Our HBC-Universe Team (Part 6)

By Michael-Louis Ingram, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: July 10, 2009

Black College Football PHILADELPHIA(BASN) — With second and short yardage to go, our All-Universe team carries on. With heavier hearts for sure, given the tragic loss of Steve McNair, the case for greatness is even more apparent – and less necessary to make a case for because some of those issues have been settled.

Having said that, however, a great deal have not – or else why broach the subject?

The wealth of talent that has come from HBCUs to manifest their pigskin destiny has only been hindered by time, politics and narrow-mindedness. For those few glaring omissions, we hope to provide an incontrovertible argument…to recognize.

HEAD COACH, EARL BANKS, MORGAN STATE

While Banks didn’t have the most wins of his contemporaries, what sets him apart from every other HBCU head coach is his stint (1960-73) never experienced a losing season!

The Philadelphia-born Banks sported a career record of 95-30-2, and from 1965-68, the Morgan State Bears went undefeated/untied for 31 straight games, including two post season bowl games.

Before eventually holding the title of athletic director (1970-87), Banks helped fine-tune the progress and “schooled” (in every sense of the word) over 40 players into the NFL, including some of the baddest of the bad: Roger Brown, Raymond Chester, John “Frenchy” Fuqua, Leroy Kelly – and Willie Lanier.

The connection with the school would also endear him to his adopted home town of Baltimore, where he was a lightning rod for local and national charities.

Honored with induction into the College Football HOF in 1992, Banks was tragically killed the following year in an automobile crash. He was 69.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

QB- ELDRIDGE DICKEY, TENNESSEE STATE: “The Lord’s Prayer”

Football, in its purest form is about the breaking of the huddle and the quarterback, the general, under center, guiding his team downfield.

Patric Fharahhas been a sports producer and journalist for over 30 years, and bleeds scarlet and gray as an Ohio State alumnus and player for Woody Hayes in the 1960s. “There’s one and only one answer to ‘who is the best player the fans never saw’” declares Fharah, “and that, my friend, is ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.”

According to Fharah, fans at Tennessee State University never had to hope for a Hail Mary whenever Eldridge Dickey stepped onto the field. “Eldridge Dickey was nicknamed ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ — because he always delivered.

“From 1965 to 1968, he was The Man. He had good size (6-feet-2, 200) good speed and an unreal arm — no, actually, he had twounreal arms; there were games where he threw touchdown passes with either hand.

“There was one particular game when TSU was down 36-3 at halftime. After Dickey and TSU came out for the second half, he spearheaded a furious comeback. At the end of the game, the scoreboard read, The Lord’s Prayer 37, the opposition 36—I shit you not,” laughs Fharah.

There was no doubt that someone realized how good Dickey was when Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders drafted him in the first round of the American Football League’s 1968 draft, the first Black pivot to be drafted in the first round of any pro league’s draft.

But the reasons behind it may have been more defensive than offensive, according to Fharah. “(Then Kansas City Chiefs’ coach) Hank Stram loved Dickey—and wanted him to run his ‘Offense of the 1970s’ – but Davis looked to block his rival from getting Dickey, and took him first. He (Davis) followed up by taking Kenny ‘Snake’ Stabler out of Alabama in the second round.

“By many accounts, Dickey had played well enough to win the starting quarterback spot, but they moved him to wide receiver, starting Stabler instead.

“And the fact Dickey couldn’t play the position he was meant to play started to eat away at him; some guys were able to handle it better than others; and it was a fact other Black players had switched positions in order to play in the pros. Truth be told, the League really wasn’t ready for a Black man to assume the most important position on the field.

“That Eldridge Dickey never got to show what he could really do is a true tragedy–because he wasn’t injured or mentally incapable of playing the position – he was just Black.”

