Those gathered Tuesday in Manhattan for college football's Hall of Fame class for 2011 came to praise the sport and its players. But there also was acknowledgment of the events at Penn State, where allegations of child sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky rocked the program and caused the dismissal of iconic head coach Joe Paterno.
"It's just unfortunate, I got friends, certainly people I know, I'm well associated with Penn State," said University of Mississippi great Archie Manning, chairman of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, Inc. "They've got to get through that. Time is going to heal some things there as they try to move forward, that's for sure. Our immediate thoughts are for the children."
Paterno once sat on the dais as the recipient of NFF's gold medal, given annually to a person who has exhibited, among other traits, honesty and integrity. "I think so much of coach Paterno," Manning said. "I have a friendship with him. He has great accomplishments, some are tainted. He's meant a lot to the game of football."
This year's gold medal winner, former defense secretary Robert Gates, did not mention Penn State by name, but called for stronger control of athletics by college presidents. "I think it is essential that presidents and chancellors establish ownership of athletic programs in their universities," Gates said, "because it reflects on the university in so many ways. The role that it plays and its adherence to the rules are the responsibility of the leadership of the university, not just the athletic department."
In a later interview, Gates said he was not well versed enough on the Penn State matter to make specific recommendations.
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, inducted into the coaching wing, said fallout from the Penn State situation is "going to have an impact across the country. I don't think any of us have seen anything quite like it. I think every college president, every board of trustees and the NCAA and National Football Foundation, we have to do the things we need to do to protect the students."
Notes & quotes: Deion Sanders arrived at the podium moments before his name was announced. The 9:30 a.m. event was not prime time for him. He said he took an overnight flight from Los Angeles. "I'm so exhausted, this suit actually put on itself," he said. "But I think it looks pretty good."
Clendon Thomas, Oklahoma class of 1957, recalled playing against Jim Brown. "Jim was strong, fast you had to get him down by his shoes," he said. "If you took him on at his upper body, you were going to lose."
Barbara Stephens-Foster, sister of the late Minnesota quarterback Sandy Stephens, delivered a touching speech. Stephens was the first black quarterback to achieve All-America status when he was named in 1961. "Sandy believed in being an example, and he became a national role model," she said. "He just wanted the chance to play quarterback at Minnesota. He just wanted to let youngsters see him play on the national stage . . . They saw this black young man and knew they could aspire to be what they wanted to be."
Other inductees included defensive coordinator and former Jet Marty Lyons (Alabama), wide receiver Carlos Alvarez (Florida) defensive tackle Doug English (Texas), fullback Bill Enyart (Oregon State), defensive tackle Russell Maryland (Miami), defensive back Jake Scott (Georgia), guard Will Shields (Nebraska), linebacker Darryl Talley (West Virginia), defensive lineman Rob Waldrop (Arizona) and wide receiver Gene Washington (Michigan State).