The offseason is a time for anticipation and reflection, which is why we devote energy to such endeavors as ranking historic highlights, both remote and recent. Sometimes, the summer doldrums bring blogs together for a common purpose, such as rearranging conference affiliations (when rearranging conference affiliations wasn’t cool), and this year is no different in that respect, as SB Nation is creating its own college football hall of fame.
Here are the rules, as explained by Team Speed Kills:
We are allowed to nominate five players or coaches from 10 categories: QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DL, LB, DB, ST, Coach. No more than one nominee can come from each category. We're also strongly encouraged to have at least one of our nominees come from a non-AQ team, and four come from the SEC (natch).
Eligibility: For players or inactive coaches, the nominee should have been out of college for four full years. So the first class would cover 1962 to players and coaches who finished their career by 2007 (bowls of January 2008). The other option for active coaches OR coaches who haven't been inactive for four years is that they were at their current position for at least five seasons. (Position, NOT school.) We're also asking that each player be initially nominated by someone who saw them play or coach, either in person or on television.
Got it? Good. Here are my suggestions, which are only suggestions. I want us to have a conversation in the comments, hopefully producing consensus, perhaps leading to a series of votes, but, basically, I’m not trying to etch these in stone and hand them down from on high (you should excuse the expression); we want this to be a community exercise, so, by all means, jump into the discussion.
Anyway, these are my five recommended nominees, with respect to whom you may detect a pattern:
- Running Back: Herschel Walker (Tailback, Georgia Bulldogs). All right, seriously, if I have to explain this one to you, you really need to promise never to watch college football again. The Goal Line Stalker set 41 school, 16 conference, and eleven NCAA records, including a career rushing tally of 5,259 yards that remains to this day the most ever amassed by a college player in three seasons. Walker finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a freshman, and second as a sophomore, before winning the award as a junior. A consensus All-American in each of his three years who went on to make his mark in several other sports after leaving school, Walker also was the epitome of class and the ultimate team player, whose individual achievements led directly to a 33-3 record, three straight SEC championships, and a national title.
- Defensive Line: David Pollack (Defensive End, Georgia Bulldogs). The only Georgia player other than Herschel to be named a first-team All-American three times, Pollack exploded onto the scene with an immortal play against South Carolina in 2002 before capturing the following year’s Ted Hendricks Award as the country’s best defensive end. As a senior in 2004, Pollack became the Bulldogs’ most decorated defender, bringing home a second straight Hendricks Award, along with the Chuck Bednarik Award (as the nation’s top defensive player), the Lombardi Award (as the nation’s top lineman), and the Lott Trophy (as the nation’s top impact defensive player). He capped off his final collegiate season by being named the SEC defensive player of the year by the sportswriters (for the second time) and the SEC player of the year by the coaches after surpassing Richard Tardits as the school’s all-time sack leader with 36 quarterback takedowns.
- Defensive Back: Terry Hoage (Rover, Georgia Bulldogs). Frankly, I could’ve come up with multiple Red and Black nominees in this category, from Jake Scott to Scott Woerner to Champ Bailey, but, hamstrung by the foregoing rules, I was forced to go with Hoage. As a freshman in 1980, the Texan had no solo tackles, no sacks, no interceptions, and only one assist. Over the course of the next three years, though, Hoage boosted those numbers to 137 solo takedowns, 86 assists, ten sacks, and 14 picks, including an NCAA-leading twelve in 1982. (Teammate Jeff Sanchez finished second nationally with nine interceptions of his own, incidentally.) The two-time consensus All-American and two-time Academic All-American (who would go on to earn NCAA and National Football Foundation Post-Graduate Scholarship Awards) posted what was, at the time, the highest-ever finish by a defensive back in the Heisman Trophy voting, garnering the fifth-best ballot tally in 1983. Like Walker, Hoage saw his individual contributions pay dividends in team achievements, as the Bulldogs’ 43-4-1 ledger over the course of his four-year collegiate career was the best in the country over that period.
- Special Teams: Kevin Butler (Placekicker, Georgia Bulldogs). Once again, just about every kicker the Classic City Canines fielded from Rex Robinson forward could’ve qualified for inclusion, but I went with the guy who’s actually the only kicker in the real college football hall of fame. Butler made All-SEC in each of his collegiate seasons and was a Football News All-American as a junior before becoming a consensus All-American in 1984. He left school after four years as the school record holder in points scored (353) and field goals made (77), the NCAA leader in multiple field goal games (27), and the man responsible for the 60-yard three-pointer that inspires Bulldog Nation to this day. Plus, his son, Drew Butler, went on to become an All-American punter for the Bulldogs. When a guy’s such a damn good ‘Dawg that his greatness is genetically transferrable to the next generation of Georgia players, he ought to have a plaque.
Coach: Erskine Russell (Head Coach, Georgia Southern Eagles). Yes, this is my non-AQ nominee, and, yes, that’s a little bit underhanded on my part, but I’m fine with that, because, frankly, no one can mount a serious argument for the proposition that Erk doesn’t deserve to be in a college football hall of fame. Heck, no one can mount a serious argument for the proposition that there should even be a college football hall of fame if Erk isn’t in it, but, because an asinine and rigid rule is keeping him out of the real one, despite my best efforts to the contrary (which, regrettably, thus far have been unsuccessful), I am left to make the case for Coach Russell’s inclusion in this batch of honorees, instead. Fortunately, such a case is by no means difficult to make.
Coach Russell, who left Auburn as that college’s last four-sport letter winner, followed up his 17-year run as the beloved architect of the “Junkyard ‘Dawgs” defenses in Athens by reviving in Statesboro a Georgia Southern football program that had lain dormant for four decades. (The athletic director had to go to the local store to purchase a football to have on hand at Coach Russell’s introductory press conference.) Erk built a Division I-AA powerhouse by the banks of beautiful Eagle Creek, leading Georgia Southern to three national championships. Erk’s Eagles won nearly 80 per cent of their games during his tenure, going 83-22-1, including a 70-14 (.825) mark after Georgia Southern completed the transition to Division I-AA in 1984. His players earned 14 All-American selections during his first seven years as a head coach, and he capped off that stellar run by guiding his final club to the 20th century’s first 15-0 season in 1989.
A master motivator, Coach Russell butted his bleeding bald head against his players’ helmets, got the Redcoat Band director to play “Bad, Bad Leroy Band” after great defensive plays, produced T-shirts reading “TEAM” in large letters with “me” in small letters underneath, and exhorted his charges to “G.A.T.A.”: “Get After Their Asses.” To this day, he remains the standard by which Georgia defensive coordinators and Georgia Southern head coaches are judged, and Georgia Tech fans ought to like him, too: Erk was the one who made the decision to move Paul Johnson from defense to offense.
Those are my suggestions, and the reasons for them, but I welcome (and actively solicit) your input. Join in the conversation in the comments below, and check out the network-wide discussion on Twitter by searching for the hashtag “#SBNHOF.”