OFFENSIVE LINE:

OL-RAYFIELD WRIGHT, FORT VALLEY STATE***

OL-ERIK WILLIAMS, CENTRAL STATE*

OL-ERNIE BARNES, NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL

OL-WINSTON HILL, TEXAS SOUTHERN**

OL-JACKIE SLATER, JACKSON STATE***

Rayfield Wright (HOF, 2006) was the pillar who protected Roger Staubach’s blind side for 13 years, and is one of a select bunch to play in five Super Bowls; his #70 is in the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor; Jackie Slater (HOF, 2001) played 20 years with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, playing in 259 games; #78 retired by the Rams…

(MLI: Ernie Barnes was as adept with pulling as he was with painting. Playing in the AFL, Barnes showcased his talent by painting for the league owners. As good as Barnes was on the O-line, he was great on the canvas.

His artistic efforts would quickly transcend his work on the field, becoming the official Olympic artist of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, and his paintings were on display to millions of households during the run of the television sitcom “Good Times.” And anyone who owns Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” album {or CD} has a miniature copy of “Sugar Shack” – his most well known masterpiece as the cover.

In the tradition of artists like LeRoy Neiman, I submit Ernie Barnes for submission to the Hall as a contributor; his depictions of athletes in motion captured the essence of competition.

(MLI: Winston Hill was a player I profiled in a previous BASN column {“Two for Texas Southern”} where the argument was made to induct Hill as well as fellow alum Mike Strahan.

What is most important is Hill’s status. He was an AFL All-Time Second Team selection – HOFers Art Shell and Ron Mix are pretty exclusive company – and Hill was entrusted with merely saving the league in the transition years because he protected the league’s most valuable pair of knees – and arm – in the New York Jets’ QB Joe Namath.

But what is most disturbing to me is in a media jungle like NYC where a good performance from average talent can vault a man to stardom, one of the best players to ever play at any sport for any New York team sits depressingly low on their “it” meter because of his underappreciated excellence at his position.

With so many potential Hall of Famers buried by apathy and lack of exposure {Ken ‘Snake’ Riley and Claude Humphrey are perfect examples}, the most media-savvy collection of pencil-pushers and paparazzi can’t- no, won’t – come through for someone who deserves it.

So, I humbly submit for induction, the pride of Joaquin, Texas, Winston Hill, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame).

(MLI: Erik Williams was born in Philadelphia; big, strong, ornery – and desired to be an Eagle. Buddy Ryan wanted him in the 1991 Draft, but got overruled. Unfortunately, he became a Dallas Cowboy; and the rest, I say, is mystery…

My guess is Ryan liked Williams because he was an O-line guy who was a brawler and mauler – in addition to having some pretty good footwork. Anything Williams lacked in technical skill early on was supplemented by 100% pure Nasty…

Williams would not only use his hands to fend off linemen, he would also use them to pop D-linemen in the mouth. His use of his hands to mush defenders in the face would make him an innovator in the same mold as Deacon Jones’ head slap did against O-linemen.

The league would eventually turn Williams’ plus into a minus, turning his move into a penalty {“hands to the face”} but by the time the NFL had caught up to the “Black Diamond” – he was a polished, finished product as a Pro-Bowl caliber lineman.

A devastating drive blocker, Williams proved his value to Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys during the Super Bowl 1990′s; in the second half of one particular Super Bowl, he and guard Nate Newton literally road-graded the Buffalo Bills into submission for a convincing victory.

What makes the argument for Williams as a Hall of Famer is, in my humble opinion, the most important one – matchup.

Instead of being on an O-line which could have half-ass protected Randall Cunningham, Williams literally went blow-to-blow with the great Reggie White – and graded out better than any lineman ever did in consistent one-on-one game situations.

I saw a lot of those matchups from the press box, and that alone answers the other most important HOF question – did he dominate at his position? Sheeeeeeeit- if Williams could slap hats with Reggie and hold his own, he deserves to be in!

As a four-time Pro Bowler, Williams has the rings, technical skill and on-field resume which should make him a no-brainer for Canton; I therefore submit Erik “Black Diamond” Williams for induction.)

