Category Archives: Historical
This is the fourth in a series of posts ranking the greatest HBCU to NFL players, by position. Only players whose college careers started after 1970 were considered.
If ever there was an NFL Hall of Famer who continually beat the odds, it’s Shannon Sharpe. Sharpe grew up poor, raised by his maternal grandmother in Snellville, Georgia. He struggled academically and lived in the shadow of his older brother, Sterling, who was a football standout. While his older brother Sterling went on to play big-time college football at the University of South Carolina, Sharpe ended up playing his college ball at nearby Savannah State. Sharpe vividly recalled his transition to SSU during his 2011 Hall-of-Fame Induction Speech.
“When I left my grandmother’s home in 1986 headed to Savannah State with two brown grocery bags filled with my belongings, nothing was going to keep me from realizing my dreams. When people told me I wasn’t going to make it, I listened to the one person who told me I was, me.”
Sharpe was a standout at SSU, earning All-SIAC honors his final three years and Division 2 All-America honors in his senior year.
Still, success on the professional level seemed like a long-shot for Sharpe. While his brother was quickly becoming a superstar with the Green Bay Packers, the younger Sharpe waited until the seventh round of the 1990 NFL draft before being selected by the Denver Broncos. Sharpe found himself trying to transition from small-school college receiver to professional tight end. According to Sharpe, he almost failed to make the cut for the Broncos his rookie season.
“I played on special teams and I got 20 offensive plays, had 12 knock down blocks. I’m not proud to say I was cutting everything that moves. When they went back into the room on Saturday, my name was off the board. I made it.”
Sharpe would go on to do more than just make the team. He would go on to set a new standard for which all tight ends would be set against. Sharpe was quarterback John Elway’s most consistent target in the 1990s and one of the most dangerous weapons in the league during his era. By the time Sharpe retired 14 seasons later, he owned his positions’ record for receptions (815), yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62), all of which have been broken by Tony Gonzales. Sharpe also won three Super Bowl rings in his career, two with Denver (97-98) and one with Baltimore (2001).
Runner Up: Jimmy Giles-Alcorn State
The phrase “ahead of his time” is often overused in sports, but not when referencing Jimmie Giles. The 6’3 tight end from Alcorn State was picked in the third round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. At that time, most tight ends were little more than blockers who caught a pass or two every few games. Giles, too, was used in this manner for his first few seasons.
That changed in 1979 when he and former Grambling QB Doug Williams teamed up to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the NFC Championship game in just the team’s fourth season. Giles caught 40 passes and found the endzone seven times. Unlike most tight ends of that era, Giles was a serious deep threat, averaging almost 15 yards per catch for his career. Giles finished with 350 receptions, 5,084 yards and 50 touchdowns upon his retirement following the 1989 season. One has to wonder how much those numbers would have been improved if he had been more heavily utilized during his prime years in Tampa Bay.
Giles, like Williams, had problems with Tampa Bay management and coaching staff. This was reflected in his stats, which show a dip from 1982-1984, when he should have been hitting his prime. He rebounded in 1985 to be selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his career after catching 43 passes and 8 touchdowns with an amazing average of 15.7 yards per catch.
“He could have been one of the all-time best tight ends, if they would have used him more,” said former Buc teammate Gerald Carter.
Honorable Mention: Ben Coates-Livingstone
Like many HBCU to NFL stars, Ben Coates took an unconventional route to the NFL. The South Carolina native didn’t play football until his senior year of high school. While at Livingstone, Coates was a multi-sport athlete who broke records and impressed scouts enough to be picked by the New England Patriots in the fifth round of the 1991 NFL Draft.
Coates career really took off when the Pats drafted QB Drew Bledsoe. From 1993, Bledsoe’s rookie year, to 1998, Coates never recorded less than 50 catches or 6 touchdown receptions. The five-time Pro-Bowler finished his career in 2000, winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.
For his career, Coates caught 499 passes for 5,555 yards and 50 touchdowns.
Pre-1970: Raymond Chester-Morgan State
In the 1960s, there were few better small schools to find unheralded talent than the CIAA’s Morgan State. First there was running back LeRoy Kelly. Then came linebacker Willie Lanier. So by the time Raymond Chester finished up his career in Baltimore, he was no secret. The Oakland Raiders picked him in the first round of the NFL Draft in 1970 and he immediately paid dividends, catching 43 passes in his rookie season. Chester was a valuable member of Raider squads of the 1970s, winning two Super Bowls with the team. He finished his career with 364 receptions, 5,014 yards and 48 touchdowns.
The following is the third in a series of posts highlighting the best NFL players at each position produced by HBCUs. The list is comprised of players who played their careers at HBCUs after 1970.
Before he became the Greatest Receiver of All-Time, Jerry Rice was known in HBCU circles as “World.” Legend has it he was given the name because “there wasn’t a ball he couldn’t catch in the world.” The Starkville, MS, native came to Mississippi Valley State in 1981 as a lightly heralded recruit with no Division I-A scholarship offers. He left four years later as a first-round draft pick.
