Scott Woerner (Georgia Defensive Back 1977-1980) came home one day and found a football sitting on his front porch. “Congratulations you’re in the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016.” As Woerner sat down to reflect on his career, the same experience was happening for the 15 other men receiving notification that they had been selected as well. Over 5 million people have played this game of college football, but only 977 players and 211 coaches are in the hall of fame. So while the Press Conference for the 59th NFF Annual Awards Ceremonies was a meeting to celebrate the storied careers of these individuals, it was likewise an opportunity to understand their profound contributions to the game and what it takes to reach excellence. Here is a sample of the words of wisdom from the other members of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016:
Football is about being a part of a larger whole. One point these men consistently emphasized was the need for a good surrounding cast. It’s rather poignant that so many years after their careers have finished, these individuals all shared a common theme of emphasizing the other players with whom they shared the field. Bill Royce (Ashland (Ohio) Linebacker 1990-93) explained that not only was he given the talent to succeed, but more importantly the teammates and the coaches. Royce is the first Ashland player to enter the College Football Hall of Fame. Pat McInally (Harvard Tight End 1972-74) emphasized the great people he played with as he finished his career as the Crimson’s leader in career receiving yards. Herb Orvis (Colorado Defensive End 1969-71) finished his career as Colorado’s all-time leader in sacks and said that the best thing that happened to him was the coaching. Tom Cousineau (Ohio State Linebacker 1975-78) talked about how he went to a place where “they let me be me” which apparently worked as he recorded 569 career tackles. He said as a linebacker he had a wonderful group of people in front of him. “You never do this type of thing in isolation.” Bert Jones (LSU Quarterback 1970-1972), talked about how he had the “ultimate opportunity” to go out and win if he did his job and the other 10 men around did theirs. One of those memorable wins came as a victory against Ole Miss in 1972 when he threw a touchdown pass to Brad Davis with time expired.
Football has a greater purpose. Another point they discussed was the wonderful influence the game of football had and continues to have on their lives. Marlin Briscoe (Nebraska Omaha Quarterback 1964-1967) explained how the things he learned in school really carried him into life and that it served as a precursor for the problems and solutions in the real world. Playing during a time when the All-America Team was divided based on race, Briscoe transcended those labels as he becomes the first University of Nebraska Omaha player to enter the College Football Hall of Fame. As an aside, he thanked Peyton Manning for putting “Omaha” on the map with his snap count. William Fuller (North Carolina Defensive Tackle 1981-83) expressed what a “huge difference” his experience playing football for and being able to graduate from the University of North Carolina made in his life. And to show the reciprocal appreciation, his No. 95 has been retired by UNC. He still owns the Carolina school record for 57 career tackles for a loss. Rod Woodson’s (Purdue Defensive Back 1983-86) son Demetrius spoke on behalf of his father (who could not attend due to his obligations as an assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders) and could not emphasize enough his father’s philosophy on needing to have and show respect. Before his NFL career that led him to the National Football League Hall of Fame, Woodson finished his career at Purdue with 13 individual records.
Football is about Heart and Leadership. Having talent and teammates is only half of it though, as the desire to play the game and the need to have a leader on and off the field are concepts that play such an important role in the game of football. Troy Davis (Iowa State Tailback 1994-1996) was one of the smallest guys on the team, according to his own analysis, but he said “it’s not about size, it’s about the heart.” Tim Krumrie (Wisconsin Defensive Lineman 1979-1982) explained that style of leadership was to lead by example both in practice and in the game. He never missed a game. Mike Utley (Washington State Offensive Guard 1985-88) said he and his teammates created unity: “I was part of a group of men who gave 100% of themselves, every play, every moment.”
Football provides Blessings. Finally, Randall Cunningham (UNLV Punter and Quarterback 1982-1984) enjoyed his moment in a thankful appreciation of all of his blessings. And Coach Frank Girardi (Lycoming Head Coach 1972-2007) completed the reflections and left us with these words: “As you get older you realize the game is so much more than the wins you had. It’s all about relationships and it’s all about memories.” None of these accomplishments by the men on the stage today would have happened without the hard work and dedication from their teammates and coaches.
And to that end, when Derrick Brooks’ (Florida State Linebacker 1990-1993) team won the 1993 National Championship, he remembers the first words that came out of head coach Bobby Bowden’s mouth: “thank you.”
After listening to the great insight of a group of individuals being recognized for their contributions to the ultimate team sport and how they found success, it makes one realize that the often used comparisons between life and football are even more appropriate in today’s landscape than ever before. As the CEO’s and Presidents in corporate America struggle to find and keep talent and the disparity of wealth continues to increase, one must wonder if they might want to consider the lessons from football. These men all explained the need for leadership, effort and desire. But that alone will not work if there isn’t a team unity and experience. With a final score at the end, football leaves no doubt that to be successful, all of the ingredients above must be part of the mix. And Coach Bill Bowes (New Hampshire Head Coach 1972-98) applied this concept perfectly, explaining that his success was due to the fact that his greatest skill as a coach was going out and getting outstanding assistant coaches.