RECEIVERS:

WR- JOHN STALLWORTH, ALABAMA A&M***

WR- CHARLIE JOINER, GRAMBLING STATE***

TE-SHANNON SHARPE, SAVANNAH STATE**

John Stallworth (HOF, 2002) is the most exceptional of receivers; great hands, quickness – and his business acumen put him in a position to became a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Rooneys’ financial restructuring of the franchise; Charlie Joiner (HOF, 1996)is the most technically perfect receiver this side of Paul Warfield; and at the turn of the century, was rated by The Sporting News #100 in their 100 All -Time Greatest NFL Players.

Shannon Sharpe was a HOF finalist last year, but in case you forgot: 815 catches, 62 touchdowns, two Super Bowl rings and over 10,000 yards receiving should put the loquacious Sharpe in Canton; where he will likely be (at least, momentarily) speechless…

RUNNING BACKS:

RB-MARION MOTLEY, MORGAN STATE***

RB- WILLIE GALIMORE, FLORIDA A&M*

Marion Motley (HOF, 1968) was the first dominant back in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), rated #32 in the Sporting News 100 All-Time Greatest NFL Players- and the second Black player to enter Canton…

Scout’s Notes: If you overheard a conversation about a great running back that had a brief but brilliant playing career in the 1960s for the Chicago Bears, the immediate assumption from everyone eavesdropping would be Gayle Sayers, the Kansas Comet.

Which is why you should never assume; Willie Galimorecould burn just like Sayers, if not faster. Galimore was also an elusive runner, with the same ankle-breaking, jock-dropping capability as his Hall of Fame teammate. “Willie the Wisp” was so good, if you saw footage of Sayers and Galimore running simultaneously on split screen with the jerseys covered, you could not tell one from the other.

Galimore may have even been a greater lateral runner than Sayers, and ran the “counter-trey” with his natural elusiveness before it was ever given a name.

He played six seasons, and was on the Bears’ 1963 Championship team. Sadly, Galimore’s life ended in an automobile accident as he and another teammate were driving in Indiana.

Who knows what would’ve happened if Chicago passed on Sayers because of a healthy Galimore? We’ll never know; but the Bears knew enough about Willie the Wisp – and his tremendous talent to insure no one would ever wear his #28 jersey ever again.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE

DL-L.C. GREENWOOD, ARKANSAS – PINE BLUFF**

DL-ELVIN BETHEA, NORTH CAROLINA A&T***

DL-MICHAEL STRAHAN, TEXAS SOUTHERN**

DL-ERNIE LADD, GRAMBLING STATE**

Elvin Bethea (HOF, 2003) was an eight-time Pro Bowler and the first Aggie to make the Hall of Fame; holds the Oilers/Titans team record for sacks in a season (16) and his #65 retired.

Michael Strahanjust finished an impressive career with a Super Bowl ring and a sure selection to Canton when eligible due to his visibility as an on-air analyst; holds the all-time record for sacks in a season (22.5) and at a wiry 6’4″ 275, was one of the strongest and fastest linemen ever to play in the NFL.

(MLI: If we were to see that among a current draft class of D-linemen and saw a prospect from Grambling State listed at 6’9″, 315, – you’re thinking, “Oh, helllllllllz, yeah!

Now imagine that prospect on the board in 1961.

Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd would be imposing in any era; he played long enough to get a championship ring with the San Diego Chargers in 1963 with the AFL’s fearsome Foursome (along with Earl Faison, Bill Hudson & Ron Nery); and should’ve stuck around long enough for Kansas City’s ring in 1969 – but decided there was more money in professional wrestling.

Ladd did stay long enough to average almost six sacks a season from playing at defensive tackle; was a four time AFL All-Star and a member of the Chargers’ Hall of Fame.

When you play that well in such a short frame of time, that’s indicative of domination at the position; which means just like many other HBCU AFL players, they will not get a fair assessment when considered for Canton.

But since I know the Big Cat made Meow Mix out of most of his opponents, I say put out the “Cat”; and put him in the Hall of Fame).

