Honored Banks now wants to give something back

John Steadman

December 09, 1992|By John Steadman

NEW YORK -- All the plaudits and tributes have been officially extended and football stories from games past recounted, if not documented. Now that Earl Banks is in the College Football Hall of Fame, he says it's his desire to start playing "pay back."

In typical Banks whimsy, he put the honors heaped upon him at banquets in Baltimore and New York in smiling perspective.

"When I pass on, I won't have to try to rise in the casket to find out what they're saying about me," he quipped. "I've heard it all, and it sure sounded good."

Banks gained a measure of immortality last night when the College Football Hall of Fame inducted him into its auspicious lineup of former coaches and players at a gala ceremony held in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

He was accompanied by his wife, family and friends, including the president of Morgan State University, Dr. Earl S. Richardson, and an 11-man delegation from the Baltimore chapter of the National Football Foundation & Hall of Fame.

The celebration gave Banks reason to pause and reflect on the good things that have come to him after coaching Morgan State for 14 winning years and putting up a record that included 31 straight victories and two bowl game triumphs.

"I see the emphasis placed on being a scholar-athlete, and I want to get involved with the Baltimore group that puts on the annual dinner," he said. "I am a grateful recipient. Now I want to put something of myself back into helping the cause of football. I feel it's incumbent to do that."

Earl remembers specifically his teen-age years at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago when a personal crisis occurred. His first reaction was to quit school and, if he had, none of the rewards he earned in football would have been possible, including finishing second in his graduation class, an athletic scholarship to Iowa and now this coveted membership in the Hall of Fame.

For nine years, he was a coaching assistant at Maryland State before gaining the Morgan position. "Conditions weren't the best there, but I loved it. Maybe if I had been hired by a school that had all the facilities I wouldn't have been able to coach.

"At Maryland State, we had 35 players, three coaches, a lot of chickens scratching around and dogs yelping and only two outlets in the shower room. It was kind of crowded. That only motivated me all the more."

Football, as he perceives it, isn't much different in its basic requirements than what he was introduced to 50 years ago. "It's all recycled. Names have been changed, but you can use all the names you want. If you don't block and tackle, then you can't win."

Banks said when he arrived at Morgan, following the legendary coach Ed Hurt, who had put together a string of 54 straight wins, he didn't attempt to match him. "I respected what Hurt achieved. I put that out of my mind and just tried to do right by the players and the school."

Being in the Hall of Fame as the second black coach (only Jake Gaither got there ahead of him) means much to Banks. Eddie Robinson, who has coached Grambling for 52 years, will be there, too, but he's still active and, thus, is not eligible until he has retired.

The Hall of Fame gives credit to the sport's all-time illustrious players and coaches . . . with names such as Rockne, Stagg, Bryant and now Banks. Yes, Earl Banks, who resisted the temptation to be a high school dropout in 1943 and stayed the course.

It was a dream he now wants to share with the youngsters of today, hoping that they can strive for some of the same. The story is from real life and not some creation.

Earl Banks says any kid, black, white or polka-dot, can do the same. America has a way of recognizing ability, perseverance and dedication. Banks presents himself as example A, supported by the Hall of Fame credentials that prove his point most emphatically.

Enshrined along with Banks last night at the black-tie affair were coach John Ralston, Lou Michaels of Kentucky, Jim Lynch of Notre Dame, Ron Johnson of Michigan, Larry Morris of Georgia Tech, Craig Morton of California, Bob Odell of Penn, Loyd Phillips of Arkansas, Howard Twilley of Tulsa, Art Weiner of North Carolina, Jack Youngblood of Florida and the late Jim Weatherall of Oklahoma.

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