Once again I have been overlooked by the membership committee of the College Football Hall of Fame (read the case for my installation below), and, although I am deeply disappointed, I have still consented to be Chief Judge and do a ribs cooking seminar at the Hall’s first annual Kickoff Riboff. Join me in South Bend, IN, on Saturday 7/14/07 when the flag of National Champs, The Florida Gators will be flying over the hall.
I had an illustrious college football career worthy of Hall of Fame recognition and a major Hollywood motion picture. Why I am not in the Hall is a mystery. You be the judge:
In spring of 1970 I was the sports editor of The Florida Alligator, winner of the Hearst Award for Best College Daily. I was allowed to cover the Gators’ spring training in the manner of George Plimpton’s award winning book, Paper Lion. In pads. I was assigned the locker next to defensive end and future Hall of Famer, Jack Youngblood. At 6’4″ and 246 pounds, he was assigned the job of making sure I put my helmet on straight and that, at 5’7″ and 160, I was not killed.
Although I was a high school linebacker, I became a safety that spring. For three weeks I documented the rigor of the teams’ practice sessions, the camaraderie and hijinks of the locker room, and the pressure of the classroom. My stories ran in the campus paper and summaries were picked up by the Associated Press and run in newspapers around the state.
The climax was the Orange vs. Blue intrasquad game in the stadium before paid fans. I stood with a clipboard right behind Coach Doug Dickey taking notes most of the game. Occasionally I would wander over to the bench to interview breathless players returning from the hot battlefield to quench their thirst with the newfangled sports drink, Gatorade. Then, with about 20 seconds left, time for one last play, Coach called time out and barked out “Paper Gator!” I did not hear him. He looked right at me and screamed my handle again. Youngblood elbowed me. I froze. Youngblood shoved me. I trotted to the sideline. “Get in there!” Coach demanded. I sprinted on the field, buckling on my helmet. The PA announcer bellowed “Here’s Paper Gaaaaaaator!” and the stands erupted. In laughter.
When I got to the huddle, the defensive captain told me I was not the safety. I was “Mike” (middle) linebacker.
Confused at being told to line up at a position I had not played all spring, I hunkered down in the linebacker squat about two yards from the offensive center. We usually played a five man line, and the Mike linebacker lined up on the tail of the nose guard. This time we had a four-man front. There was nobody between me and the center. I also noticed that the offense, which usually played with only one running back, was in an “i” formation, with two backs lined up directly behind the quarterback. I looked at the sideline. The entire team was standing, laughing, and pointing. Uh oh.
The ball was snapped, and out of self preservation, like a rabbit diving for a hole, I buried my face mask in the turf straight ahead. Unprepared for this tactic, the center tripped over the speed bump at his ankles, the fullback ran up his back, and the inexperienced ball carrier trying to cut right at the last moment, got his foot hooked around the fullback’s leg and went down for a 1 yard loss.
That’s right, my career stats in The Swamp are one play, one tackle, for a one yard loss. How many linebackers can match that?
So I ask, Why am I not in the Hall?