The State of Kentucky has Five NFL "HALL OF FAMERS"
George McAfee ~ Johnny Unitas ~ George Blanda ~ Paul Hornung ~ Dermontti Dawson
If you were fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction weekend and Blanton Collier Award for Integrity On and Off the Field award presentation in Louisville on Thursday & Friday (June 19/20, 2014), the memories will reinforce the position of football being the greatest game. Starting Thursday night at the Ring Cermony, a reception for the present inductees was held amidst artifacts of the storied game. At that time the best in the game played at the college level prior to any professional teams. We often speak of determination, passion, and heart in football. Blanton Collier would actually shake your left hand; because it was closer to the heart. We learned that night about the heart of a two and an half year old, Johnathan Young. He was born with a congenital heart condition that left him with half a heart. We heard his brave father tell us how you can go from the joy and anticipation of a new born to learning prior to birth of choices that range from abortion to a high probability of death. You can see why his mom, who was in the audience, was tearing up at the start of the heartfelt story. The Young family chose to move forward with life, with assistance from the world class care of Kosair Children’s Hospital. We learned how truly tough Johnathan Young is having had three open heart surgeries. Trying to imagine the doctors working on a heart that is the size of a walnut and the journey this remarkable family has boldly conquered is uplifting and adds perspective to life’s smaller trials and tribulations. So with all of the past inductees lined up in front of the new inductees on stage for the ceremonial photograph, two smaller giants were in front – two young boys who prior to the age of 3 have made it through multiple open heart surgeries and Colt also overcame cardiac arrest (Colt Cogan and Johnathan Young). The Brave Heart charity is the recipient of funds raised from the annual induction event. The game of football is played by world class athletes with heart and soul and those brave little souls facing congenital heart disease are in a league all of their own.
The Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group (BCSG) hosted a breakfast for their honoree on Friday morning. With the 2014 recipient, Frank Minnifield, in attendance with his wife, Diane, we had a chance to visit in a relaxed atmosphere. I should note that all of us were relaxed but with Frank’s role as founder of the KY Pro Football Hall of Fame (KYPFHOF) his phone was an uninvited guest with the drama of ensuring the golf outing ran smoothly. With a few words of introduction on the BCSG and the enduring legacy of Blanton, Frank enlightened us with tales of the initial meetings of the KYPFHOF. After the first year’s ceremony of an impressive class: 2003 - Lenny Lyles, Jeff Van Note, Moe Williams, Buddy Ryan and Dermontti Dawson; a patron remarked to Frank that after that group there would not be any additional players to pick from! Twelve years later and with a vast pool of players that are eligible, the idea that Kentucky is only a basketball state has been laid to rest. Chatting with Frank it was revealing to learn that he feels this event is therapeutic to him as he gets to meet players when he was a fierce competitor he never got to know. Even with a fellow teammate at the University of Louisville, and 2014 inductee, Mark Clayton, this was one of his first “friendly” visits with an opposing wide receiver.
The Friday night event held at the intimate Brown Theater captured the pomp and ceremony to honor the contributions of four deserving inductees and the 1919 Centre College football team. Larry Seiple, with his three Super Bowl rings, a standout at the University of Kentucky, was the leading receiver for the Miami Dolphins in 1969 during their remarkable undefeated season. Mark Clayton, an eighth round pick out of U of L in 1983, earned five pro bowl honors with the Miami Dolphins. To this day he holds numerous team records including 18 touchdown catches, which is still tied for third in NFL history. Sherman Lewis was the runner up to the 1963 Heisman Trophy behind winner Roger Staubach. He spent 15 years as a coach in the NFL and has three Super Bowl rings from his years at the San Francisco 49ers and one more from the Green Bay Packers as Offensive Coordinator. And finally, the active NFL player inducted was U of L standout Elvis Dumervil. During his time at the Denver Broncos he has lead the league in sacks. Now with the Baltimore Ravens he continues to be an ever present force. With each induction speech and highlight reel of each player’s triumphs on the field it was obvious that the KYPFHOF identified a 2014 class that was worthy of the platitudes captured on film. With each acceptance speech it became obvious that no player gets to this level without an incredible support system. Larry’s wife of 43 years; Elvis’ foster brother; Sherman’s wife and family; and, Mark’s family. Of course, coaches, mentors and teammates are all mentioned and revered for their impact.
Many in the game of football will relate to you that a number of players “come from the street”. The head coach of Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers mentioned this to me specifically before the ceremony. He remarked that this event gives the players named to the All Commonwealth Team an opportunity to glimpse the positive force that football can provide in their lives. Philip Haywood, who was the recipient of the Blanton Collier Award for youth professional coach and holds the record as the winningest coach in Kentucky High School Football, told me about the positive impact football provides for his student athletes in Pike County.
On the field accomplishments are but one aspect of an athletic profession. To hold a light to the enumerable off the field accomplishments so many in the game provide to their communities, it is important to recognize their total career. Frank Minnifield was a person worthy of recognition and, as the recipient of the 2014 Blanton Collier Award for Integrity On and Off the Field he embodied a well-rounded individual. At Thursday’s event he had his immediate family join him on stage. As his wife Diane, son Chase and daughter Chanel made their way to the stage you could sense the strength of a strong family. Frank observed his name may be on the trophy but in actuality in his mind it is the Minnifield Family’s name on the trophy. At the Friday event he asked his dear friend and Coach Dr. Steve Parker to join him on stage during his acceptance speech. Next he called Diane and Chase to the stage and gave her credit for turning “a kid from the projects” who was not the picture of integrity to the man today who was deserving of the award. And then their entire extended family carrying flowers joined Frank. Yes, it will be known as the Minnifield Family award.
As is customary at the end of this event, High School Football players come up on stage to shake hands with the past and new inductees.
Blanton Collier Past Award Winners