Black College Football Hall selects 2013 class

Charlie Neal

Charlie Neal, a long time sportscaster from Philadelphia, heads the list of inductees for the Black College Football Hall of Fame. Neal will be a member of the 2013 class to be honored on Feb. 16, 2013 at the Loews Hotel in Atlanta, Ga.

In addition to Neal, the other inductees will be Elvin Bethea (linebacker, North Carolina A&T), Charles Brackins (quarterback, Prairie View A&M), Joe Gilliam, Jr. (quarterback, Tennessee State), Ken Houston (defensive back, Prairie View A&M), Charlie Joiner (wide receiver, Grambling State), Ed “Too Tall” Jones (defensive lineman, Tennessee State), Larry Little (offensive lineman, Bethune-Cookman), Shannon Sharpe (tight end, Savannah State), Jackie Slater (offensive lineman, Jackson State) and John “Big John” Merritt (head coach, Tennessee State).

This is the fourth enshrinement ceremony. The newest members were selected from a list of 35 finalists who had been determined earlier this year by the Black College Football Hall of Fame selection committee comprised of journalists and former football executives from around the country. Former inductees also submitted their votes in an effort to determine who will join this elite group.

Charlie Neal started his broadcasting career more than 30 years ago as disc jockey before turning to television as a sportscaster working for several affiliates in the Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. markets.

He spent 23 years with BET as the lead commentator for Black college sports. He joined ESPN in 2005, primarily serving as play-by-play announcer for HBCU football and basketball telecasts on ESPNU.

Elvin Bethea was a Pittsburgh Courier All-American three consecutive years at North Carolina A&T. He played offensive guard and tackle as well as defensive end and linebacker. Despite being selected as an offensive guard in the third round of the 1968 AFL/NFL Draft, Bethea played his entire career for the Houston Oilers. He played in eight Pro Bowls and became the first player from North Carolina A&T to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Charles Brackins led Prairie View A&M to 33 victories in 37 games (.892 winning percentage) as quarterback for the Panthers. He was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 16th round of the 1955 NFL draft making him the first Black college football alumnus to play quarterback in the NFL.

Joe Gilliam Jr. grew up on the campus of Tennessee State where he shattered every major passing record at the school and countless other Black college records. He was one of the most popular players in TSU football history and gained his cool nickname when long-time football observes noted the name was called all along historic Jefferson Street, which runs near the TSU campus in Nashville, Tenn.

Gilliam was an All-American in 1970 and 1971 at TSU and was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 11th round of the 1972 NFL draft. He became the Steelers’ starting quarterback in 1974, and is known as the catalyst of the 1975 Super Bowl team although he did not finish the year as the starter. Gilliam earned two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers (IX, X).

Ken Houston was a center and starting linebacker who earned All-American honors for the Panthers during his collegiate career. Houston was drafted in the ninth round of the 1967 AFL-NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. In 1971, he set an NFL record with five touchdown returns (four interceptions and one fumble).

During his professional career, Houston intercepted 49 passes, recovered 21 fumbles, and scored 12 touchdowns. In stints with the Oilers and Redskins, Houston appeared in 10 Pro Bowls and was ranked No. 61 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999. Houston was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

Charlie Joiner was a tremendous player at Grambling State. In 1967, Joiner led Grambling State to a 9-1 record and a Black College National Championship. He led all GSU receivers from 1966-68, gaining 2,066 yards. He was named first-team All-SWAC three times.

Joiner was drafted in the fourth round by the AFL’s Houston Oilers and started his career as a defensive back, but he made the switch to wide receiver in his rookie year. He exceeded 1,000 yards receiving in a four season four times and was selected to three Pro Bowls. Joiner finished his 18 AFL/NFL seasons with 750 receptions for 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns.

He retired as the then-NFL leader in career receptions, yards and games played by a wide receiver (239). Joiner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

Ed “Too Tall” Jones signed with Tennessee State to play basketball, but left the team after two seasons to play football under head coach John Merritt. His famous nickname comes from a teammate at his first football practice pointing out that his football pants didn’t fit, because he was “too tall” to play football.

Jones became a two-time All-American defensive lineman, playing on a team that only lost two games en route to winning the Black College National Championships in 1971 and 1973. Jones ranks third in school history in sacks in a season (12) and fifth in career sacks (38).

In 1974, Jones became the first player from a Black college program to be selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft when the Dallas Cowboys made him the No. 1 overall choice.

Jones earned Pro Bowl honors three times. He retired at the end of the 1989 season, having never missed a game, playing the most games by any Cowboys player (232) and being tied with two others for most seasons (15).

Larry Little was a two-way tackle, team captain, and a three-time All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference choice at Bethune-Cookman. He would go undrafted after his college career, and have a short stint as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers.

Just before the 1969 campaign, however, he was traded to the Miami Dolphins and became a fixture at right guard during the 1970s when the Dolphins were the NFL’s dominant team.

Little was a superb pass blocker, and a key asset to the Dolphins rushing attack. Little was named first-team All-NFL from 1971 through 1975 and again in 1977. He was selected to play in five Pro Bowls, and was named the NFL Players Association’s AFC Lineman of the Year three consecutive years. Little was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

Shannon Sharpe was a three-time All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection from 1987 to 1989 and the SIAC Player of the Year in 1987. He was selected as Kodak Division II All-American in1989, and was a three-time Pittsburgh Courier Black College All-American (1987-89).

Sharpe led the Tigers’ to their best records in the program’s history: 7-3 in 1988 and 8-1 in 1989. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1990 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos (192nd overall), and played 12 seasons, winning two Super Bowls. Sharpe also had a two-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens that included another Super Bowl win.

He finished his NFL career with the Broncos and retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end. Sharpe holds the distinction of being the first tight end to amass over 10,000 receiving yards. Sharpe was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

During his college career at Jackson State, Jackie Slater was named to the SWAC All-Star Game three times. Slater was drafted in the third round by the Los Angeles Rams and played in 259 games from 1976 to 1995, setting an NFL record for offensive lineman.

He was the first NFL player to play 20 seasons for one team. Slater became a starter in 1979 – the same season the Rams went to the Super Bowl XIV. In 1980, he was a part of an offensive line that gave up just 29 sacks and helped the Rams finish second in the NFL in total offensive yards. Slater played in seven Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

John “Big John” Merrit had a record of 60-32-4 in his first job as head coach at Jackson State from1953-62. However, his greatest success was as head coach at Tennessee State from 1963-1983 where he compiled a record of 172-33-7 for a winning percentage of .811.

Five of his teams were unbeaten and five others only lost one game. His teams were chosen by the Pittsburgh Courier seven times as the Black College National Champions.

Merritt coached 144 players who played professional football, including, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Joe Gilliam and Claude Humphrey.

For more information on the ceremony, go to


Contact staff writer Donald Hunt at (215) 893-5719 or

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