Saturday, August 14, 2004

Theismann among 22 to join Hall

By Tom Coyne
The Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Activities for this weekend's College Football Hall of Fame enshrinement began Friday with Jimbo Covert saying athletes needed to meet their expectations as role models.

The former Pittsburgh offensive tackle told those at a breakfast gathering that he had role models throughout his life, from a neighborhood boy named J.D. Haglan, who went on to play at Clemson, to Walter Payton, his teammate with the Chicago Bears.

"I always tell people whether we like it or not, whether athletes like it or not, we are role models," he said. "And it's up to them to conduct themselves in a professional manner and in a way that if their own kids were looking at them, their kids would be proud."

Covert, quarterback Joe Theismann, former Washington Redskins teammate Darrell Green, a defensive back from Texas A&I, former Oklahoma State tailback Barry Sanders and 18 others will be enshrined Saturday.

Theismann recalled being at Los Angeles International Airport when he learned he made the College Football Hall of Fame. He was told the news by former Notre Dame sports information director Roger Valdiserri.

"All of a sudden, tears started running down my face," Theismann said. "I don't know why. I had never really thought about it, never really anticipated it. I never envisioned myself being enshrined in it."

On Saturday, the 17 players and five coaches will attend a news conference, take part in a youth clinic, play in a flag football game and go to the enshrinement banquet in South Bend.

Theismann arrived at Notre Dame in 1967 as a 5-foot-10, 147-pound freshman. He said coaches joked about him being the next water boy. But he quickly made believers out of the coaching staff, leading the Irish to a 20-3-2 record as a starter.

Theismann had quick feet, a strong arm, great vision and a strong understanding of the game, said Tom Pagna, Theismann's position coach at Notre Dame.

"For a little, skinny kid, he had a tremendous, whiplike arm and a lot of confidence in himself - to the point some might call him cocky," Pagna said. "But when you're coaching him and he's playing for you it isn't, it's confidence."

Theismann will be the eighth Notre Dame quarterback enshrined into the hall, joining former Heisman Trophy winners Angelo Bertelli, John Lujack and Paul Hornung. Theismann was the runner-up for the Heisman in 1970, finishing behind Stanford's Jim Plunkett.

Theismann is fifth on Notre Dame's career passing list, throwing for 4,411 yards. He also led Notre Dame to just its second bowl game - its first in 45 years - and a victory over No. 1 Texas in the 1971 Cotton Bowl. But the game he remembers most vividly is a loss.

Playing at Southern California in 1970, he was 33-of-58 passing for 526 yards in a 38-28 loss in heavy rain. The 33 completions and 526 yards passing are still school records.

"I always felt that playing USC was my barometer of excellence," Theismann said. "To be able to perform like that against USC in those conditions - the whole second half was in a torrential downpour - that's the one where people come up to me and say, 'I remember that day.'"

Theismann said making the Hall of Fame is even more special because it's happening in South Bend. He will bring his in-laws and his parents, who haven't been back to Notre Dame in 30 years.

"It will be great to go back and be able to share the memories," Theismann said. "Nobody else in this enshrinement class can bring their families and friends this weekend to where they played. I have that opportunity. This is where it all happened for me. It's great."

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