Editor’s Note: The College Football Hall of Fame opened August 23rd.
ATLANTA — The College Football Hall of Fame is filled with the glorious deeds of the greatest players in the history of the game. It will all look so spectacular to the 13-year-old, who will walk through the Hall and then imagine himself — in his mind’s eye — achieving the same glory as those enshrined.
Herschel Walker, the great Georgia running back, trampling defenders. Doug Flutie, the Boston College quarterback throwing the miracle pass to beat vaunted Miami on the last play of the game. Vince Young, the Texas quarterback, scoring the late touchdown to beat Southern California for the national title.
Is that the message the 13-year old needs to take away on a walk through the Hall? Glory first?
Or is this the message?
“It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” — Paul “Bear” Bryant, University of Alabama football coach (1958-1982).
Or this quote, which is emblazoned on the floor of the lobby of the Hall of Fame:
“There’s no substitute for hard work. It is the price of success.” — Earl “Red” Blaik, Army football coach.
Or this quote on the lobby floor:
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” — Paul “Bear” Bryant.
The Hall, which opens August 23 in downtown Atlanta near Centennial Olympic Park, is a shrine to glory, but it is so much more. The mentor has to look deeper for the other, more vital counsel the Hall provides children. Teamwork. Dedication. Perseverance. Courage. Being prepared. It is all inside the $66 million facility, punctuated by majestic quotes from the icons of the game.
If a 13-year old walks out of the Hall of Fame thinking his time in the 40-yard dash is his ticket to glory, his caretaker should buy another ticket to the Hall, and go back through the doors again and learn another lesson.
Phil Savage, the former general manager of the Cleveland Browns and now the CEO of The Senior Bowl college all-star game, still scouts players and talks to college coaches about the “makeup” of players. Talent is only part of the equation. How many talented players are on the sidelines because they thought the essence of football was height, weight, speed? “Makeup” is all the other things besides talent.
“Size/speed ratios are important, but a player’s ability to be coached and his character play huge roles in determining his long-term future,” Savage said. His quote is on a storyboard inside the Hall. That lesson should be passed along to fourth grade football players, too.
It’s why Savage always tells young football players with ambition to play in the NFL some day, “Be in condition, know what to do, and play hard. It takes no physical talent to do those three things.”
Jerry Rice played 20 years in the National Football League and relied on much more than physical talent to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. He did not have the measurables (height, weight, speed) as a 13-year-old that would have projected him as a future star.
Imagine Rice as a 13-year-old. He was thin, and he still had not acquired all his speed and burst. He grew up in Crawford, Miss., the son of a brick mason. Rice did not look like a future Hall of Famer when he started high school. He went to college at Mississippi Valley State, not one of the powerhouse programs in the Southeastern Conference.
Look where he ended up. One of the greatest receivers in the history of the game.
Here is Rice’s quote in the College Football Hall of Fame. It can be found on the third floor next to quotes from Generals, Presidents, and corporate CEOs who played football.
“I was not the fastest or the biggest. I was always willing to work.”
Grade school football players and teenagers have this hollowed out perception of success in football. The highlight reels on television capture the imagination of young players. But what’s behind the curtain? Sometimes it takes a 5-foot-4 tailback using superior pad level to break the arm tackle of a taller, stronger linebacker who has not studied tackling technique to get the point across to kids.
The tailback should have been mashed in a mismatch. Instead he was standing in the end zone 20 yards down field while the bigger, faster linebacker wondered how he missed a tackle.
What was striking to me as I worked on the storyboards for the Hall of Fame and the collection of memorable quotes is that successful coaches always talked to their players about things other than talent. They talked about perseverance and teamwork and those things that can make a young player successful in life after football.
R.C. Slocum, the former Texas A&M football coach, said football is a “laboratory for what life is all about.”
And there was this from Slocum, a telling example of what a coach should strive for with his players and that goal is “trying to make him all he can be in every area of life.”
Slocum’s teams never won the national championship in college football. Yet he is in the Hall of Fame because he recognized his duty to kids was more than about achieving glory on the field.
Ray Glier is a freelance sportswriter in Atlanta. He contributes to various news outlets around the U.S. and abroad. He was a consultant for the College Football Hall of Fame from 2011-2013.