BASN Editor-in-Chief Tony McClean: Here’s my case for L.C. Greenwood:

Spent his whole career with the Steelers; born September 8, 1946, in Canton, Mississippi. (6-6, 245); was a three-year defensive line star and 1968 Ebony All-America at Arkansas A&M (now Pine-Bluff).

Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 10th round (238th overall) in 1969 NFL Draft; served as a fifth defensive lineman his first two seasons before becoming firmly entrenched as the Steelers’ regular defensive left end in 1971.

In his first year as a starter, he led the team in sacks (8.5) and shared the NFL lead in fumble recoveries (5). For the next 11 seasons, Greenwood was part of the Steelers’ famed “Steel Curtain” defensive unit which helped lead Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl victories and seven division titles.

Was the Steelers’ starting defensive left end in six AFC Championship games and Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, and XIV. In Super Bowl IX, he played a major role in Pittsburgh’s 16-6 victory over Minnesota by batting down three of Fran Tarkenton’s passes.

In Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl X win over the Dallas Cowboys the next year, Greenwood sacked Roger Staubach three times and was named All-Pro in 1974-75, All-AFC five times and appeared in six Pro Bowls in a seven-year stretch from 1973-1979.

Greenwood was named to the Super Bowl’s Silver Anniversary team in 1991.

Noted for his reckless, freewheeling style as a pass rusher, Greenwood amassed 73.5 sacks (unofficial) in 13 seasons. Six times he led his team in that defensive category. He also recorded 14 career opponents’ fumble recoveries.

Was known for wearing gold-colored shoes on the football field, and by today’s NFL rules, Greenwood would be fined since it would not be in uniform with the rest of the team.

While he was a finalist for the Hall of Fame in 2005-06, Greenwood, nicknamed “Hollywood Bags” because he claimed he kept his bags packed and ready so he could leave for Hollywood at a moment’s notice, should’ve had a flight booked for Canton long ago!

LINEBACKERS:

LB-HARRY CARSON, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE***

LB-GREG LLOYD, FORT VALLEY STATE**

LB-THOMAS “HOLLYWOOD” HENDERSON, LANGSTON COLLEGE**

Harry Carson (HOF, 2006) raised a stink (and, rightfully so, I might add) when after years of being passed over for HOF consideration, he asked to have his named taken out of the mix for induction. He relented once chosen out of respect for deceased New York Giants owner Wellington Mara.

Scout’s Notes: Thomas Hendersonwas as brilliant a talent defensively as Sayers was offensively; however his excesses off-field led to his burning out too soon. The man then nicknamed “Hollywood” was a fierce hitter because he was the fastest linebacker ever to play the game.

The Dallas Cowboys used him as an “up” man on kickoff returns; and he was apparently Lawrence Taylor’s inspiration to choose his own jersey number (56). He did get a ring in SB XII, and made one Pro Bowl during his time in Big D.

(MLI: Greg Lloyd has always been an admitted favorite player of mine. Long ago, I was quoted in an article that Lloyd was “intense without pretense…”and that was in recognition of his throwback mentality.

Lloyd was fast, rangy, mean, intelligent, and like former New England Patriot and Hall of Fame LB Andre Tippett, was a student of martial arts and likely used that additional skill to succeed on the gridiron.

Think of the brother in “Pulp Fiction” who had the wallet with “Bad MuthaFucka” on it, and you have Lloyd. A student of the game, Lloyd concentrated on winning; but because he wouldn’t suck up to the media, he was constantly dogged by haters and passed over for post-season awards in spite of his superior talent: a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-League, and Defensive Player of the Year in 1994.

However, the Steelers knew how great he was. When their 75th Anniversary team was unveiled, the franchise All-Time linebackers were: Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Joey Porter, Andy Russell – and Greg Lloyd.

A staph infection almost killed Lloyd in 1996, but he survived and came back the following year.

