Dec. 5, 2012
The historic Waldorf-Astoria Grand Ballroom in New York City witnessed an all-star cast of history's greatest football players at the 55th Annual National Football Foundation (NFF) Awards Dinner Tuesday night.
With more than 75 current collegiate head coaches and 40 returning members of the College Football Hall of Fame in attendance, the fabled spectacle lived up to the historic expectations. Many well-known football luminaries were in attendance, adding to the magnitude of the much-anticipated event. ESPN's Rece Davis emceed the event, NFF Board Member and New England Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft delivered the welcome address, and NFF Board Member and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had the honor of introducing all of the great college football coaches in attendance.
The 2012 College Football Hall of Fame class, including 11 All-Americans, one unanimous First-Team All-American, three multi-year First-Team All-Americans, and two members of national championship teams, headlined the event.
The 2012 class, presented by NFF Honors Court Chairman Eugene Corrigan and AFCA Executive Director and Hall of Fame Coach Grant Teaff, included Charles Alexander (LSU), Otis Armstrong (Purdue), Steve Bartkowski (California), Hal Bedsole (Southern California), Dave Casper (Notre Dame), Ty Detmer (BYU), Tommy Kramer (Rice), Art Monk (Syracuse), Greg Myers (Colorado State), Jonathan Ogden (UCLA), Gabe Rivera (Texas Tech), Mark Simoneau (Kansas State), Scott Thomas (Air Force), John Wooten (Colorado), and coaches Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee), Jimmy Johnson (Oklahoma State, Miami [Fla.]) and R.C. Slocum (Texas A&M).
The 14 players and three coaches brings the total number of players in the Hall of Fame to 914 and the number of coaches in the hall to 197. Johnson delivered the response on behalf of the class, saying it was an incredible feeling to be enshrined into the hall with a group of men that have done so much for college football.
"Everybody in this room has had contact with football at one time in their life," said Johnson. "Everybody knows it is not easy. They know about the sacrifices that the families have had to make. They know about the gut-wrenching feeling of losing a ballgame and not being able to sleep at night and putting their heart and soul into something they truly love. To be recognized for that is truly special."
In addition to the hall of famers, the dinner had no shortage of college football star power not just on the field but in the classroom as USC QB Matt Barkley, Alabama OL Barrett Jones and Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o led a group of 15 current players vying for the coveted William V. Campbell trophy, awarded to the nation's top scholar-athlete. The trophy, presented by NFF Chairman Emeritus Jon F. Hanson, was awarded to Jones, an First Team All-American who carries a 4.0 GPA. Jones said it meant a lot to him to win the scholar-athlete award and that he has been blessed throughout his entire football career.
"College football is at an all-time high. The people up here have chosen to use their role-model status in a positive way," said Jones.
Other members of the 2012 class of NFF National Scholar-Athletes, presented by Fidelity Investments, included Rex Burkhead (Nebraska), Cody Davis (Texas Tech), Nick Driskill (Mount Union, OH), Nick Florence (Baylor), Nabal Jefferson (Northern Illinois), Aaron Mullane (West Texas A&M), Ryan Nassib (Syracuse), Nolan Nearhoff (Robert Morris), Ethan Peterson (MIT), Sean Renfree (Duke), Patrick Ward (Northwestern), and Shane Zackery (Saint Xavier, IL). Each scholar-athlete received an $18,000 scholarship at the event, and Jones claimed a total scholarship of $25,000.
The event hit an emotional peak when NFF Board Member and TV personality Jack Ford presented the Gold Medal Award to Dr. Roscoe Brown, Jr. The Tuskegee Airman is considered a patriot, trailblazer and leader by his colleagues, and Dr. Brown spoke to the audience about how far the United States has come in the last 65 years since he overcame racial obstacles as pilot during World War II and the lessons and value sports play in our society.
"One of the things that the sport teaches us is that excellence overcomes stereotypes and obstacles," said Brown. "Through sport, and particularly football, we have been able to break the barriers of gender bias and ethnic bias and tonight, we can feel very proud that as we honor the excellence on the football field, we are also honoring the excellence in our hearts and minds because we have changed this country."
NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell presented ESPN Executive Chairman George Bodenheimer with the NFF Distinguished American Award. Bodenheimer, who started in the mail room at ESPN, worked his way to the top of the corporate ladder at ESPN. Bodenheimer played a key role in the growth of college football, and he credited the employees at ESPN for making it possible
"I would like to again thank all the men and women of ESPN. It is truly their work over the last three decades that has made tonight's award possible," said Bodenheimer. "As the world and certainly our business will inevitably continue to evolve, one thing will remain forever the same. ESPN is all in for college football and we look forward to continuing to work with you to grow this great game."
Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore accepted the John L. Toner Award for excellence in athletics administration from NFF Board Member and the CEO of BP Capital T. Boone Pickens. Moore is responsible for raising millions of dollars for the University of Alabama, and he helped expand Bryant-Denny Stadium to a maximum capacity of 102,000 people. Pickens also presented the Chris Schenkel Award for excellence in broadcasting to the late Oklahoma and Oklahoma State broadcasting legend Bob Barry, Sr.
NFF Board Member and Under Armour Founder Kevin Plank presented the NFF Legacy Awards, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to the organization, to Eric Long, the general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria, Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice president for college programming, and Craig Silver, CBS coordinating producer for college football.
ESPN3.com carried the event live while XOS Digital streamed the event live to the NFF's website. Sponsors for the day's events included DragonFly Athletics, Fidelity Investments, HealthSouth, Herff Jones, iSix, Liberty Mutual Insurance, the NASDAQ OMX, Spielman Koenigsberg & Parker, Under Armour and XOS Digital