NEW YORK, Dec. 4, 2007 - The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame Annual awards dinner might have been one of the most news-filled in the six decades - held annually at the Waldorf=Astoria.
Besides the induction of 12 stellar players and two legendary head coaches, the NFF announced the inaugural Legacy Awards, had the ceremonial passing of the Board of Director chairman's baton from Hall of Famer Ron Johnson of Michigan to Hall of Famer Archie Manning of Ole Miss and named Texas scholar-athlete center Dallas Griffin as recipient of the 18th annual Vin Draddy Trophy for academic excellence and character.
Nearly 2,000 partisans, a sellout, packed in to the hotel's ballroom, and were treated to the national anthem and grand finale "God Bless America" by "America's Beloved Tenor" Daniel Rodriguez.
2007 inductees included Oklahoma center Tom Brahaney, Michigan defensive back Dave Brown (posthumously), Clemson linebacker Jeff Davis, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie, Texas defensive back Johnnie Johnson, Ohio State quarterback Rex Kern, Oregon WR-RB Ahmad Rashad, Indiana running back Anthony Thompson, Houston defensive lineman Wilson Whitley (posthumously), Dartmouth linebacker Reggie Williams, Southern California linebacker Richard Wood, Notre Dame defensive tackle Chris Zorich, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, and Central Michigan head coach Joe Paterno. Rhonda Brown and Norma Whitley represented their late husbands on the dais while several family members also attended.
Longtime National Football Foundation benefactors Harold Alfond, who died last month after attending 49 consecutive NFF awards dinners, Fred Kirby and the Atlantic Coast Conference were each selected as recipients of the first Legacy Awards while a cavalcade of national figures and entities received the organization's 2007 major awards.
Griffin captured the coveted Draddy Trophy from a sterling 15-person field of National Scholar-Athletes. The NFF's co-Gold Medal winners were Heisman Trophy standouts Pete Dawkins of Army and Roger Staubach of Navy.
War hero and inspirational Notre Dame running back Rocky Bleier was presented the Distinguished American Award while collegiate bowl games as a group shared the Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award. Florida director of athletics Jeremy Foley garnered the coveted John L. Toner Award for his outstanding accomplishments in athletics administration, and the voice of the Pittsburgh Panthers Bill Hillgrove walked away with the Chris Schenkel Award for his performance as the nation's outstanding American college radio broadcaster. Acclaimed Big Ten Conference official Jim Kemerling of the Big Ten Conference became the 24th winner of the Outstanding Football Official Award.
CSTV.com streamed the event live via the web and has archived material available of the historic event. Dignitaries present for the occasion included NFF board members George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones, NBA commissioner David Stern, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, and national television personality and emcee Chris Fowler, among others.
"I'm deeply honored," said legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno in his induction acceptance speech. "So many people are not around who were coaching when I started at Penn State. There are so many memories. We 'made' Doug Flutie when he played at Boston College against Penn State. Rex Kern's son played lacrosse at Penn State, and I tried to convert him into a defensive back when we were short-handed due to an injury at the Hula Bowl in the early 1970s. You learn to depend on your coaches and teammates, and they're counting on you. They all depend on you."
Kentucky's decorated TE Jacob Tamme was just as gracious in responding for the NFF National Scholar- Athletes Group.
"Some of the best advice I have had in football or life is to act humble and harbor true humility in your heart," he stated. "Two high school players came to our elementary school in Kentucky when I was a youngster and had an anti-drug message. I never have used drugs. Student-athletes can have a great influence on large numbers of people."
"I want to thank my family, my parents and my brother in helping me win the Draddy Award," said Texas' Dallas Griffin. "I'm just very blessed in many ways, and the accomplishments of the Draddy Award finalists are simply amazing. This is very good company, and congratulations to this fine group."
Bleier brought down the house with his reasons for being respectful, a war hero and receiving the Distinguished American Award.
"When I was young," he began, "I was raised by a good Catholic family in Appleton, Wis. It started with 'yes, Mom, and yes, Dad,' and continued to 'yes, Sister, and yes, Father,' then to 'yes, Brother, and yes, Coach,' and beyond that in college to 'yes, Professor, and yes, Coach. Now I'm in the mode of 'Yes, Dear."
"I have been very fortunate to have played for Army and coach Earl Blaik and then to have fought in the Army and to meet General Douglas MacArthur, who used to come up to West Point to see his good friend coach Blaik and to watch us practice," said Pete Dawkins in accepting the Gold Medal. "It is tremendous to share this honor with Roger Staubach."
"I have been in the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane in football and life," said Roger Staubach during his Gold Medal acceptance speech. "There have been so many quality people going along with me, and I am very humbled. I am very grateful to my wife Marianne, five kids and 12 grandchildren for their support. It has been very nice to have classmates and academy leaders from both Pete's and my careers here at the dinner."
In his response for the Hall of Fame class, Dartmouth linebacker and 15-year NFL standout Reggie Williams eloquently recited a senior season poem and spoke of a football student-athlete's commitment.
"You play a game you love so much," Williams said. "Many people have asked me if it is worth it after 13 surgeries? I answer with a resounding yes, and football has been an avenue of so many dreams. I grew up in Michigan and was told by head coach Bo Schembechler that I wasn't good enough to play at Michigan. I was able to convert a great education at an Ivy League school into another opportunity that was converted into success in sports and life. You could not ask for anything more."