I have the honor to be a member of the selection committee and to co-host the Black College Football Hall of Fame ceremony with my NFL Network and Fox Sports colleague Charles Davis. The event, which honors players, coaches and contributors that were involved with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, was held Saturday, Feb. 10, at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
ATLANTA — Former Washington quarterback Doug Williams spoke with freshman Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa Saturday afternoon, explaining to him that just a few decades ago, universities like Alabama wouldn’t allow players who looked like him or Tagovailoa into school, let alone their football programs.
It was an incredible snapshot: Williams, who 30 years ago this year, became the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl and win its MVP, speaking to an attentive Tagovailoa, believed to be the first Polynesian quarterback to win an NCAA National Football championship when he led Alabama to victory in January. The conversation took place just hours before the annual Black College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, an event that honors greats from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“Like today recruiting … the guys on your team, before integration, all those guys would have been at an HBCU,” Williams told Tagovailoa.
Though a generation apart in age and societal evolution, seeing Williams inform Tagovailoa about the history of so many great men — Eddie Robinson, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, James “Shack” Harris, Mel Blount and so many others — who attended HBCUs, was enlightening.
Alabama’s football department told NFL.com that it doesn’t allow freshman to do interviews at these types of events but Tagovailoa, who was joined by UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, did tell me that he was excited and appreciative to be able to attend such a historic event.
Through the night, more stories about the rich history of HBCUs were told by and about the members of the Class of 2018: Harold Carmichael (Southern), Greg Lloyd (Fort Valley), Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson (Langston), Raymond Chester (Morgan State), Everson Walls (Grambling), Leo “The Lincoln Locomotive” Lewis (Lincoln) and coach Bill Hayes (Winston-Salem State, North Carolina A&T).
“I get a call from Shack Harris and he’s telling me I’ve been selected to be inducted,” Carmichael said. “Everything just froze, pretty much. I was scared because I thought I was going to pull a muscle hollering and stuff.”
Carmichael, who also worked for the Philadelphia Eagles after a career in which he established himself as the club’s all-time leading wide receiver, also was basking in the glow of the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory.
“We got it done,” he said. “Fly Eagles Fly. It’s been a great month with the NFC Championship Game, finding out we’re going to go to the Super Bowl. It’s like almost I’m dreaming. To be World Champions, being a part of that, it’s nothing better.”
Lloyd, the former Steelers linebacker, told the audience of more than 500, that regardless of him being one of the best players on his team and one of the greatest Steelers linebackers of all time — an incredible feat — he routinely felt challenged to prove himself, daily.
Players and teammates, from Division I programs, regardless of how much Lloyd was established, looked down on him, he said — until he looked down on them — in drills and in games, where he did his best to buckle the knees of anyone in his way. When he won, he let them know, who and where he was from he said, “Fort Valley.”
Though integration sapped most of the top African-American talent from HBCUs, there are still plenty of players from historically Black institutions in the NFL. Steelers DT Anthony Hargrave (South Carolina State), Raiders P Marquette King (Fort Valley) and standout Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T), among them. Cohen won the inaugural Deacon Jones Black College Player of the Year Award last season. Amir Hall, quarterback from Bowie State, won the honor this year.
“It’s an honor being the first player to be recognized,” Bethea said. “To think about the guys that came before me, so many great players, for me to be the first it is an honor.”
With the 2018 induction of Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazile, there are 30 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — roughly 20 percent of the players in the pro Hall — that attended HBCUs. Even so, the Black College Hall of Fame is an honor that many players, coaches and contributors have told me they hold sacred because there aren’t many places that truly recognize the importance of HBCUs.