10 HBCU Football Players Who Deserve To Be Considered For Canton

At the most recent Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony that just took place in Canton, Ohio, three more players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Harold Carmichael, Donnie Shell and Winston Hill were added to 346 members of the Hall of Fame. So now 33 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are HBCU players, that’s almost 10% of the recipients of gold jackets.

Despite all success that HBCU players have had, there are still several that have been overlooked. I will be reviewing a few of the players that have been thus far excluded.

10. Jimmy Lee Smith Jr. [Jackson State] A Wide Receiver who was a second-round draft pick, 36th overall, of the Dallas Cowboys, he went on to five Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl and to compile 12,287 yards, on 862 catches and 67 touchdowns. As a Cowboy he only appeared in seven games due to a broken right fibula as a rookie and later a bout of appendicitis which was initially misdiagnosed, resulting in an emergency appendectomy and an ileostomy, prior to being waived, once he’d won his salary grievance against the Cowboys. He was briefly an Eagle and was released in 1994.

His NFL career began in earnest in 1995 when he tried out for an expansion team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was a reserve and special teams’ contributor initially. Next season he moved up the depth chart and when Andre Rison was released after game eleven in 1996, he was named a starter. Soon he and Keenan McCardell formed one of the top receiving tandems of the era. He had a game for the ages versus a great Ravens’ defense in 2000 when he had 15 receptions, 291 receiving yards (5th in NFL history) and 3 touchdowns on 19.4 yards per catch. In 2011, he was named to the Jackson State University All-Century team. In 2016, he was inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars (the franchise’s ring of honor).

9. L.C. Greenwood [Arkansas-Pine Bluff/Formerly Arkansas AM&N], Was a Defensive End and he was an integral part of the ‘Steel Curtain’. He was a four-time Super Bowl champion, Six-time Pro Bowler, who played in 170 games, was named to NFL All-Pro teams in 1974 and 1975 and was All-AFC five times. He also led the Steelers six times in sacks with a career total of 73 ½ sacks [unofficial]. He showed up in the biggest of games: he had four sacks in Super Bowl X (“unofficial” Super Bowl record) for a total loss of 29 yards and five career Super Bowl sacks. In Super Bowl IX he batted down three passes. In his career he had 14 fumble recoveries, including five in 1971, which tied for the NFL lead. L.C. Greenwood was an inaugural member of the Steelers Hall of Honor as a member of the Class of 2017. He was another one of Bill Nunn’s finds as a 10th round draft pick and if you are trying to imagine the type of player he was, he was very similar in physique and playing style to Charles Haley. Shockingly Joe Greene is still the only member of the “Steel Curtain” defensive line to be enshrined in Canton.

8. Greg Lloyd [Fort Valley State University] Linebacker, he was one of the linchpins of the “Blitzburgh” defense. While at Fort Valley State he was a Three-time All-SIAC selection and in his senior season, was selected as the SIAC Player of the year. He was also First Team SBN All-American and was selected 150th overall, by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 6th Round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Considered a bit undersized when he arrived, he quickly proved that the 6th round pick was a steal for the Steelers, in the same breath with John Stallworth. He went on to be a First Team All-Pro Selection three times: (1993, 1994 & 1995) with five Pro Bowl Selections, (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 & 1995), he also twice led the NFL in Forced Fumbles (1994 & 1995). He tallied 397 tackles, 54 ½ sacks, 24 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. Also, he was Two-time Steelers Team MVP and is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team and the Black College Hall of Fame.

7. Robert Porcher [South Carolina State] He had a quietly impressive career with 95 ½ sacks, 673 tackles, including 429 solo and 56 for loss, 18 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries with one scoop and score. He was thrice selected to the Pro Bowl and was named to three Pro Football Weekly All NFC Teams. In his 13 seasons he was selected to three Pro Bowls and named All-Pro three times. In his Lions career, he played in 187 games which at the time of his retirement was the third highest total in Lions’ history.

