The big names get most of the acclaim at Hall of Fame ceremonies, and so it was this year when the National Football Foundation honored its 1986 inductees. Mike Ditka, coach of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, was recognized for his own great college career as a rugged end and punter at Pittsburgh. Running back Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, was another prime attraction. And the crowds also gathered around such ``glamour boys'' as quarterbacks John Brodie of Stanford and Steve Spurrier of Florida, halfback/defensive back Mel Renfro of Oregon, linebacker Jack Pardee from Texas A&M, and lineman-turned-broadcaster Al DeRogatis, who played his college ball at Duke. All of these honorees felt a special emotion, of course, but perhaps the moment was even more meaningful for some whose names might not immediately ring a bell with today's fans.
As former Navy star Ron Beagle put it: ``I'm glad there are some old-timers on the board; nobody else would remember me!''
That's a bit of an exaggeration, to be sure, for anyone who followed college football in the 1950s certainly hasn't forgotten the great end whose play sparked the Middies for three seasons and led them all the way to the Sugar Bowl in his junior year.
Beagle was a consensus first team All-American in both 1954 and 1955, and in the former year he received the Maxwell Award as the nation's outstanding player. But like most military academy stars (especially in that era), he went on to complete his service commitment in the normal fashion rather than try to squeeze in a pro career - and thus has been out of the limelight now for more than 30 years.
``The thing I notice most today is the size of the players,'' said Beagle, now a businessman in Sacramento, Calif. ``Everywhere you look they're 6-5, 6-8, 280 pounds. How do they grow 'em so big?''
But even in his own day, Ron conceded, most of the other guys looked big to him. ``In high school I was a peanut - 5-11 and 160,'' he recalled. ``Bear Bryant, who was then at Kentucky, said I was too small. So did Sid Gillman and a lot of other coaches.''
Ron proved them wrong, though, beefing up to 185 or so at Navy and leading the Middies to a lot of big victories, including a 21-0 decision over Mississippi in the 1955 Sugar Bowl.
Another star of the '50s who was a big name in his own heyday but may not be too well remembered by younger fans was Richie Lucas. A three-year starter for Penn State at both quarterback and safety (they still played both ways in those days), he too won the Maxwell Award and was second to Billy Cannon of LSU in the voting for the 1959 Heisman Trophy. But he played only a couple of years in the pros - in the infant days of the old American Football League - and thus also hasn't been making any headlines for a long, long time.
It is their very distance from the spotlight, though, that sometimes makes such players the most perceptive observers. And indeed both Lucas and Beagle had some interesting comments on the problems of the modern game - problems that have come to national attention on a wide scale lately through revelations of academic abuses and/or recruiting violations at a number of institutions.
``Without a doubt it's been out of control,'' said Lucas, who is now assistant athletic director at his alma mater. ``Those in authority have to take the necessary steps to control the situation, because it takes big people to control a big problem. And they've started doing it.''
Lucas pointed out that the abuses which are getting so much attention these days are hardly any novelty.
``Some of the things we're seeing probably occurred a long time ago,'' he said. ``There just wasn't as much general knowledge of what was going on. Before the TV era, things were much more regional. Each conference had its own way of doing things, and there wasn't the sort of national publicity there is now. So the abuses are much more obvious today, but these problems aren't all new.''
Speaking from the viewpoint of a college administrator, Lucas took issue with those who would solve the problem by de-emphasizing sports. He pointed out that big-time programs have positive as well as negative aspects, noting that it is the revenue-producing sports like football and basketball which help support a lot of other athletic activities on campus.
``We do have to control abuses, though,'' he said, ``and I think you're seeing this happening. The authorities are taking charge now. College presidents are taking over some of the responsibility. The vast majority of coaches want to control things. So do the athletic directors, and so does the NCAA. It's just common sense.''
Beagle agreed that things have reached a point where steps have to be taken, and he singled out recruiting as the main culprit.
``A lot of schools go overboard,'' he said. ``It's difficult to put a handle on it. Each school tries to offer more than the other one. If you're going to control the situation, you have to put some curbs on recruiting, but it's not going to be easy.''
Vince Banonis, a star center at the University of Detroit in the late 1930s and early '40s, and E.J. Holub, who played center and linebacker at Texas Tech in 1959 and '60, were other inductees from earlier eras. Then at the other end of the spectrum was Griffin, the most recently active member of this year's Hall of Fame class. But despite his relative proximity to the spotlight, interestingly enough, it was the former Ohio State and Cincinnati Bengals star who offered one of the most heartfelt expressions of what this ultimate honor meant to him.
``This is the greatest honor that could ever happen to a man who played college football,'' said Griffin, who is now an assistant to the athletic director at his alma mater. He added that he wanted to express his gratitude to the many individuals who had helped make it possible.
``I think back on how I was brought up,'' he said, pausing to introduce his father. ``I had six brothers and a sister, and my parents were very supportive of all of us. They gave me direction, they taught me trust in God, and they encouraged me to get a college education and to participate in athletics. Athletics teach you a way of life - they teach you how to get up when you're knocked down.
``I think, too, about my coaches in high school and in college,'' he said, praising his controversial former Ohio State mentor, Woody Hayes, as ``a great, great coach, and a great person too - that's how strongly I feel.''
``Finally,'' he said, ``I think about the teams I played for. A great group of guys who all came together to make some great teams, and who came very close to the national championship all four years I was there. Without those guys, Archie Griffin wouldn't be here today.''