African Americans and college football, Part 2: The Golden Era of HBCU football

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F365372 02: Former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, who died in November, 1999, is featured on a commemorative box of Wheaties breakfast cereal in a Des Plaines, Illinois grocery store, February 29, 2000. Voted one of the all-time Wheaties champions, Payton is featured on the cereal box for the eighth time, second only to Michael Jordan. (Photo by Tim Boyle)

All-time greats

There are a myriad of players that should be on this list. Historically black colleges and universities have produced 29 Pro Football Hall of Fame members. However, the players on this list are iconic in the continuum of college and professional football.

Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State 

You can’t talk about football without talking about Jerry Rice. There aren’t many all-time lists that don’t have Rice either at the top or close to the top as the greatest football player of all time. You won’t find him on the record books of any SEC school, rather he was setting records on the delta as part of Mississippi Valley State’s “Satellite Express” offense masterminded by head coach Archie Cooley from.

In 1984, Rice had a then-record 112 catches for 1,845 yards and 27 touchdowns. And the rest — as they say — is history.

Walter Payton, Jackson State

“Sweetness” as Walter Payton is affectionately nicknamed is the greatest running back in the history of the game in the eyes of many football fans. Since he didn’t receive any offers to play in the Southeast, he followed his older brother Eddie to Jackson State University in Mississippi to play running back from 1971-74 scoring a then-record 464 points and over 3.000 yards rushing. He’s one of the few players to also have two awards named after him — one on the professional and the other on the collegiate level.

Doug Williams, Grambling State

Doug Williams was one of the first black quarterbacks to finish in the top five of the Heisman voting with a fourth place finish in 1977. A four-year starter for legendary head coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State, Williams led the NCAA in total yards, passing yards, and passing touchdowns as a senior.

Despite his college accolades, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs was the only coach that scouted Williams. Good thing he did, The Bucs selected him in the first round and he led them to the NFC Championship game in 1979. When Gibbs became the head coach of the Washington Redskins, he signed Williams and they won a Super Bowl together.

Buck Buchanan, Grambling State

At 6-7 and 280 pounds, Buck Buchanan would be considered a “freak” athlete. He was a large lineman for his era and lightning-fast by all those that had the unfortunate task of trying to block him. He was as dominant in the pros as he was at Grambling State in the late 1950s and early 1060s. From 1965-1972 he was either an AFL All-Star or made the Pro Bowl.

Deacon Jones. South Carolina State/Mississippi Valley State University

Much like his contemporary Buck Buchanan, Deacon Jones was a freakish athlete. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, he became most famous for being part of the Los Angeles “Fearsome Foursome” with Merlin Olson. He began terrorizing quarterbacks at South Carolina State.

Jones lost his scholarship at South Carolina State after they learned he took part in a civil rights protest. When one of SCST’s assistants went to be the head coach of Mississippi Vocational — now Mississippi Valley State — he took Jones with him. The rest is history.

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