Honoring the best of the best

Posted by ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel
NEW YORK -- Finding out the newest members elected to the College Football Hall of Fame is great fun every spring.

Finding out how the men reacted is even better. Imagine discovering that of the four to five million players in the history of the game, you are one of fewer than 900 deemed worthy of the sport's greatest honor.

"The more you learn about it, the more daunting it is," said former Miami quarterback Gino Torretta, the 1992 Heisman winner, who, along with former Notre Dame wide receiver Tim Brown, the 1987 Heisman winner, represented the class of 16 players at a news conference in New York on Thursday afternoon.

"We've passed our prime. We can't go back and play any more of our games," Torretta said. "You hope what you did, your body of work, is good enough to get into the Hall of Fame."

Joining Brown and Torretta in the Hall's 62nd class are two Lombardi Award winners, defensive end Grant Wistrom of Nebraska, a member of three national champions in the 1990s, and linebacker Chris Spielman of Ohio State.

Among the other standouts is three-time All-American linebacker Woodrow Lowe of Alabama. Joining Brown, Wistrom and Spielman as two-time All-Americans are tight end Gordon Hudson of BYU, wide receiver Ken Margerum of Stanford and linebacker Larry Station of Iowa.

The Hall also named coaches John Robinson, who led USC to a share of the 1978 national championship and won five conference titles in two stints with the Trojans, and Dick MacPherson, who dominated the Yankee Conference at Maine in the 1970s before resurrecting a moribund Syracuse program in the 1980s. MacPherson took the Orange, then an independent, to five bowl games, peaking in 1987. Syracuse went 11-0-1 and finished fourth in the nation.

"It's the epitome of coaching," MacPherson said. "There's no way to go from here. This is truly America's game: one coach from the state of Maine, one coach from California, and John Robinson had a great career."

The least known of the honorees is William Lewis, the first African-American All-American. Lewis played at Virginia State, Amherst and Harvard in the late 19th century. Lewis who played center on offense and "rush" on defense, became the first Crimson team captain of color and then stayed at his alma mater as a coach. He developed the "neutral zone" that remains in the rulebook to this day.

Lewis was nominated by the Veterans Committee, which considers candidates whose eligibility for election (50 years from the end of their careers) has expired. Squeezing in under that 50-year deadline are New Mexico State back Pervis Atkins and Auburn back and kicker Ed Dyas. Both finished playing in 1960, and both have been on the Hall of Fame ballot for many years.

Dyas already has asked to buy 20 tickets for the black-tie Hall of Fame induction dinner on Dec. 8 in New York. That's what this honor means.

"You think about your coaches from Pop Warner, all the work you did with your brothers in the summers, you're throwing, and you'd really rather be out with your buddies playing or water-skiing or something like that. You think about all the coaches you had and everything you went through as a player. That's pretty awesome."

The other members of the 2009 Hall of Fame class are defensive back Chuck Cecil of Arizona, quarterback Major Harris of West Virginia, defensive tackle Steve McMichael of Texas, defensive end Pat Swilling of Georgia Tech and running back Curt Warner of Penn State.