shining example of the heretofore untapped reservoir of endless talent which poured from the HBCUs. One of the most dominant backs in the AFL, Daniels could not strut his stuff right away, having to sit behind the great Abner Haynes on the Dallas Texans/K.C. Chiefs depth chart after coming in as an undrafted free agent in 1960.

But a trade to the Oakland Raiders was like found money for Al Davis. Daniels was a complete back: speed, hands, blocking, toughness and intelligence. He would become a five – time consecutive all League tailback (1963 – 67) and an AFL co – Most Valuable Player in 1963. Daniels left the League before the merger but his impact was felt by every opponent in the AFL and NFL. Daniels would average 4.5 yards a carry and 5,138 career rushing yards, in addition to over 3300 yards on 204 receptions.

Of all the great backs ever to play in the AFL, Daniels, in spite of his statistics may still have been the most anonymous of stars in terms of publicity outside the East Bay of Oakland – but his peers knew how great he was. Daniels was named to the All – Time All – AFL team, as well as Prairie View’s Hall of Fame (1992), the California Black Athletic Hall of Fame (1993) and the Texas Football Hall of Fame (1999).

With all these credentials, there surely should be room for one more for one of the most unsung football players ever. Clem Daniels – a new member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE:

DL: LEN FORD, MORGAN STATE***

DL: CLAUDE HUMPHREY, TENNESSEE STATE*

DL: CARL HAIRSTON, MARYLAND – EASTERN SHORE*

DL: JETHRO PUGH, ELIZABETH CITY STATE*

Len Ford (HOF 1976) was part of the NFL “Team of the Decade” 1950s version; played 10 seasons and one of the first from the All America Football Conference (AAFC) to be so recognized; a consecutive four time Pro Bowler, Ford, who would be linebacker sized by today’s standards, was the forerunner of men like Willie Davis and Alan Page, who, ironically are also Hall of Famers.

(MLI: Claude Humphrey was one bad brother. He came in the League whippin’ ass, winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1968 for the Atlanta Falcons. With his five first team all – League and six Pro Bowl selections, Humphrey was recognized as a Hall of Fame caliber talent, but no one thought enough of his talent to speak up for him when it mattered most.

Time and politics pushed Humphrey to the Senior Committee after being a Final 15 selection four times. On the ballot last year with Bob Hayes (who finally made it) Humphrey was denied, in a classic case of backlog. Hopefully ascension to the Hall this year will correct this grievous error.)

(MLI: When it comes to Jethro Pugh, the first thought depends on whether you are or aren’t a Dallas Cowboys fan. The infamous wedge block on Pugh which allowed Bart Starr to squeeze into the end zone to win the “Ice Bowl” for the Green Bay Packers is one of those celluloid moments forever etched in our memories.

But too many have forgotten the Big No. 75 in large part because of Dallas’ No. 74. In spite of the fact Pugh would put up better statistics in many team defensive categories than others, teammate Bob Lilly would get the headlines. From the mid-1960s through the 1970s, Pugh, like Deacon Jones, was making sacks of quarterbacks before the phrase was coined or statistic counted. As worthy a talent as his Hall of Fame teammate, Pugh helped put the “doom” in the Cowboys’ Doomsday with his silent – but – deadly approach to pressuring the pocket, garnering 15.5 sacks in a 14 game season (1968); the first in five consecutive seasons where he would lead the team in that category.

As a two time Super Bowl winner, Pugh doesn’t need to be quiet about his contribution to pro football; so I ask that Elizabeth City State be recognized as Jethro Pugh takes his rightful place in Canton, Ohio.

Tony McClean: Here’s my case for Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston:

– Born on 12/15/52 in Martinsville, Va.

– A three-time all-conference defensive end for Maryland-Eastern Shore.

– Chosen in the seventh round (191st overall) by Eagles in 1976 NFL Draft.

– Would become a cornerstone of Philadelphia’s defense for the next eight seasons (1976-1983).

– Making eight starts at defensive tackle as a rookie, Hairston moved a step to his right the following season and at defensive end, began a five-year streak of recording 100 or more tackles.

– Had 15 quarterback sacks in 1979, tops in the NFC.

– Preceded future Hall of Famer Reggie White in Philly.

– Spent six years with Browns (1984-1989) and one final campaign with the Cardinals (1990).

– In 224 career games (184 starts), he posted 94 sacks among 1,141 tackles.

– Has played and coached in the Super Bowl.

– Since January 2006, he has been the defensive ends coach for the Green Bay Packers.

LINEBACKERS:

LB: JOE MONTFORD, S. CAROLINA STATE**

LB: EARL HOLMES, FLORIDA A&M

LB: ELFRID PAYTON, GRAMBLING STATE**

Scout’s Notes: (Earl Holmes was a classic, Old School run – stuffer. A fierce hitter, Holmes slapped hats for 10 years with and against the best the NFL had to offer. Spent almost equal time with Pittsburgh and Cleveland; one of the few ex-Steelers to gain such a helmet’s – eye view perspective on one of the League’s hottest rivalries. Holmes returned to his alma mater, where he now is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame and works as a position coach.)

(MLI: Unfortunately, we never get to see on a consistent basis the quality of football played north of the border; if you did, you would be able to appreciate Montford and Payton as two of the best to ever play the game. In describing the skill sets of both men, they are eerily similar; great speed off the edge as a pass rusher, with the ability to drop back in coverage, stuff the run and create havoc moving from sideline to sideline.