6. Lemar Parrish, [Lincoln (Mo.)] CB 1970-82. The flashier half of the Bengals’ stellar corner tandem, was an Eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro, he had 47 interceptions, returned for 462 yards and 13 fumble recoveries in 176 games with the Bengals’, Washington and the Bills. He was a terrific track and field athlete in high school. His speed and quickness helped him to six Pro Bowls in the first eight seasons of the 1970s. He also returned 131 punts for 1,205 yards and 61 kickoffs for 1,504 yards His speed allowed him to total 13 return touchdowns spurred by his 60 career takeaways. He took two punts back in 1974 and that 18.8 yards per return average for the season is still the league’s best since the merger. Parrish is one of six corner-backs with at least eight Pro Bowls and the only one not in Canton. The Bengals were in the NFL’s top ten defensively four of the seven years Riley and Parrish were a tandem and reached three playoffs.

5. Lander McCoy “Coy” Bacon, [Jackson State] DE, Dallas, Los Angeles Rams, San Diego, Cincinnati, Washington and Washington Federals [USFL]-Bacon was a pass rushing menace, and though the “Sack” was not recognized as a statistic until 1982, some scholars believe Bacon may have recorded a season with as many as 26 sacks, although some more thorough analysis has placed the number at 21½, still this was in a 14 game season that’s nothing of which to be ashamed. He was selected to three Pro Bowls and was twice selected All-Pro. He was listed at 6’4” but was closer to 6’3” and played most of his career at around 273. He grew up in Ironton, Ohio, attended Jackson State University and was a fine player, but left college prior to graduating.

The NFL didn’t draft Bacon, instead he signed with Charleston of the, now defunct, Continental Football League. He was later signed by Dallas as an un-drafted free agent, however George Allen, who never met a draft pick he didn’t want to unload, traded a 5th round pick to add Bacon to the, now aging, “Fearsome Foursome.” After backing up for most of 1968 he was activated when Lamar Lundy was hurt and the next year when Roger Brown fractured his hand. Bacon then took over the Right Defensive Tackle position, next to Merlin Olsen. Lundy retired in 1969 and Bacon became the starter at DE until he was part of a trade in 1971 that landed the Rams John Hadl. As a Charger he was reunited with “Deacon” Jones. He went to school once more in the presence of the game’s greatest pass-rusher. In 1976 Bacon was dealt to the Bengals for future Hall of Fame WR Charlie Joiner and proceeded to have a year for the ages that netted him his second Pro Bowl and first election to All-Pro.

In 1978 he was traded once more, together with CB Lemar Parrish to bring back a first-round draft pick. He was now with Jack Pardee, an acolyte of George Allen, the NFL coach who had believed in him first. He was credited, [unofficially] with 15 and 11 sack seasons, but he was slowing and when Pardee was replaced by the much more regimented Joe Gibbs, it was clear his days were numbered. Gibbs released him in 1981 and his playing career ended with the Washington Federals of the USFL in 1983. After football he battled personal demons and drug abuse. Later he was the victim of a shooting, following that he cleaned up, became a juvenile corrections officer and returned to Ironton for the last phase of his life. He died December 22, 2008, he has been credited, again unofficially, with 130 sacks in his 14 NFL seasons. When you factor in that he was a reserve for most of the first three years of his career, also that he spent time inside at tackle and that this was during the run, run and run some more days of the NFL, his consistency and productivity as a pass-rusher is even more compelling. He seems very deserving of serious Canton consideration.

4. Jethro Pugh, [Elizabeth City State] As a valuable and versatile member of the Doomsday Defense” Dallas defensive linemen, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey “Too Mean” Martin and ‘The Manster’ Randy White to form a defensive wall that was not far behind The Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” and of course the ‘Steel Curtain’ as the top lines of the era. From 1965-78 he played defensive and tackle in Coach Landry’s ‘Flex’ defense, and averaged 12½ sacks 1968–1972. Pugh is unofficially credited with a career total of 95.5. He led the Cowboys in sacks each season from 1968 to 1972 with a high mark of 15.5 in 1968, a team record that stood until 2010 when DeMarcus Ware broke it. But keep in mind that most of Pugh’s damage was done from the interior of the line, he often had to beat multiple blockers. He’s still ranked sixth on the Cowboys all-time sacks list.

