Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NFF Delivers Another Night of Magical Football Memories

By NFF Correspondent Bo Carter

The 51st National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame Annual Awards Dinner celebrated many milestones in the collegiate game at the Waldorf=Astoria Tuesday night.

Besides the induction of 13 all-time collegiate stalwarts and head coaches John Cooper and Lou Holtz, the NFF audience of just under 1,600 received rousing renditions of the national anthem and "God Bless America" by "America's Beloved Tenor" Daniel Rodriguez.

2008 inductees included Troy Aikman of UCLA, Dr. Billy Cannon of LSU, Jim Dombrowski of Virginia, Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern, Wilber Marshall of Florida, Rueben Mayes of Washington State, Randall McDaniel of Arizona State, Don McPherson of Syracuse, Jay Novacek of Wyoming, Dave Parks of Texas Tech, Ron Simmons of Florida State, Thurman Thomas of Oklahoma State; Arnold Tucker of Army, and coaches John Cooper (Tulsa, Arizona State and Ohio State) and Lou Holtz (William & Mary, NC State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and South Carolina).

Major award winners included U.S. Senator John Glenn, accepting the NFF Gold Medal as an outstanding American who has demonstrated integrity and honesty, achieved significant career success; T. Boone Pickens, who claimed the NFF Distinguished American Award, which is presented on special occasions when a truly deserving individual emerges; Collegiate Licensing Co. and former Tennessee football coach Bill Battle, earned recognition as the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award; and Ohio State's Gene Smith who took home the The John L. Toner Award given annually to a director of athletics who has demonstrated superior administrative abilities. The Outstanding College Football Official Award for 2008 was presented to Thomas Robinson of the Western Athletic and Mountain West Conferences, and Bob Curtis of Idaho and the late Dick Galiette of Yale were recognized as the co-recipients of the NFF Chris Schenkel Broadcaster of the Year Award.

Longtime National Football Foundation allies and retiring commissioners Tom Hansen of the Pacific-10 Conference, Jeffrey Orleans of the Ivy League and Mike Tranghese of the Big East Conference were honored with NFF Legacy Awards for their service to college athletics, especially football.

California center Alex Mack received the coveted 19th Draddy Award, known as the "academic" Heisman for college seniors, among a sterling 15-person field of National Scholar-Athletes. The All-Pacific-10 Conference center and starter for the Emerald Bowl- destined Golden Bears became the first Pac-10 scholar to claim the trophy. He already has graduated with a bachelor's degree and is working towards a Master's degree in business.

"I'm just very thankful to the National Football Foundation for this honor," Mack said, "and I am grateful for schools such as California for allowing us to excel. The university gave me the opportunity to excel on the field and in the classroom as well as offering time for community service."

CBS College Sports Network and several national media outlets offered extensive coverage of the day's events. Some 37 returning NFF College Hall of Fame, seven NFF Gold Medal recipients, six NFF Distinguished American awardees, and six Heisman Trophy Winners returned for the event, which has been a staple of the college football season since the first NFF Awards Dinner at the Astor Hotel on Oct. 25, 1958. Responders for the honorees expressed delight in being able to represent a sport that has given them so much.

"I worked for one of the best directors of athletics in the world in Gene Corrigan at Notre Dame, and it is ADs like this who give you the best chance to perform leadership in football. Rev. (Theodore) Hesburgh once told me that titles come from above, and players determine the leadership abilities of any coach. You have to care for one another and set values and standards."

"Everyone in the audience should look at the 15 people (National Scholar-Athletes) behind me when something negative happens to an individual in college athletics and remember the accomplishments of these young men," added Syracuse quarterback and 2008 Hall of Fame inductees' spokesman Don McPherson. "You leave your own legacy and tradition in football, and you learn what it takes to make a team a team."

"You always recall the people who have the most impact on your lives," said NFF National Scholar- Athlete responder Casey Gerald, who was reared by relatives other than his birth mother and father. "I'm eternally grateful to the game of football. I have lived that game at Yale, and it gives the chance to live your dreams,"

The Foundation's 2008 Gold Medal recipient and famed astronaut/Senator John Glenn noted the benefits of the game.

"Football gives young people the chance to get in shape, be fit and work as a team - tenets that have helped to strengthen America for many years." The national group also acknowledged 20 years of board of directors' service by retiring member John L. Toner and was gearing up for board meetings in New York later this week.

"We want to express out thanks to John Toner for 20 great years of service on the National Football Foundation board," said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. "I also want to commend Bob Mulcahy (Rutgers director of athletics) and the awards committee for some very extensive research and an outstanding group of finalists and honorees for the 2008 Awards Dinner."

Photo Credit: National Football Foundation, Gene Boyars