Some were no-brainers.
Others were head-scratchers.
And a few of the decisions will undoubtedly make critics wonder if we have a brain. We did, collectively, at least.
Roger Staubach, one of the all-time greats? Absolutely. He was Tim Tebow before Tim Tebow, but Tebow with a better arm. Did I see a better kick returner than Johnny Rodgers? Never. Could anyone block Tommy Nobis or Lee Roy Selmon? Not that I remember.
All five of those are among the elite of the elite as the Football Writers Association of America on Thursday announced its 75th anniversary All-America football team.
Others, I didn’t necessarily agree with. Doak Walker one of the best ever? Yes, but I’m not sure he was one of the best six running backs since World War II. Did Pitt deserve five players on the three teams? Maybe, maybe not. No Earl Campbell or Ricky Williams? Please, let’s have a recount. I pushed them hard. Campbell missed the third team by one vote. He was a man among boys in college football.
I’ll start with a disclaimer of sorts.
Yes, I chaired the 10-person, blue-ribbon panel that picked the FWAA All-America teams earlier this summer, but I had just one vote. Same as Tony Barnhart, Mr. College Football; and CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd and USA Today’s George Schroeder and magazine guru Phil Steele and others. A bully pulpit, it was not.
So it’s with that qualifier that I share some comments about what we so-called college football experts decided were the best 75 players to ever play the game.
Many of the names won’t surprise you.
Staubach. Herschel Walker. Jerry Rice. Orlando Pace. Derrick Thomas. Ronnie Lott. All on the Who’s Who of college football royalty.
If you haven’t already scanned the list, there are, however, some names whom I consider glaring omissions. I tried my best, but neither Earl nor Ricky made the final cut. Neither did Vince Young, whom I voted for. This time.
Campbell and Williams hurt each other’s candidacies to a degree because both were Heisman Trophy winners, both were Longhorns, and both are deserving of spots on the team.
Their absence speaks to the crux of our main dilemma. Just whom do you leave off? Like picking between filet mignon or ribeye. We had players from all eras, conferences large and small, powerhouses and academies. Staubach played at Navy.
Archie Griffin, a two-time Heisman winner, was a must first-teamer, right? Is there a better running back ever than Herschel Walker? I think not.
Tony Dorsett is right there with them alongside Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders, sandwiched between those first-teamers and Auburn’s Bo Jackson and SMU’s Doak Walker on the third team.
Both Sanders and Doak Walker were outstanding backs, but I argued unsuccessfully that Sanders, as great as he was, was a one-year wonder with the Cowboys, and Walker probably wasn’t as good as Earl or Ricky or some others who didn’t make the list like Adrian Peterson, Jim Brown, Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson.
Speaking of O.J., he didn’t make it, but not because he’s incarcerated. The panel decided that residence in the big house wasn’t a disqualifier for a spot on the big teams, so Texas’ imprisoned Russell Erxleben made it on our list. He was the best kicker-punter I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m not trying to sell you a Ponzi scheme to convince you of that.
Erxleben was one of four Longhorns deemed worthy.
He was joined on the All-America elite by Mr. Longhorn, linebacker Tommy Nobis; offensive tackle extraordinaire Jerry Sisemore; and one of the founding fathers of DBU, Jerry Gray, who we all remember once ran down Bo Jackson from behind. To me, all those should have been locks as should Campbell and Williams. I tried to get Gray’s secondary teammate, Johnnie Johnson, in as well, but a panelist asked me,”Are you trying to get every Longhorn on?”
No, just the deserving ones. Hey, I didn’t make the case for Scott Appleton or Earl Thomas or Derrick Johnson or Roosevelt Leaks or Colt McCoy, but I could have.
The four Longhorns who did make the cut were the same number of Alabama and Oklahoma players honored, one shy of the five from Ohio State and, yes, Pittsburgh, and two fewer than Nebraska’s six. Of those six, three were offensive linemen, which is fine, since the Cornhuskers invented the offensive line.
I can’t remember a more difficult exercise than selecting the best 75 players ever, and I know some will suggest a blind squirrel could have picked a better 75. I accept that.
To give you an idea how hard, Oklahoma didn’t have a running back on the team. Peterson, Billy Sims, Joe Washington and Steve Owens were all pretty good.
Penn State linebackers? Only one from Linebacker U made it – Jack Ham.
How do you not put on the All-America team players who have awards named after them? Hello, Ray Guy. Hi, Dave Rimington. They both made it. So did Fred Biletnikoff.
The quarterbacks, in order, were Navy’s Staubach, Florida’s Tebow and Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier. No Peyton Manning? Never won a championship or a Heisman. Personally as much as I admire Tebow, I’m not sure he belongs. Staubach and Frazier clearly do on my ballot.
All in all, it was an incredibly difficult, but fun project. But I’m not sure I’ll be up for the next one in 2090.
Contact Kirk Bohls at 512-445-3772.