SvoNotes: It's About Time

This week's announcement of the 2009 Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame class finally recognizes three football stars who should have received the call long ago. Jeff Svoboda looks at the careers of Pandel Savic, Dick LeBeau and Neal Colzie and says that it's about time the trio will get their due.

Without the usual fanfare, the class of 12 members who will enter the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in September was announced earlier this week.

The announcement typically occurs in early July with numerous members of the incoming class available at a formal press conference inside of Ohio Stadium, but this year's came via a late-afternoon press release. Someone inside the athletics department told me that the announcement came because the university wanted to get out the word about those chosen by Varsity "O" to enter the hall, but a press conference was tough to put together because few of the inductees are still present in the Columbus area.

Fair enough; the honor still is a great one for the dozen inductees, one not necessarily enhanced by the Columbus media sticking microphones into people's faces and asking "How does it feel?" Although I must point out, with no press conference in 2007, I would not have been able to meet octogenarian inductee Ivan Gilbert, a member of the 1942 national championship fencing team who had quite a few stories to tell.

But that's neither here nor there; the point of this essay, as one should be able to gather from the title, is that a few people seemed to be well past due when it comes to receiving this honor. And luckily enough, two of those are football players.

Of the 12 new Hall of Famers, four were football players, and while it's been more than a decade since Andy Katzenmoyer scared the bejesus out of Buckeye opponents, it's hard to say that the Westerville native's choice is overdue. It was bound to happen, and now seems like as good a time as any.

But for Pandel Savic, Dick LeBeau and Neal Colzie, the selections are well-earned – and should have been made years ago.

We'll start with Savic. It seems comical to look at his numbers now; the 1948 and '49 team's leading passer, Savic completed a combined 71 passes for 1,076 yards over the two seasons. Of course, the game has changed; his predecessor, 1947 starter Dick Slager, completed just 19 passes for 236 yards, making Savic look like a run-and-shoot quarterback in comparison.

That '49 team went on to win the Buckeyes first Rose Bowl, a game in which the sixth-ranked Buckeyes won, 17-14, over No. 3 Cal. Savic was a true threat in the game, rushing four times for nine yards, completing a pass for seven yards and catching two passes from Gerald Krall for 13 yards.

(By the way, a coach named Woody Hayes showed up a year later; by 1952, John Borton would throw for 1,555 yards in a season).

That wasn't all Savic would be known for in central Ohio, though. He later developed a friendship with Jack Nicklaus and was the chairman of the Memorial Tournament for years. Sounds like a pretty good résumé to me.

As for LeBeau, he should be a part of every Hall of Fame for which he could possibly be eligible by the time his long and distinguished career is over. Not only has he revolutionized the way football teams play defense, he was a pretty good player for the Scarlet and Gray back in the 1950s.

LeBeau, a member of the 1957 national championship team, tied for the team lead in receptions in '57 with seven and a year later with eight catches. (These trips through the time warp certainly show how the game has changed, don't they?). He went on to a 14-year NFL career and continues to make his mark on football after winning a second Super Bowl ring in February with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He also was honored by the university in April as part of the annual spring football preview luncheon, and his inspiring, humorous message showed why he's been able to be such a success. It was obvious to all who attended that LeBeau possesses remarkable qualities that have made him a success well into his 60s.

Then there's Colzie, whose accomplishments on the field surpass those discussed above and a number of players already chosen for the Hall. Colzie, who played on the dominating Buckeye teams as a defensive back from 1972-74, was an All-American and twice a first-team All-Big Ten member.

His 15 interceptions for a career – achieved in an era in which teams passed about half as much as they do today – still rank fifth on the all-time OSU list. His eight picks in 1974 are tied for third in the Buckeye annals. Two times he returned an interception for a touchdown in 1973, an OSU record that still stands.

Colzie's impact on special teams was just as profound. His 14.3 yards per punt return are an OSU career record, and he also holds the mark for punt return yards in a game and season (he's fourth on the career list). He also was a first-round draft pick who set an NFL rookie record for punt return yards in a season and was a Super Bowl champion.

How Colzie, who passed away in 2001, was short of the Hall of Fame over the past few years with numbers like that is beyond me. The real problem, to me, is that Colzie won't be around when inductions occur on Sept. 25 and then recognized at halftime of the Illinois game a day later. Varsity "O" dropped the ball in this regard.

All three of the above football honorees played at Ohio State well before my time. Heck, BSB wasn't even around for any of their careers, and our publication is nearing its 30th year.

But it seems clear to me that those players are among those who should be honored in the Hall of Fame because of the impact they made both on the field and in the community. When I think of Ohio State football, all three come to mind as excellent ambassadors and legendary names in Buckeye lore.

Savic, in addition to being part of a history-making Ohio State team, was identifiable for his work in central Ohio long after finishing his Buckeye career. LeBeau helped the Buckeyes win a national title before making a lasting impact on the sport. Colzie was simply a player who came before his time – and probably better than most of those who followed in his footsteps.

The rest of the honorees are no slouches, either. Of course most people know of Michael Redd, and it's good to see that the university will honor his Final Four legacy despite the eventual wiping out of that accomplishment for crimes that did not involve Redd. Robert Gary was one of the best track athletes in Buckeye history, twice competed in the Olympics and now has the squad on the precipice of becoming a Big Ten track power as the squad's head coach. Swimmer Bob Hopper was a three-time All-American in the 1960s.

On the women's side, the top honoree in my mind is hockey player Emma Laaksonen, who is so respected by her Finnish national team's squad that she has spent time as the team's captain. Her No. 3 has been retired by the ice hockey program, and she's certainly one of the top three players ever to come through the program.

Also in the group are golfer Allison Hanna, a two-time All-American, the 2003 Big Ten champion and the 2004 league player of the year; rower Kaja Fiserova, a 2003 first-team All-American; field hockey star Vanessa Immordino, a three-time All-American early in this decade; and swimming coach Jim Montrella, who led the Buckeye women to five straight Big Ten titles from 1982-86.

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