On Feb. 28, The National Football Foundation (NFF) announced a group of 76 players and eight coaches who are on this year’s ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Raghib "Rocket" Ismail electrified college football as a receiver, running back and return man.
The FBS Hall of Fame Class will be announced live in New York City during a noon press conference on May 15.
Generally, about 12 to 15 players and one or two coaches make the cut. Three of the candidates this year are from Notre Dame: the late wide receiver Jim Seymour (1966-68), offensive tackle/tight end Dave Casper (1971-73) and receiver/running back/return man Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (1988-90).
Seymour and Casper also were among the three Notre Dame players on last year’s ballot. The third was quarterback Terry Hanratty (1966-68), the “Fling” to Seymour’s “Cling.” This year, Ismail replaced Hanratty.
Among the nominees this year are four former Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback: Miami’s Vinny Testaverde (1986), BYU’s Ty Detmer (1990) — who finished ahead of Ismail that year — Florida’s Danny Wuerffel (1996), and Nebraska’s Eric Crouch (2001), with another former Nebraska QB, Tommie Frazier (1992-95) also on the ballot.
Other familiar names include Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth, Arizona’s Tedy Bruschi (NCAA record-tying 52 sacks), Eric Dickerson, Kirk Gibson and Jonathan Ogden.
To put into perspective how difficult it is, consider Ismail wasn’t even among the 77 nominees last year.
Since induction began in 1951, 43 former Notre Dame players and six former coaches have been honored as Hall of Fame enshrines, more than any other institution. Notre Dame is represented almost every year, although there have been some multiple-year gaps, Its last three inductees are Tim Brown (2009), Lou Holtz (2008) and Chris Zorich (2007).
Among the trio this year, which Notre Dame player has the best chance to be inducted? My guess is:
1. Raghib Ismail
This is not necessarily about stats, although Ismail and Joe Heap (1952-54) are the only two Notre Dame players ever to amass more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in their career. Ismail’s 1,015 yards rushing averaged 7.7 yards a pop and didn’t even include the 108 in the 1990 Orange Bowl victory versus No. 1 Colorado that earned him MVP honors (back then bowl stats weren’t counted in career stats). His 22.0 yards per catch also is a Notre Dame career record.
For good measure, Ismail also had more than 1,000 yards in return yardage to complete the unique hat trick, scoring six times.
When he took the field, it was like spotting the Irish 14 points — seven for any touchdown he was about to score or set up, and seven more for the psychological fear he instilled in defenses or kicking teams.
More on Ismail in Part II of this feature.
2. Jim Seymour
He was never a consensus All-American, but he was named to at least one first-team All-America unit in each of his three varsity seasons. He was a third-team AP All-American and second team UPI as a sophomore when he and classmate Terry Hanratty made the cover of Time magazine as Notre Dame’s “Baby Bombers” en route to a national title.
Considered a freak in his time with his combination of range (6-4, 205) and speed, Seymour grabbed 138 passes for 2,113 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and 16 touchdowns during his career. He was the No. 2 all-time receiver at Notre Dame for nearly four decades (behind Tom Gatewood, 1969-71), but his numbers have been getting dwarfed by today’s pass-happy offenses, with Michael Floyd, Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and Golden Tate all eclipsing him in recent years.
My only question is if Seymour is on the ballot, why isn’t Tom Gatewood, who was a consensus All-American as a junior? Such is the difficulty of putting together a Hall of Fame ballot.
3. Dave Casper
If voters stare only at statistics, Casper has no chance. The record books show him with only 19 catches as a senior tight end and tri-captain on Notre Dame’s 1973 national championship team. That doesn’t include the three grabs for 75 yards in the 24-23 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, highlighted by a superb 30-yard catch in traffic that set up the game-winning field goal with 4:26 left.
But Casper was an offensive tackle his first two varsity season (freshmen were ineligible during his time) because of his blocking prowess. The Irish had a quality tight end in 1971-72 with Mike Creaney but lacked tackles, so Ara Parseghian used Casper in that capacity before shifting him to tight end after Creaney’s graduation. In his junior year, Casper started at offensive tackle at Michigan State but also lined up on the defensive line in short yardage situations — and then started at split end the next week versus Pitt when starter Willie Townsend was injured. How many college football players can do that?
Parseghian classified him as perhaps the greatest athlete he’s ever coached, and that’s good enough for me. According to his position coach Brian Boulac, Casper ran a 4.65 in the 40 in bare feet.
There are four Notre Dame players who are in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame: Wayne Millner, George Connor, Paul Hornung and Alan Page. If voters can look past “numbers,” Casper and Tim Brown could some day be the fifth and sixth. Casper already is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Brown is in the College Football Hall of Fame and has been up for induction for the Pro Football honor the past few years.
To be eligible for the College Hall, a player must have been named first-team All-America by an NCAA recognized source, not played a college game in at least 10 years and he can no longer be playing in the pros.
The ballot was mailed this week to the more than 12,000 NFF members and current Hall of Famers whose votes will be tabulated and submitted to the NFF's Honors Court, which deliberates and selects the class. Chaired by Gene Corrigan — Notre Dame’s former athletics director (1981-87), ACC Commissioner and NCAA president — the 14-member NFF Honors Court includes an elite and geographically diverse pool of athletics directors, conference commissioners, Hall of Famers and members of the media.
Part II: We rank the greatest Notre Dame players who are not yet in the College Football Hall of Fame.