Rice’s career at MSVS really took off his sophomore year with the addition of strong-armed QB Willie Totten. That season, Rice caught 66 passes for 1,113 yards, great for any level of competition in the early 1980s. Rice and Totten spent the next three years racking up records and terrorizing the SWAC with their patented aerial attack. The numbers the two of them put up were simply ridiculous. After setting the NCAA record for receptions (102) and yards (1,450) as a junior, Rice bettered those numbers as a senior, catching 103 passes for 1,687. He also scored an amazing 27 touchdowns that season.
As spectacular as Rice was at Mississippi Valley, his professional career proved to be even better. Rice played an incredible 20 seasons in the NFL, breaking every major career receiving record while winning three Super Bowls. He owns the league records for career receptions (1,549) yards (22,895) and touchdowns(208) and is sure to be selected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible.
2. John Stallworth-Alabama A&M
Choosing the second best receiver was just as difficult as choosing the top one was hard. There are other receivers with gaudier stats, and I abhor equating championships with successful careers, but being a key contributor on a team that won four Super Bowl’s in a decade is a hard thing to overlook. Stallworth first made his mark at Alabama A&M, making the All-SIAC team in both his junior and senior seasons.
Stallworth was drafted by the Steelers in the 4th round of the 1974 draft and helped the team win its first-ever Super Bowl during his rookie season. Stallworth’s numbers his first couple of seasons weren’t that spectacular, but put that in context. He played during a run-heavy era on an especially run-happy team. He also played alongside another Hall-of-Fame receiver, Lynn Swann. Add in a few seasons where he missed a large chunk of games and it becomes clear that Stallworth can’t be judged on numbers alone.
Stallworth’s signature season came in 1984 when he returned from injury to have his best season ever, at the age of 32. Stallworth caught 80 passes for 1,395 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to being named Comeback Player of The Year. When he retired three seasons later, he owned every significant receiving record for the storied franchise. He finished his career with 537 receptions, 8,723 yards and 65 touchdowns and was elected to the NFL Hall-of-Fame in 2002.
3. Jimmy Smith-Jackson State
The story of Jackson State’s Jimmy Smith is one filled with ups and downs, but an inspiring one none the less. In four seasons at JSU, he caught 110 passes for 2,073 yards and 16 touchdowns and was a second round pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. After arriving in Dallas at the start of the Cowboy’s 90′s dynasty, injuries limited Smith’s production and a dispute with owner Jerry Jones eventually led to Smith being released in 1994. After being cut from the Eagles, Smith finally found a home with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995.
From 1996 to 2002, Smith put together a string of seven straight seasons of over 75 yards and 1,000 yards. Smith was a five-time Pro-Bowl selection who passed the 1,000 yard threshold nine times in his career, including the season prior to his retirement in 2005. Smith finished his career with 862 receptions, 12,287 yards and 69 touchdowns.
4. Donald Driver-Alcorn State
Donald Driver is one of the modern HBCU to NFL success stories. Driver arrived at Alcorn State just after the Steve McNair era ended, catching a modest 88 passes for 1,993 yards during his time there. At the time Green Bay drafted him in the 7th round of the 1999 NFL Draft, he was probably more accomplished as a track athlete.
Driver didn’t become a starter until his fourth NFL season, when he caught 70 of Brett Farve’s passes for 1,064 yards, the first of seven 1,000 yard season in his career so far. Though he is on the back end of his NFL career, the four-time Pro Bowler was still a valued contributor for the 2010 Super Bowl Champs and remains a team leader as he prepares for his fourteenth NFL season. His 750 catches and 10,060 yards are both Packer records.
5. John Taylor-Delaware State
It’s likely that by the time John Taylor was drafted by the San Fransisco 49ers in the 3rd round of the 1986 NFL Draft, no one was happier about it than opposing coaches in the MEAC. During Taylor’s time at Delaware State, he terrorized the rest of the league. An electrifying returner as well as a speedy deep threat, Taylor scored 15 touchdowns his senior season, two of which came on kick returns. Taylor finished his career as the NCAA record holder for yards per catch with an amazing 24.3 per grab (the record has since been eclipsed by Hampton’s Jerome Mathis) and a dazzling 2,426 receiving yards.
In San Fransisco, Taylor teamed up with Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice to form one of the most dangerous receiving duos of all-time. Taylor’s speed and deep threat abilities provided the perfect compliment to Rice’s deliberate, precise route-running. Taylor was largely used as a return specialist early in his career, however his role increased after he caught the game winning catch of Super Bowl XXIII. The next season he caught 60 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns. Taylor would again go over 1,000 yards in 1991. For his career, Taylor caught 347 passes for 5,598 yards and 43 touchdowns. He also holds the Super Bowl record for punt returns and punt return average.
