So many great and deserving players were named to the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017 on Monday by the National Football Foundation. Where to start the singling out?
- Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, 1994-97
- San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk, 1991-93
- Michigan State wide receiver Kirk Gibson, 1978-78
- New Mexico linebacker Brian Urlacher, 1996-99
- USC quarterback Matt Leinart, 2003-05
- Boston College nose guard Mike Ruth, 1982-85
- Notre Dame linebacker Bob Crable, 1978-81
- Texas A&M linebacker, Dat Nguyen, 1995-98
- Texas offensive tackle Bob McKay, 1968-69
- Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson, 1998-2001
In addition, there are three coaches: Steve Spurrier (Duke, Florida, South Carolina), who was previously enshrined as a Florida quarterback; Danny Ford (Clemson and Arkansas); and Larry Kehres (Mount Union, Ohio).
Manning seems a natural starting point, but you already know everything about him. He’ll be a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer in five years. It won’t be long before kids identify him as “that old guy who does all the funny commercials.”
Michigan State’s Kirk Gibson is another focal point because he takes some explaining. Millennials are rubbing their eyes, asking: “Isn’t Gibson the former Arizona Diamondbacks baseball manager? Isn’t he an analyst for Detroit Tigers TV broadcasts?”
The previous generation is saying, “He’s the guy that hit a home run in the 1984 World Series off Goose Gossage to beat the San Diego Padres and topped that with more dramatic flair in the 1988 World Series. He came off the bench with a bum knee to hit a home run to beat Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland Athletics.”
Gibson won’t make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is possible. His postseason dramatics have to outweigh his regular-season numbers.
Well, younger generations are now learning Gibson also was a college All-American wide receiver. He still holds Michigan State’s record for yards per catch with 21.
Even though he chose baseball as the Detroit Tigers’ first-round pick in 1978, the St. Louis football Cardinals invested a seventh-round pick in him in the 1979 NFL Draft.
Dat Nguyen is a fascinating story, too. His family escaped the fall of Saigon in April of 1975, and he was born in September in a refugee camp in Fort Smith, Ark. He’s the first Vietnamese player in the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Texas A&M ground-breaker deserves the honor, but his election brings up a sore subject with Michigan State and Polynesian football fans. Michigan State fullback Bob Apisa deserves a place as the first Samoan All-American on the Spartans’ 1965 and 1966 national championship teams. He opened the door to a wave of Polynesian athletes since then.
All those men are special, but the guy I want you to learn more about is Faulk.
He’s best known as a Pro Football Hall of Famer with the St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts, a two-time NFL MVP and a Super Bowl XXXIV champion with the Rams.
When he takes the National Football Foundation stage at the Waldorf Astoria in December in New York, he will receive some just due after being robbed of the 1992 Heisman Trophy. He can be called the first victim of modern media fueling-herd voting. In more recent years, social media has added to herd voting instead of more individual thought.
Faulk finished second to a pedestrian quarterback named Gino Torretta. The Miami QB happened to be in the right place and the right time, surrounded by a team contending for the national title (the Hurricanes lost in the Sugar Bowl to Alabama, 34-13). Faulk played for a 5-5-1 team on the West Coast at a point in college football history before every game was on TV.
The 1988 Heisman won by Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders marked the last time a deserving player could come out of nowhere to win the trophy.
By 1992, ESPN highlights replayed over and over established an early leader. As long as the leader didn’t fall on his face, he held on to his lead. They often fell on their face in a bowl game or lacked an NFL career, but it was too late by then to pick the right guy.
ESPN’s Lee Corso was the 1992 culprit. He launched a campaign for Torretta at Faulk’s expense. Corso pounded the table on the ESPN set to make his case. That swayed too many voters. Since then, Heisman voters have become susceptible to herd voting.
Torretta was an NFL bust but at least he was drafted – in the seventh round. In 2003, Heisman winner Jason White wasn’t even signed as a free agent, but he had season-long highlights for a top-ranked team to win the Heisman.
In 2012, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s hightlights from the Aggies’ victory over Alabama were played over and over. Voters were numbed by the replays, and they elected Manziel over Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. In terms of the Heisman, Manziel was a one-trick pony.
In 2015, Derrick Henry ran through canyon holes opened by NFL linemen. Heisman voters were duped by the highlights. He was picked over Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, the driving force of his team.
Back to Faulk:
His greatness was confirmed as the second pick of the 1994 NFL draft. He finished in the Heisman top 10 all three years of his career: ninth as a freshman with 1,429 yards, second as a sophomore with 1,600 yards, and fourth as a junior with 1,530 despite a late-season injury.
Moreover, playing on mediocre teams didn’t prevent Faulk from carrying the Aztecs. He finished his three-time All-American career before declaring for the NFL Draft with 5,562 yards and 62 touchdowns.
A quarter-century later Faulk righteously enters the College Hall of Fame ahead of Torretta.
In San Diego, Lee Corso’s name is mentioned derisively somewhere below a dreaded drought. He should congratulate Faulk and apologize to him.
Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055.