Long waits rewarded at Hall of Fame enshrinement


ENSHRINEMENT CLASS

The 14 former players and coaches who were enshrined Tuesday in the College Football Hall of Fame:

Ted Brown, RB, North Carolina State, 1975-78

Tedy Bruschi, DE, Arizona, 1992-95

Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin, 1996-99

Tommie Frazier, QB, Nebraska, 1992-95

Jerry Gray, DB, Texas, 1981-84

Steve Meilinger, E, Kentucky, 1951-53

Orlando Pace, OT, Ohio State, 1994-96

Rod Shoate (deceased), LB, Oklahoma, 1972-74

Percy Snow, LB, Michigan State, 1986-89

Vinny Testaverde, QB, Miami (Fla.), 1982, 1984-86

Don Trull, QB, Baylor, 1961-63

Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida, 1993-96

Wayne Hardin, coach, Navy (1959-64) and Temple (1970-82)

Bill McCartney, coach, Colorado, 1982-94

The College Football Hall of Fame enshrined 14 new members Tuesday night, including one who had waited 61 years since his last college game for this moment.

“I enjoyed being here, and I wish that it could have been about 40 years earlier so I could enjoy it more,” said Steve Meilinger, a Kentucky star in 1951-53. “I’ll be 84 this coming December, so I don’t have too many more days on this earth.”

Tuesday was a special day for the former players and coaches honored in the first enshrinement ceremony held at the Hall of Fame’s new home in downtown Atlanta.

The star-studded class — enshrined in front of a crowd of about 700 — included three Heisman Trophy winners (Florida’s Danny Wuerffel, Miami’s Vinny Testaverde and Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne), the ACC’s career rushing leader (North Carolina State’s Ted Brown) and a legendary offensive lineman (Ohio State’s Orlando Pace).

The Hall of Famers shared the spotlight with the 94,000-square-foot building, which opened in August but was officially dedicated by National Football Foundation board chairman Archie Manning as part of Tuesday’s ceremony. The NFF made the decision to relocate the Hall of Fame here from South Bend, Ind.

“We could not be more pleased with the result,” said Manning, a former star quarterback. “The new Hall simply is a spectacular tribute to college football and why it matters.”

The ceremony drew dignitaries from around college athletics, including ACC commissioner John Swofford, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin and former Georgia coach Vince Dooley.

Wuerffel, who lives in Decatur and works as executive director of Atlanta-based Desire Street Ministries, said the enshrinement stirred reflection on what the game has meant to him.

“My football career, which I can’t sometimes believe really happened, was like a dream come true,” Wuerffel said. “But then those experiences shape the rest of your life.”

Among the new Hall of Famers, memories flowed freely.

Former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier was asked, naturally, about the legendary 75-yard touchdown run on which he broke seven tackles in a Fiesta Bowl rout of Florida for the 1995 national championship.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Frazier said.

Dayne, who rushed for 7,125 career yards as a 5-foot-10, 250-pound Wisconsin tailback, recalled that no other school recruited him to run the ball.

“Everybody else … wanted me to play fullback or linebacker or something,” Dayne said.

Meilinger, known at Kentucky as “Mr. Everywhere” for his versatility on offense, defense and special teams, proudly pointed out that he played for “three of the greatest coaches who ever lived”: Bear Bryant in college and Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry in the NFL.

“There aren’t too many people who can say that,” Meilinger said.

Wayne Hardin, elected to the Hall for his work as coach at Navy and Temple, paid tribute to his own coach at College of the Pacific: legendary football pioneer Amos Alonzo Stagg.

“He was 82 and 83 years old when I played for him,” Hardin said. “He taught things that even to this day are good for football.”

The difficulty of reaching the Hall of Fame is reflected in the numbers — just 1,155 people have made it out of the roughly 5 million who have played or coached college football — and in the long waits for enshrinement.

“You wait a long time, and it makes you feel like a little kid (to finally get in),” said Brown, whose N.C. State career ended 36 years ago. “Better late than never. You could say, ‘It took so long.’ Well, it could have taken longer. It could be another 10 years. I’m very appreciative of the fact they got around to it.

“It took a while, but I’m here now.”

And his wait was 25 years shorter than Meilinger’s.

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