While we know politics can hinder objective assessments of a player’s career, it is fair to say that the premise of the Hall of Fame will remain a joke as long as Greg Lloyd is denied admission into Canton.)

SECONDARY:

CB-LEM BARNEY, JACKSON STATE***

FS-GEORGE ATKINSON, MORRIS BROWN**

SS-DONNIE SHELL, S. CAROLINA STATE**

CB-EMMITT THOMAS, BISHOP COLLEGE***

Lem Barney (HOF, 1992) was an awesome two-way weapon; a seven-time Pro Bowl selection: 56 career picks, scored on interceptions, kickoffs and punts, and was ranked #97 in the Sporting News All-Time 100 Greatest Players.In addition, Barney was a member of the NFL’s All – Decade Team (1960s Edition).

Emmitt Thomas (HOF, 2008),

Selected by the Seniors Committee, Thomas was the Kansas City Chiefs’ all-time interception leader (58), three Super Bowl rings and, like many HBCU players, came in as an undrafted free agent.

Scout’s Notes: “I shall give no quarter – none given or asked.” If such a quote could be attributed to the ongoing battle between receiver and defender, George Atkinsonwould be the one to utter it. During his time with the Oakland Raiders, Atkinson embodied the desire to dominate and intimidate from the secondary.

With teammates like Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas and Jack “the Assassin” Tatum, the Raiders’ last line of defense was the AFL/NFL version of Fear.com – and Atkinson was arguably the most talented of them all.

Atkinson hit everything that moved; whether it had the ball or not. But, like a great defender, he also knew when to hit; and when to catch.

The versatile Atkinson was also a great punt returner; and his ability to go from defense to offense after an interception served the Raiders well.

A two-time AFL All-Star, Atkinson picked up his championship ring in Super Bowl XI; and would’ve picked up a lot more were it not for the tong wars with the Steelers and Miami Dolphins in the 1970s.

MLI: Donnie Shell is truly a victim of his own – as well as his team’s success. Playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he enjoyed both: 4 Super Bowl rings, 5 Pro Bowl selections, 3 First Team All-Pro selections.

Shell himself was a ferocious hitter and a sure-handed defender; his 51 picks from the strong safety spot is the most all-time and that alone should’ve been enough for inclusion into Canton.

But the dynasty that was the Black & Gold through the 1970s has put so many Steelers in the HOF that other exceptional Steelers (see L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes) are being unjustly penalized because when those voters get in the smoke filled room, the mindset seems to say, “we have enough Steelers – someone else needs to get in.”

A team becomes a dynasty in great part because of talent; and the Steelers were blessed with awesome talent, great talent, very good talent who would have been great elsewhere (think Larry Brown and Frank Lewis) and credible depth combined with chemistry and commitment.

Donnie Shell was an awesome talent; and he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

SPECIALS

P-COLIN GODFREY, TENNESSEE STATE

K-CEDRIC OGLESBY, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE

KR-NOLAND ‘SUPER GNAT’ SMITH, TENNESSEE STATE

PR-ELIJAH PITTS, PHILANDER SMITH

ST-BENNIE THOMPSON, GRAMBLING STATE*

Scout’s Notes: While Noland Smithmay have only scored two touchdowns in his career, his importance can’t be overlooked. Drafted by Kansas City, the “Super Gnat” was a super threat to score every time he touched the ball.

Smith led the AFL in return yards his rookie year (1967), and in the grand scheme of coach Hank Stram’s philosophy, was an embodiment of Stram’s tactic of hiding diminutive, shifty runners behind massive linemen. He still holds the Chiefs’ record for the longest return (106 yards) and was the first true return specialist in the AFL.

Elijah Pittswas a classic combination back during his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, returning punts and kickoffs in addition to playing well at both running back positions.

Bennie Thompsonwas a two-time Pro Bowler as a special teamer, and he and fellow Tiger Albert Lewis were two of the very best in the modern era.

Next Time: Third & Goal – and the First Team All-Time All-Universe Brothas; let the arguments begin!