3. Harold Jackson [Jackson State] Wide Receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, [two times], Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, drafted by Los Angeles Rams in the 12th round of the 1968 NFL Draft, the 323rd player chosen overall he was excited.

“I felt like going to the Eagles, somebody wanted me. Somebody was going to give me a chance to play,” Jackson says. “Coming from a small school like Jackson State, I just didn’t know that I was going to get the opportunity to play in the NFL. I was a small guy and weighed probably about 155 pounds coming out of college, and always felt like guys in the NFL were big, huge guys. And so, when I got traded to Philly, man, I was blessed, and felt like I had an opportunity because I felt somebody saw something in me. I felt like that was a chance for me to get an opportunity to really make a name for myself and prove that I could play in the NFL amongst those big ol’ guys.”

He more than proved he could hold his own, despite the fact that he played in a more physical era. Until 1978 receivers had to fight to get free until the ball was thrown, that changed when the illegal contact rule, often called, at the time, the ‘Mel Blount Rule’ barred contact with wide receivers beginning five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The clear intent was to open the game. This was one of many rules that ended football’s “Dead Ball Era” But by the time this openness came Jackson was a decade in the NFL. He has several accolades and awards: Black College Hall Of Fame, a First Team All-Pro Selection (1973) and a Second Team All-Pro Selection (1972) He was a Pro Bowler Five times: (1969, 1972, 1973, 1975 & 1977) He led the NFL in Receptions (1972), Receiving Yards twice (1969 & 1972), Receiving Yards per Game twice (1969 & 1972) and Most Receiving Touchdowns in 1973. He had three 1,000-yard seasons, two of them were in 14 game seasons, and a 13-touchdown season in 1973, a 14-game season.

He completed his career with 579 receptions for 10,372 yards and 76 touchdowns. He was in the top five of all categories he retired in 1983, but things have changed. Nonetheless a few Hall of Famers, Raymond Berry among them have said that they think he deserves to be in Canton.

2. Roger Brown [Maryland Eastern Shore/Formerly Maryland State] Defensive Tackle, Detroit and Los Angeles Rams- At 6’5” 305 Brown was 1 of the game’s 1st great player to weigh over 300 pounds players. But he was far more than just a giant. He was also astonishingly athletic and agile for his size he was a truly a revelation while at Maryland State, [now Maryland Eastern Shore] he was timed at 10 flat in the hundred-yard dash and was timed at 5.4 for the 50-yard distance. As Detroit’s fourth-round draft pick in 1960, Brown played some amazing games at Memorial Stadium. As a rookie, he stripped the ball from Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and recovered the fumble in a 20-15 Lions victory. Two years later, Brown tackled Unitas in the end zone for a safety in a 29-20 win. And in 1966, he blocked a Colts field-goal attempt as Detroit triumphed, 20-14. In Detroit, he teamed with Alex Karras, Sam Williams and Darris McCord to form the first defensive front that the media dubbed the “Fearsome Foursome.” Acquired by Los Angeles in 1967, he replaced Rosey Grier who had been forced to retire due to a torn Achilles, on a unit with the same name and played alongside Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy, in the second, but much more well known, “Fearsome Foursome.”

Unfortunately, in his era so few defensive statistics were official, that it’s difficult to get a sense of his dominance. But in the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre” game against the Green Bay Packers in 1962, according to newspaper accounts, he sacked Bart Starr either six or seven times, including one for a safety. The PFRA has credited him with 78 [unofficial] sacks. He was a Pro Bowl player for six straight seasons (1962–1967) and a 2-time first-team All-Pro (1962 and 1963). He was a member of both of the great “Fearsome Foursomes” in Detroit and with the Rams in Los Angeles. He has been elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame; and now has been inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

1.Ken Riley [Florida A&M] Corner-back-A standout quarterback in both high school and college he came to the Bengals having never played corner a day in his life at any level of football, but he became a day one starter and retired with 65 interceptions in 207 games, including eight in his final season with two TDs. More than 30 years after retiring from the Bengals, Riley still ranks fifth in career interceptions with 65; Riley is one of six greats that were named to the 2015 class of the Black College Football Hall of Fame. Riley, enshrined on the 28th of February, was joined by: Roger Brown, Richard Dent, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd, Donnie Shell and former Jackson State head coach W.C. Gordon.