Though there are other receivers with far more catches and yards in their career, considering the offensive playmakers he played with (Rice, Roger Craig, Gary Clark) and his meaningful contributions to three Super Bowl champions, there’s no debating that Taylor is one of the best receivers ever produced by any HBCU.
After being selected as a defensive back from Grambling, Joiner went to have a long NFL career. Finished with 750 receptions 12, 146 yards and 65 touchdowns in an era where 1,000 seasons were rare. Elected to the HOF in 1996.
“Bullet Bob” was a running back under Jake Gaither at FAMU, but was probably better known for being the “fastest man in the world” in the 1960s. The Cowboys utilized Hayes speed as a wide receiver, and caught 371 passes for 7,741 yards and 71 touchdowns. Elected to HOF in 2009.
This is the first in a series of post determining the best of the best that HBCU Football has produced at each position the since mass integration of black athletes by major majority institutions. Only players who played their college careers after 1970 will be considered.
It’s likely that if Steve McNair came along today, he would have never set foot on Alcorn State’s campus. In fact, with the nuanced recruiting websites and technology that permeates high-school recruiting today, it’s very likely there will never be another HBCU quarterback as talented as McNair. Part of the reason is that athletic, black quarterbacks are now acceptable in all of college football. This was not the case in the early 90s, when McNair was offered a full-ride to play for Steve Spurrier at Florida–as a defensive back. Knowing in his heart that he wanted to be a quarterback, McNair rejected the glitz and glamor of big-time, SEC football and chose to play at tiny Alcorn State. The rest, as they say, is history.
Blessed with a powerful arm and nimble athleticism, Steve “Air” McNair is easily the most successful professional quarterback ever produced by an HBCU.The numbers speak for themselves. After completing a spectacular college career in which he re-wrote the NCAA Divsion I-AA (Now Championship Subdivision) record books, McNair finished third in Heisman voting in 1994. He was selected third overall by the Houston Oilers, which at the time was the highest an African-American QB had ever been drafted.
After performing mostly mop up duty the franchise’s last two years in Houston, McNair’s career really took off when the team became the Titans in 1999. That year, he and running back Eddie George led the franchise to its first ever Super Bowl, coming up just a few yards short in the end. McNair continued to improve, peaking in 2003 as he threw for over 3,200 yards, 24 touchdowns and completed 62.5 percent of his passes en-route to being named CO-MVP with Peyton Manning.
After playing his last few years with the Baltimore Ravens, McNair finished his pro career with 31, 304 yards passing, throwing for 174 touchdowns and running for 37 more. The three-time Pro-Bowl participant finished with a career passer rating of 82.5 and ranks in the top 20 in career completion percentage. Sadly, McNair’s life was ended prematurely as he was killed as a part of an apparent murder-suicide in July of 2009.
Runner Up: Doug Williams (Grambling State)
If the recruitment of black QBs was indifferent in the early 1990s, it was downright inhospitable in the early 1970s. There had been few black signal callers in major college football to that point, so it’s not surprising that Doug Williams was only recruited by two schools, Grambling State and Southern University. He chose Grambling, largely because of its legendary coach, Eddie Robinson. With Williams under center, the Tigers won 35 out of 40 games his last three seasons, including three straight SWAC titles.
After placing fourth in the 1977 Heisman voting, Williams was chosen 17th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two years later he led the young Tampa Bay franchise to the NFC Championship game, only to lose to the Los Angeles Rams. Contract disputes and family issues kept Williams out of the NFL from 1983 to 1985. Williams began re-ignited his career in USFL. After that league disbanded, Williams signed with the Washington Redskins. Despite being a substitute for much of the 1987 season, Williams was named starting QB prior to the team’s playoff run and responded by leading the team to a Super Bowl blowout over the Denver Broncos, becoming the first African-American QB to participate in and win a Super Bowl.
Williams’ career numbers don’t really jump out at you: he threw for just over 16,000 yards, 100 touchdowns and completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Never made a Pro Bowl. But taking into account the years he lost in the middle of his career, there will always be a certain element of “what-if” with his career. One thing that can never be taken away from him is this Super Bowl performance and the impact his win had on future African-American quarterbacks.
Honorable Mention: Tavaris Jackson (Alabama State) 2006-Present 7,075 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, 77 QB rating. He is currently competing for the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks.
Quinn Gray (FAMU) 2005-2007 The former Rattler proved he was a capable backup, throwing for 1,328 yards and 13 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 91.4.
Hey folks, just came across this great NFL Films clip of former Florida A&M running back Willie Galimore. Absolutely amazing video of a running back who was, by all accounts, ahead of his time. Although he never gained a 1,000 yards in any of his six NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears, his peers raved about his talent years after his untimely death. One of legendary FAMU coach Jake Gaither’s first great players, Galimore was killed in a car accident with one of his Bears’ teammates in the off-season of 1964. NFL Films’ John Facenda called Galimore “The Ferrari of Running Backs.” Pretty high praise.
Look for more on Galimore on this site. But for now, sit back, and enjoy the show.