Waldorf it wasn't, but friends, family make Banks' pre-induction top of line

John Steadman

December 07, 1992|By John Steadman

Affection and respect flooded the room, an inundation o accolades and tributes that overwhelmed Earl Banks on the occasion of the public's joining in to celebrate his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame.

This was a demonstration by the home folks and may have carried more impact than the formal induction tomorrow night under the glittering chandeliers of the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Morgan State University alumni, faculty and friends of the coach gathered in a momentous banquet setting that qualified as an extraordinary personal and professional salute. The Martin's West ballroom was crowded with former players, coaches, cheerleaders, business executives, political personalities and an enormous cast of assorted admirers.

Banks was almost rendered speechless. He listened as Rep. Kweisi Mfume said, "It's a great feeling to know you are ours . . . a great coach and a great American."

Mayor Kurt Schmoke pointed out how pleasing it was that 90 percent of Banks' players finished college and went on to attainments in education, business, law, medicine and other fields. Schmoke cited "the lessons he imparted about the importance of moral attitude, leadership and setting and achieving goals."

Dr. Earl Richardson, the Morgan president, thanked the retired coach for his contributions to the university and the guidance Banks had given him. He let the audience know that he first knew Earl when he, Richardson, was "a barefoot kid in Somerset County and the coach was an assistant at Maryland State in Princess Anne."

The master of ceremonies, Willie Lanier, one of Banks' outstanding players who is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not only extolled the coach but presented him with his own private plaque so the appreciative words will remain in bronze. Jim Gardner, chief executive of Winner Distributing Co., stepped forth to award Banks a watch to signify the contributions he has made to so many worthwhile causes.

Harlow Fullwood, who played at Virginia Union and faced Banks' teams, related how Earl helped negotiate a contract for him with the Baltimore Colts and wouldn't accept a fee. McNeil Brockington, Carole Todd and Cal Disney, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Football Foundation & Hall of Fame, offered their own tributes.

In the midst of all this laud came a change of pace, a skit put on by Todd and Claude Parker, who with coaching pants, T-shirt, clipboard, whistle and baseball cap, imitated Banks as he appeared on the practice field. It won't get an Academy Award mention, but should.

Three of his players from different teams -- Pete Pompey, Bob Wade and Mark Washington -- came forth to talk about Banks.

"He coached life," said Pompey.

"Thank you for being that 'lighthouse' who guided so many of us through the storms of life," added Bob Wade.

And Washington said even though he played for coach Tom Landry for two years with the Dallas Cowboys, he never got to know him, "but thank God I got to know Earl Banks."

It was evident from the comments that Banks was driven to seeing his players cross more goal lines than those at the end of the field.

The grand finale was provided by his son, the Rev. Raymond Banks, pastor of Adams Chapel AME Church and once a football player at Maryland State. He talked of how proud he was to "be in this spot tonight with one whom God has smiled upon." It was a deeply moving message, with eloquence beyond compare.

In the audience was Bob Scott, athletic director at Johns Hopkins University. He goes to more sports banquets than he cares to count, but this was different. "There was such great warmth to what went on," remarked Scott. "It was a special evening for a remarkable man."

There were 20 current Morgan athletes present, and they were introduced as a group. Banks had paid for them to be there. It was another gesture of what the school means to a man who, in 14 seasons, coached Morgan football to a record of 96-31-2, two bowl victories and a 31-game winning streak.

Earl Banks is overjoyed that the College Football Hall of Fame extended him such an elite honor. But when your wife, son, former players, fellow coaches and friends come together, it carries an even more impressive message -- one that he will treasure, one which he realizes can't be duplicated or recycled.

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