A Night To Remember

Keith Jackson, left, talks with Barry Switzer at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame's annual awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Last week I had the opportunity to make one of the most enjoyable and rewarding trips that I can remember. I was able to go to New York City and attend the College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and some functions related to the occasion. I had rather dreaded traveling to New York in today's national security climate. However, I'm happy to report it wasn't bad at all. In fact, it was rather comforting to see the airport security measures that are in place and the positive and patient attitude most travelers seem to exhibit.

Monday night the Oklahoma chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame hosted a reception to honor the Sooners two newest inductees, Coach Barry Switzer and Keith Jackson. The event was held at the 21 Club, which provided a perfect setting for the guests of honors families, close friends, and Sooners in New York for the occasion to mix-and-mingle. The presence of President David Boren, three members of the regents, Athletic Director Joe Castiglione, and Coach and Mrs. Stoops pointed out the significance of the occasion. But probably to two people whose presence excited the guests the most were Leroy Selmon and Joe Washington. Having those two former Sooner greats emphasized the very special meaning this award has, especially for Coach Switzer.

The occasion was informal, relaxed, and lasted late into the evening. No one really wanted to leave. Probably the highlight of the evening came when Coach Switzer, Keith, Leroy, Joe Washington, and Larry Lacewell regaled many of the guests with a lengthy session of old Sooner "War Stories." Those tales get bigger and better with age and are still great even when you've heard them several times.

Tuesday night was the big event! Over 1800 people gathered at the Waldorf Astoria to honor the past and new College Hall of Famers. The evening started with VIP receptions and a huge silent auction that featured some wonderful sports memorabilia. At about seven everyone moved to the big banquet room for the evening's entertainment.

The room where the main event was held was a spectacle in itself. The head table featured six levels and occupied one end of the hall. In addition to all those seated at tables on the main floor the room featured on three sides second and third floor balconies filled with tables of guests. Big banners from all the Universities lined the front of those balconies.

Mike Tirico of ESPN was the Master of Ceremonies. The program was outstanding even though it lasted about two hours due to the many honorees.

All of the college head coaches were introduced and recognized. I was surprised at how many were in attendance. Then all the Hall of Fame members who were there were introduced and that also included a large number. Sixteen scholar athlete fellowships were then awarded. Those presentations included videos of each player. At that point some significant individual awards were presented.

Finally, the new inductees were introduced and presented with video interviews from each. Gene Corrigan from Duke University introduced 15 new players, and former Coach Bo Schembechler of Michigan introduced the 3 coaches. That was particularly special for me because of Coach Switzer and the fact that Coach Grant Teaff of Baylor and Coach Bill Yoeman from Houston are two men I know well and truly respect.

The San Francisco 49er (and BYU) great Steve Young responded for the new inductees. He did a great job. It appears he has a great TV career ahead of him.

The banquet and ceremonies were completed at 10:00 PM. From there we moved to a room for a reception hosted by some of Coach Switzer's friends.

It was two hours of great fun and particularly enjoyable for me because some of my long-time coaching acquaintances stopped by to congratulate Barry and Keith. There should be some very neat pictures somewhere from this event.

We left early the next morning and I was able to have a lengthy visit on the flight from New York to Cincinnati with Keith Jackson. What a neat person! He has changed very little from the happy, bubbly personality I remember as a player here from 1984-87.

The most vivid impression I have after returning, however, is not the ceremony itself or the few special places in New York we got to sight see. It is the tremendous "who's who" list of former Sooner Coaches and players that are honored in the College Football Hall of Fame. Only a small handful of universities come close to matching that impressive total. It was a wonderful event and honored two very deserving Sooners, even if it was long overdue in one instance.


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