Like their HBCU brother in arms, Grover Covington, Montford and Peyton are among the all – time leaders in quarterback sacks, and are among the greatest players ever in Canadian Football League history. In the poll taken by The Sports Network in 2006, Montford and Payton were on a list of 135 eligible players from which to ascertain the greatest 50 CFL players in the modern era. While both players have led their teams (Montford mostly with Hamilton and Edmonton, Payton with Baltimore and Montreal) to multiple Grey Cup championships, Montford was named #40 on the list; Payton surprisingly didn’t make the top 50, in spite of being second all – time in QB sacks to Covington (154), a seven time CFL all – Star and a Most Valuable Defensive Player Award in 2002. That they were among those considered should make it a slam dunk; however I respectfully insist that when their eligibility is in effect, both Joe Montford and Elfrid Payton take their rightful place in Hamilton as members of the CFL Hall of Fame.

SECONDARY:

CB: JIM MARSALIS, TENNESSEE STATE

CB: AENEAS WILLIAMS, SOUTHERN*

FS: EVERSON WALLS, GRAMBLING STATE*

SS: JIM KEARNEY, PRAIRIE VIEW A&M

(Scout’s Notes: Marsalis came into the league as an innovator; the wiry kid from TSU would consistently push, grab and pop the receiver to disrupt his motion, creating the “bump and run” – which would become a standard defensive tactic among corners and safeties everywhere for years. The bump – and – run would become so successful that it would eventually be outlawed; but it would make Marsalis an All – Star as a rookie (1969) and a Super Bowl winner the following year. Jim Kearney, Marsalis’ teammate on the Kansas City Chiefs, was as quietly efficient as Marsalis was up front in his attempts to impede receivers in running their patterns. Kearney, a 12 year veteran, was a lights out hitter from the strong safety and, aside from free safety Johnny Robinson (LSU, who also belongs in the Hall of Fame) Marsalis, Willie Mitchell and Emmitt Thomas comprised one of the best HBCU – pedigree secondary units ever in football.)

MLI: Aeneas Williams is arguably the greatest player to ever wear a Cardinals’ jersey. Out of New Orleans, Williams came into the league quietly in 1991, but gained a reputation as one of the best shutdown corners ever. A man of few words and many actions on the playing field, Williams was an eight-time Pro Bowler and four time first team All – League at cornerback. With 55 career picks and a selection to the NFL All – Decade Team of the 1990s, Williams labored long and hard for the Cardinals until moving on the St. Louis Rams after 10 years as the face of the franchise. Knowing what we know, the classy Williams can stay that way because his numbers speak loudly enough for No. 35 – the silent assassin from Southern as an eventual addition to Canton and the Hall of Fame.)

(MLI: If enigmatic can be used as an adjective to describe talent, Everson Walls would fit the script. Said to be too slow by the so – called experts, Walls merely came into the Dallas Cowboys camp, won a starting job and led the league with 11 picks and a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie year – as a cornerback. Walls would also go on to lead the league in interceptions on two other occasions, snatching a total of 57 picks overall. A natural free safety, Walls frustrated opponents more with his pigskin smarts than physical ability. Over his 13 year career, Walls was a four time Pro Bowler, a league Defensive Back of the Year, a defensive first team all – League selection, and a Super Bowl winner in SB XXV with the Giants in the heart – stopping 20 – 19 “wide right” victory over Buffalo. Later in his post – football career, Walls would give a kidney to a former teammate, Ron Springs, in a poignant moment of sacrifice for a friend.

For his aesthetic approach to football and ability to prove the naysayers wrong, Everson Walls is worthy of recognition in Canton as one of the greatest to ever play the game.)

SPECIALS

P- VINCE COLEMAN, FLORIDA A&M

K- BRIAN MORGAN, GRAMBLING STATE

KR- HOMER JONES, TEXAS SOUTHERN

PR- BILLY THOMPSON, MARYLAND-EASTERN SHORE

ST- ALBERT LEWIS, GRAMBLING STATE*

(Scout’s Notes: Vince Coleman, a multi- talented sport star, showed a greater proclivity for running base paths than busting wedges, but he did get his kicks in as a punter; Thompson was the bridge of the great Denver Bronco return men in that organization’s history; after Goose Gonsoulin, and before the dynamite Rick Upchurch; the fleet Jones is the living answer to the Jeopardy! statement; “I’ll take ‘Football Firsts’ for $1000, Alex.”

This former NFL star, Homer Jones from tiny Texas Southern University created a big stir with this post-score celebration. {What is the “spike?”})

(MLI: Albert Lewis was one of the mentally toughest defensive backs ever to play the game, with a career spanning 16 years (Chiefs, Raiders). Just as impressive as his 42 interceptions, 12.5 sacks and his five year consecutive Pro Bowl stint was Lewis’ ability on special teams, where he blocked more kicks and punts than any other Kansas City Chief in team history; and excelled as a special teamer while one of the best corners in the League.

Lewis, honored by the Chiefs in 2007 with induction into the team’s Hall of Fame, should also be inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame, for his skill, desire to unabashedly play the game the way it was invented in all facets and in making defense as artful and precise as jumping a route or deftly deflecting a pass, Mr. Lewis should one day soon be properly recognized for his greatness.

Next Time: Second & Goal!