Gophers great Stephens makes college football's Hall of Fame

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2011 - 6:58 AM

The first black quarterback selected to an All-America team led the Gophers to two Rose Bowls in the early 1960s.

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Sandy Stephens, the first black quarterback ever selected to an All-America team, led the Gophers to two Rose Bowls in the early 1960s.

Sandy Stephens was always cognizant of his status and the responsibility that carried. He wasn't just quarterbacking the Gophers -- he represented something bigger.

"We lived in a glass house. We were playing not only for our team and our family but for others, too," said Bobby Bell, Stephens' teammate on Minnesota's 1960 national champion. "Sandy knew he was playing for black players down south, who didn't have a chance to play football."

That he succeeded so memorably, becoming the first black quarterback selected to an All-America team, made Stephens an obvious choice for the College Football Hall of Fame, Bell said. And on Tuesday, that recognition finally came, albeit nearly 11 years posthumously.

"It's overdue. I feel like it's been an oversight," said Bell, who was elected himself in 1991. "But I'm tickled to death that I played with him, and I'm thrilled that he finally got elected."

He wasn't the only one.

"They're jumping for joy in Minneapolis, and back in Uniontown," said Judge Dickson, who went to high school in the small southwestern Pennsylvania town with Stephens and was his roommate at Minnesota. "Nobody would have been prouder of it than Sandy, and I'm just ecstatic about it."

Stephens, who died in 2000 at the age of 59, will become the 19th Gopher to be inducted into the South Bend, Ind., museum, and the fourth from Minnesota's 1960 national championship team. Those Gophers became the first to play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 1961, losing to Washington 17-7 but fulfilling Stephens' boyhood ambition to play on college football's biggest stage.

Stephens guided the Gophers to a return trip -- and a 21-3 victory over UCLA -- 12 months later. Stephens threw for 75 yards and rushed for 46 yards and two touchdowns in that game, his final one as a Gopher, and was named the Player of the Game. He was elected to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1997.

"His mantra was always, just give me the opportunity. If I'm not the best, I shouldn't lead the group. But if I'm the best, nothing else should matter," said Stephens' sister, Barbara Stephens Foster. "There was a mantel on his shoulders, and he willingly accepted that. We're grateful that his grandchildren and children will see his legacy continue."

Stephens is one of 16 players and coaches -- and one of three from the Big Ten, including Michigan State receiver Gene Washington and Ohio State running back Eddie George -- who will be inducted in New York on Dec. 6. Also selected for the Class of 2011 were Florida receiver Carlos Alvarez, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, Texas defensive tackle Doug English, Oregon State fullback Bill Enyart, Alabama defensive lineman Marty Lyons, Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland, Florida State cornerback Deion Sanders, Georgia defensive back Jake Scott, Nebraska guard Will Shields, West Virginia linebacker Darryl Talley, Oklahoma halfback Clendon Thomas and Arizona defensive end Rob Waldrop.

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