The wait is finally over for legendary OU running back Joe Washington. He was announced today as one of the 13 new inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Washington becomes the 17th former Sooner player to be inducted into the hall.
"When you're 18, 19, 20 years old, you don't realize how special it is when you are getting all these awards," Washington said today from his Maryland office. "But when you're an old gray mare and ain't what you used to be, it is really exciting to be recognized."
"To be in the company of all the great former players from OU is special. Being there with Barry (Switzer), or course and guys that I played with like Lee Roy (Selmon), Greg (Pruitt) and Billy (Sims), that means a lot as well."
Washington also played with several of this year's inductees in professional football.
"I played with Roosevelt Leaks (former Texas RB) with the Colts and with Mark May (former Pitt lineman) with the Redskins," said Washington. "And Anthony Davis, we had a lot of history. I still have a picture of me, Anthony and Archie Griffin, at an All-American event where we were holding each other's helmets."
Many of his former teammates had wondered why Joe Washington wasn't already in the College Football Hall of Fame. His coach at OU, Barry Switzer, thought it was probably because no one got to see Little Joe on television much during his career, since the Sooners were on probation during that time.
"No one knew about Joe outside of the Big Eight because he was never on television (due to Oklahoma's probation in 1974 and 1975)", said Switzer. No one got to see Little Joe do his showtime."
And there may be something to that notion. But Washington amassed over 4,000 yards rushing, was an outstanding punt returner, garnered the other honors mentioned earlier and was a first round NFL draft pick. So obviously, football people knew about him.
Wahsington was elected on his second appearance on the ballot. By comparison, little Joe's predecessor as the star in the OU backfield, Greg Pruitt, was inducted into the Hall in 1999.A two-time All-American who finished 3rd in the Heisman voting in 1974, he also played on back-to-back National Championship teams and was the Washington, D.C. Pigskin Club Player of the Year in 1974. He is second on the all-time OU rushing list and is the all-time leader in all-purpose yardage. Washington was selected as the number four pick overall in the NFL draft in 1976 by the San Diego Chargers. He also played for the Baltimore Colts and the Washington Redskins.
Another theory about why it took Washington so long to gain entrance into the Hall of Fame was that on a team that had so many talented stars, the soft-spoken Washington, at 5-8 and 170 pounds, was overshadowed by the great defenders during his years at OU. Lee Roy Selmon, arguably Oklahoma's best player ever, made the Hall of Fame back in 1988, just three years after he became eligible.
But for Switzer and others who played with Washington, there is no doubt that he has always belonged among the 781 members of the Hall of Fame.
"I've always said that Barry Sanders is the best runner of all time for pure innate running ability. Joe Washington was the most elusive back in that category," Switzer said. "Joe was special. I really and truly mean this. There is no player, including Barry Sanders, that I'd rather have in the secondary with the ball, breaking the line of scrimmage, than Joe Washington. He was a jackrabbit."
"On punts, everybody in the stands was excited because Joe Washington was going to have a chance to touch the ball. It was like, on cue, everybody in the stadium stood up because it was like showtime. Every time he popped the line of scrimmage, I called it showtime."
Switzer talked about the first time Washington ever touched the ball in a scrimmage at OU in his freshman season, when he finally convinced head coach Chuck Fairbanks to let the tiny Port Arthur, TX native with the silver shoes go against the Sooners first-team defense.
"I put Joe in at left halfback and the ball was at the 20 yard line on the north end of the field," remembers Switzer. "I called a counter play and Little Joe ran it up there and it should have been no gain against that first-team defense, Shoate and that crew. But you know what, Joe went sideways and went down the line of scrimmage, found a little hole, and all of a sudden, everybody was on their toes, watching him, looking south. People were ducking and diving and trying to grab hold of him and coming up with air."
"Eighty yards later, he runs into the end zone untouched and just drops the ball, like a little Pop Warner halfback. He was the tiniest looking thing and I'll never forget that moment. I turned and looked at Chuck (Fairbanks) who was about ten yards away from me and he turned and looked at me. We didn't say one word, we just stared at each other about 15 seconds. We were mesmerized and could not believe what we had just seen. That was something special right there. That was Joe Washington"
Now that he has gained entry, Washington is hoping that another former Sooner will soon be joining the list.
"I really thought that Clendon Thomas might be going in this year. He's certainly deserving", Washington said. "Hopefully, he'll be getting elected in the near future."
Washington will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on December 6, during ceremonies at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
Washington to be inducted in College Football HOF
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