Greatest honor

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

This is a substitute column. I decided to spare you what I might have written about East Tennessee State and Texas-El Paso. They have nice people.


Be advised that three really good former Volunteers are on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame. May as well admit they probably won’t get in this year but it is a tremendous honor to be considered.

Al Wilson, Tennessee linebacker who absolutely refused to lose the Southeastern Conference championship game of 1997, who took on the 1998 Florida Gators as his personal war, is new on the list. He may be chosen later.

Bobby Majors, legendary safety and kick returner, is again up for review. He still holds the school record with 10 interceptions in a season, 1970. He holds the school career record for punt returns (117), yardage (1163) and touchdowns (four).

Bobby is deserving. Alas, competition is fierce.

Larry Seivers, former receiver with remarkable concentration skills and flawless hands that simply did not drop footballs, is on the ballot. We know how good he was but the world is less certain. Larry has never said the first word in self-promotion.

Of course, all three were all-Americans. That is a preliminary requirement.

There are 76 current nominees. National Football Foundation president Steve Hatchell speaks of them in almost sacred tones.

“Being in this elite group means an individual is truly among the greatest to ever have played the game.”

More than five million men have played college football. Inside the hall are 997 of the best and 217 coaches.

More than 12,000 National Football Foundation members and hall honorees received ballots. Voters face interesting choices. Eight other former SEC stars are under consideration: Alabama defensive end E.J. Junior, LSU running back Kevin Faulk, Georgia defensive end David Pollack, Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis, Florida offensive tackle Lomas Brown, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and guard Brandon Burlsworth and Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch.

There are other really big names: Texas quarterback Vince Young, Stanford wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, SMU running back Eric Dickerson, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, Ohio State running back Keith Byars, Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer and Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam.

In theory, professional accomplishments are irrelevant. This is the College Hall of Fame. NFL stardom does help in name recognition. You might think Heisman Trophy recipients would be automatic. They are not. Chris Weinke, former Florida State star, now a Tennessee assistant coach, is among the outs.

As in some presidential elections, leading the ticket does not guarantee victory. Votes are suggestions. They are tabulated by regions and submitted to the Honors Court which picks the class. Hall of Famer Archie Griffin from Ohio State is chair of the court. Other members are no longer identified. Lobbying became a nuisance.

Conduct after football is supposedly a factor. O.J. Simpson got in before his troubles peaked.

It appears there is a quota system. The SEC, clearly the best league, does not get a disproportionate number of honorees. One a year seems likely. In the best of times, there are two.

Politics? Oh no, surely not.

The Honors Court is careful to look deeper than typical statistics. Fans favor quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. Note that the Hall of Fame includes blockers and tacklers. Tennessee is represented by legendary linemen Doug Atkins, Bob Suffridge, Herman Hickman, Bowden Wyatt, Bob Johnson, Reggie White, John Michels, Ed Molinski, Steve DeLong and Chip Kell.

Hall of Fame linebackers are Steve Kiner and Frank Emanuel.

Famous forever tailbacks are John Majors, Hank Lauricella, George Cafego, Gene McEver and Beattie Feathers.

There are two quarterbacks, side-saddle Bobby Dodd and Peyton Manning.

Nathan W. Dougherty was honored as an outstanding early player and influential administrator. Tennessee coaches in the Hall of Fame are Phillip Fulmer, Doug Dickey, Wyatt and Robert R. Neyland.

Majors is not in the Hall of Fame as a coach because of the relatively recent requirement to win at least 60 percent of games. John was not so fortunate. He accepted four restoration jobs – Iowa State, Pitt, Tennessee and Pitt again.

There is a little-known side door to the Hall of Fame. A veterans committee can recommend “unique” cases.

The Hall of Fame has moved around – from a file cabinet in New York City to buildings at Kings Mills, Ohio, South Bend, Ind., and now Atlanta. The new site is mod, very mod. Chick-fil-A is title sponsor. Eight million dollars earned that honor. The showplace cost $68.5 million. It is near Olympic Park.

Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State – and Yale, Army and Princeton from the good old days – have the most men in the house. Alabama is coming.

The East Tennessee chapter of the National Football Foundation remains strong. Ex-Vol tackle and captain Dick Williams is chair.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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