ATLANTA -- Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Deacon Jones and former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson were among the first set of honorees inducted into the Black College Hall of Fame on Saturday.
The Atlanta-based Black College Hall was established last year by former Pro Bowl quarterback James Harris and Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams. The first class included eight players, two coaches and one contributor.
Williams, who starred at Grambling, said Saturday's event was the culmination of a lot of work.
"Just like you practice for weeks before the season, we've been preparing for this night for a long time, and it's game-time now," Williams said, "We're inducting some people who everyone knows, but some who have contributed just as much, but are just not as well known yet."
Although several of the inductees have passed away, all were represented Saturday. Several, such as Jones and Bill Nunn Jr., a former Pittsburgh Steelers scout, were present. Other local dignitaries in attendance included civil rights icon Andrew Young and Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
"You have people like Bill Nunn, who a lot of people have never heard of, but was so worthy," Williams said. "He was instrumental in getting guys from Historical Black College and Universities such as L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell and John Stallworth, guys who were major contributors in the Super Bowls of the 70s."
In addition to Payton (Jackson State), Rice (Mississippi Valley State) and Jones (South Carolina State and Mississippi Valley State), the other inductees were: Buck Buchanan (Grambling), Willie Galimore (Florida A&M), Willie Lanier (Morgan State), Ben Stevenson (Tuskegee), Tank Younger (Grambling) and former Florida A&M coach Jake Gaither.
Current commentator and former NFL head coach John Gruden was the master of ceremonies and said he was among some of his best friends at the banquet.
"It's a big honor for me to be here, with a lot of my best friends," he said. "I grew up with guys like James 'Shack' Harris, I coached Jerry Rice, and I had Deacon Jones come speak to my team every year."
Blank was surprised to learn there hadn't been a Black College Hall of Fame until now.
"I'm so glad to be here for this night," he said. "It's a unique opportunity and I'm thankful that I was asked to be here, representing the Falcons, the NFL and this city."