Riley was a fine quarterback at Florida A&M University. Where he played for the legendary Jake “The Snake” Gaither, when he was a starter, the team had a record of 23-7 and he helped lead his team to Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles each season he started. All four of the players ahead of Riley on the “Career Interceptions List” are in the Hall: Paul Krause (81), Emlen Tunnell (79), Rod Woodson (71) and Dick “Night Train” Lane with (68) interceptions to complete the top 5. Some cite Riley’s lack of Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections as a reason for his being overlooked. The paucity of Pro Bowl selections could be due to the fact that: Mel Blount, Willie Brown, Mike Haynes, Jimmy Johnson, [Rafer’s brother], Lester Hayes, Roger Wehrli, Louis Wright and his own teammate Lemar Parrish were often selected instead. Of that group only Hayes, Hayes, Wright and of course Riley aren’t in Canton.

Shockingly Riley was not even a finalist, in his years of regular eligibility or since then as a possible Senior’s Committee candidate. By way of comparison, Roger Wehrli, who was similar to Riley in length of career, but Wehrli had 25 fewer interceptions with the St. Louis Cardinals and he was voted into the Hall years ago. Riley was a 1st Team All-Pro only in 1983, however his best seasons were 1975 and 1976; there were four times he led the NFL in interceptions, he recovered 18 fumbles, scored five TDs and was selected to Pro Football Reference 2nd team All-1970s Team.

My sincere thanks go to: Wikipedia, http://www.talesfromtheamericanfootballleague.com, the Professional Football Researchers Association, the Professional Football Hall of Fame and http://www.Pro-Football-Reference.com, The Black College Football Hall Of Fame, https://www.philadelphiaeagles.com/ {Where are they now?} without the research information that they’ve provided I would have been in darkness and grasping at straws.

3 thoughts on “10 HBCU Football Players Who Deserve To Be Considered For Canton”

  1. great series of articles on HBCU football and especially Maryland State/ University of Maryland @Eastern Shore football by a very good writer (right click on 11bravo138 above to see his other posts). Maryland State/ UMES is almost certainly the school with the most great NFL players per school enrollment size. I don’t think they were ever over 1200 students in the years before they stopped playing NCAA football (1979). The Roger Brown article says when he played there they only had about 250 students on a campus so small you could shout and be heard on the other side. Hall of Famer Raiders coach(1st Black NFL Head Coach) / all time NFL team offensive tackle Art Shell is probably the best known but there are many others including DT Roger Brown and the amazing Maryland State Coach McCain

    if Roger Brown had a catchy nickname, he’d be in Canton. Obviously a great clutch player all time safeties record and “6 or 7” sacks on Thanksgiving against that year’s eventual champion Green Bay Packers who featured an OL with quite a few Hall of Famers on it

    Doug Farrar recently did a post on the 50 greatest HBCU football players and I think his final version had Roger Brown at 25, but the initial tweet of his rough draft had left him out completely, apparently not recognizing “Maryland State” was in fact the HBCU now known as UMES and Roger Brown being such a common name. Anyway, Doug was alerted to the omission and included Roger Brown in the final piece, all of which was outstanding and well researched

    https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1366385503856070660

  2. I agree that Ken Riley was a better cornerback than the flashier Lemar Parrish and Riley should have been a perennial pro bowler. In his time he was undoubtedly underrated, but since his death a year or so ago he seems to be slightly overrated

    Roger Wehrli is also a deserving hall of fame player he was another guy who made the all pro teams during the 1970s and he was really good but like Riley also not a really flashy player

    DT Roger Brown would be in Canton if he had a catchy nickname

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