The College Football Hall of Fame announced its 2012 class today, which included such recognizable stars as Deion Sanders and Eddie George, as well as former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who I will always have a special place in my heart to despise thanks to how the 1998 Rose Bowl ended. I mean, I won't say that he encouraged his entire sideline to come rushing onto the field to prevent any kind of review of the clock, but ... let's just say those Wolverines were celebrating their national championship awful quickly.
Anyway, I digress. The last WSU Cougar to be honored with enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame was the great Rueben Mayes in 2008. It made him the third Cougar player in the hall, joining Mel Hein (inducted in 1954) and Glen "Turk" Edwards (1975). Babe Hollingberry (of Hollingberry Fieldhouse fame) was inducted as a coach in 1979.
Which got me thinking: Are there any other Cougars who ought to be in the College Football Hall of Fame who aren't yet?
The answer is an easy one -- yes.
A number of players have had sustained greatness at WSU, but the guys you might see on a College Football Hall of Fame ballot are limited to a select number:
To be eligible for the Hall of Fame players must have been named a First Team All-America by a major/national selector as recognized and utilized by the NCAA for their consensus All-America teams; played their last year of intercollegiate football at least ten years prior; played within the last 50 years and cannot be currently playing professional football. Coaches must have coached a minimum of 10 years and 100 games as a head coach; won at least 60% of their games; and be retired from coaching for at least three years. If a coach is retired and over the age of 70, there is no waiting period). If he is over the age of 75, he is eligible as an active coach. In both cases, the candidate's post-football record as a citizen may also be weighed.
Taking a stab here at which all-American teams the hall actually recognizes -- for example, I'd assume teams like "ESPN all-American" don't count -- here are the guys that I believe would be candidates for hall of fame induction ("year" is the year they were named an all-American):
|Clancy Williams, RB||1964||Scott Sanderson||1996|
|Geoff Reece, C||1974||Ryan Leaf||1997|
|Jack Thompson, QB||1978||Lamont Thompson||2001|
|Pat Beach, TE||1981||Rien Long||2002|
|Dan Lynch, G||1984||Drew Dunning||2003|
|Mike Utley, G||1988||Jerome Harrison||2005|
|Jason Hanson, K||1989|
Obviously, Dunning and Harrison aren't eligible yet, leaving 11 guys. (By the way, is it not amazing that Dunning is on this list and Marcus Trufant isn't? Dang.) Some are better candidates than others, but in looking at this list, there is one amazing omission.
How is Jack Thompson not in the College Football Hall of Fame?
He finished his junior season with more than 5,000 career yards passing, more than any other junior before him. He finished his career in 1978 with a then-NCAA record 7,818 yards passing, and his total yards from scrimmage of 7,698 were the third-most in NCAA history when he graduated. He set Pac-10 records for attempts, completions and touchdowns. He finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was selected third overall in the NFL draft.
Put simply, he was one of the most prolific passers of his era.
I'd love to see Thompson, the godfather of the great quarterbacks at WSU -- a role he happily embraces even today as a mentor to Jeff Tuel -- get a spot in South Bend, Ind. It would be a great accomplishment for a superlative quarterback and classy man.
As for other candidates? I would think Utley would be a natural fit someday -- the selection criteria states that their post-football life as a citizen can be considered. Given everything Utley's done since his paralysis with his foundation, I would think that would be something the hall would eventually recognize. I also would think Hanson has to be a shoe-in (see what I did there?) whenever he finally stops kicking the ball professionally. And as a four-year player, I would think Lamont Thompson might have an outside shot
And the older guys? Williams, Reece, Beach and Lynch -- maybe some of you long time Cougs can speak to whether any of them deserve to be in. Or, maybe you can just shed some light on why you think it is that Jack Thompson hasn't been picked yet. I'm genuinely curious.
But it sure seems to me that Thompson needs to be the next WSU Cougar in the College Football Hall of Fame.
EDIT: So, it turns out Shellin's first comment below is correct, according to WSU Sports Information Director Bill Stevens. Jack Thompson was named to the Sporting News all-American team in 1978, and that wasn't one of the recognized all-American teams at the time -- but it was changed to a recognized one later. Thus, according to the people who decide these things, he's not even eligible.
Putting aside the fact that starting with only guys who were first team all-Americans is sort of ridiculous in the first place -- especially in the pre-cable TV era -- how does it make sense that when the Sporting News was officially recognized in the 1980s, that you wouldn't officially go back and recognize the past teams as well? Did they suddenly get more credible from one year to the next?
Honestly, this is all pretty absurd. I'll go ahead and stand by my original statement: Jack Thompson belongs in the College Football Hall of Fame. If someone like Gene Stallings, who won just 56 percent of his games as coach, can be elected by something called the "Divisional Veterans Committee" on the strength of one freaking national championship at Alabama, surely they can figure out a way around this for Thompson and other deserving player candidates.
I understand every process needs a starting point, and I'm not advocating complete revisionist history and the slippery slope that would create, but how about this for an easy solution: If a publication ends up as a recognized all-American team, retroactively go back and recognize previous iterations of that team. If the Sporting News was quality enough to be recognized in the 1980s, it probably was quality enough in the 1970s.
Let's make this happen.