Half-century passes, but Harmon back to salute Banks, this time to college Hall

John Steadman

October 23, 1992|By John Steadman

No, it's not just another presentation. This is going to be different, significant and emotional. Tomorrow afternoon, Earl Banks will be called to the center of the field at halftime of the Morgan State-Delaware State football game. The crowd will be on its feet.

Earl Banks is to receive a framed certificate that will, in turn, be displayed in the school's trophy case. It will be symbolic of his election to the College Football Hall of Fame. Then in December, he'll do it all over again in New York at a Waldorf-Astoria ceremony for what will be a more formal enshrinement.

His friends, headed by Everett Fullwood, also will gather Dec. 4 for a gala at Martin's West that promises to be a spectacular event. But for right now, what's going to transpire at Morgan tomorrow will carry a special meaning for Banks. What gives this extraordinary significance is because the man handing Banks the citation also gave him a previous award. That goes back 49 years ago in Champaign, Ill., when Pat Harmon, then sports editor of the Champaign News Gazette, selected him for the All-Illinois High School football team.

That was 1943. Time has such a way of moving on, particularly when you're involved in fun and games. So here it is 1992 and the same presenter, Pat Harmon, as historian/curator of the College Football Hall of Fame, will be awarding Banks the highest honor the game bestows.

"I remember that all so well," said Banks. "It was one of the most important things that ever happened to me because, without it, I may not have gotten the chance to come to Morgan State University as head coach and stay 14 years.

"The fact I was named on the All-Illinois high school team brought me the attention necessary to be recruited. This led to going to the University of Iowa and, ultimately, deciding I wanted to be a coach. I have Pat Harmon to thank for being the catalyst."

And, oh yes, another selection from Banks' high school in Chicago was likewise destined to achieve prominence in college as a player and then in the National Football League. That was the late Claude "Buddy" Young, who became an All-American at Illinois and then spent nine years in pro football before joining the NFL office as assistant to then-commissioner Pete Rozelle.

"If Buddy could be alive today, I know he'd be elated to be here to see his friend Earl given this outstanding award," said Harmon. "Buddy was an early enshrinee in the Hall of Fame and was a tremendous example for all that's good about the game of football. As Cecil Isbell, the great Purdue and Green Bay passer, once said, 'If you don't like Buddy Young, then you don't like people.' "

But the odds seem astronomical that 49 years ago Harmon was in a position officially to welcome Banks to the Illinois all-state high school team and, tomorrow, will be giving him a more coveted honor, membership in the College Football Hall of Fame on the campus where Banks won 96 games, lost 31 and tied two during his coaching career.

Banks is only the second black coach to make the College Football Hall of Fame. The first was Jake Gaither of Florida A&M. Others, no doubt, will come later but a pre-requisite for election is to be retired from the game at least five years. Overall, 106 coaches, including Banks and Gaither, have qualified for selection, dating back for more than a century.

In the player category, Willie Lanier, a Morgan product, holds membership in both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's only fitting Banks should be there, too.

The man was symbolic of success, a coach who stressed discipline, citizenship and fair play. Morgan State, with a long tradition for outstanding football teams, attained the heights under Banks, including a 31-game winning streak and postseason invitations that turned into victories in the Orange Blossom Classic in 1965 and the Tangerine Bowl in 1966.

The College Football Hall of Fame was something Banks thought about in his post-coaching years but he wasn't sure it would happen. Now the life and football times of Banks come full cycle and once again he'll be with Harmon, the man who helped provide the early recognition that headed him for the most illustrious distinction the game offers: the Hall of Fame.

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