BOGACZYK: `Overwhelming Feeling' Accompanies Payton to Hall of Fame
The Word on the Herd-Jan. 9, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Michael Payton wanted to believe that one day, he'd have the feeling he did Thursday.
The 44-year-old former Marshall star quarterback just couldn't quite convince himself.
He opened a package delivered in the mail Thursday to his Harrisburg, Pa., home. It was from the National Football Foundation & College Football Hall of Fame, informing Payton he was among 15 legendary players and two coaches who were elected in the 2015 Hall class.
That class was formally announced Friday morning in Arlington, Texas, the site of Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship game between Oregon and Ohio State.
Payton becomes the sixth Marshall representative in the Hall, which moved this year to downtown Atlanta.
"It was an overwhelming feeling," Payton said Friday by phone from Pennsylvania's state capital city. "To have my name there with all the rest of the young men who had very special careers is just a thrilling thing to me, an amazing feeling."
The Hall of Fame reports that nearly 5.06 million have played or coached the game in the last 146 years. Of those, only 963 players and 209 coaches - including the 2015 class of 17 - are in the shrine. That's two ten-thousandths of one percent -- .0002 - who have the distinction.
On the 2015 ballot, Payton was one of only three from among 87 players from the divisional ranks to be honored.
"I guess it does take a little bit of luck," he said.
Payton, who starred for the Herd from 1989-92 and won the Walter Payton Award as the nation's top Division I-AA player as a senior, has been on the Hall ballot for "divisional" players for some time. As a consensus All-America first team pick (1992), he was eligible for the Hall.
Now, he's in the fold with five others with Herd ties, joining halfback Harry "Cy" Young (inducted in 1958), halfback Jackie Hunt (2004), wide receiver Mike Barber (2005), Coach Jim Donnan (2009) and wide receiver Troy Brown (2010). Young is recognized as playing football for Marshall and Washington & Lee.
Back during the 2012 Marshall season, Payton was in town for the 20-year reunion of the '92 title team. Asked how he viewed his Hall of Fame prospects, he said, "I'm still on the ballot. Just getting that far, to me is a great thing, and people have told me to be patient. Troy is in there, Coach Donnan is in there.
"People say I have the stats. We won a championship. I won the Walter Payton Award, which was great. I think it's all there. You just have to be patient."
Asked Friday if he ever thought he'd reach the Hall, Payton admitted to having fingers crossed.
"Truthfully, I really wasn't sure," said Payton, who owned most of the Herd's passing records until Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and Rakeem Cato came around. "Physically, I knew I had the numbers. I had the Walter Payton Award.
"But then you think about 5.06 million guys having played and coached college football and less than 1,000 are in there, and that opens your eyes. But then I knew Troy was in there and he was my teammate, and Coach Donnan was in there. And I was the quarterback who helped them have the kind of success we had. So, I had hope.
"But then you look at how there are so many other deserving players, and you just wonder."
The 2015 Hall of Fame class will be inducted at the annual National Football Foundation Awards Dinner on Dec. 8 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The inductees will also be honored at the National Hall of Fame Salute at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 2016, and they will be recognized at their respective collegiate institutions with on-campus salutes during the 2015 football season.
Their accomplishments will be forever immortalized in the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
Payton gave credit to his coaches and teammates, but singled out another group for his recognition.
"This is for the city of Huntington," Payton said. "Those people went through a lot with the (1970 team) plane crash, and when we got there we wanted to give them something to help things heal. We lost the (I-AA) championship in '91 and then won it in '92, and that started the whole championship parade, the success for the rest of the `90s and into the 2000s.
"There are so many great people down there, and so many great people who have always been great to me. I hope they will feel that (his Hall of Fame election) is something that's just as much for them as it is for me and for Marshall."
Payton was inducted into the MU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999. He was named the West Virginia Athlete of the Year and Man of the Year in 1991 and '92. He was twice named Southern Conference Player of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year, and he led the Herd to the 1992 conference title.
For more than 20 years, Payton held the Division I-AA record for most passing yards in a half. A two-time first team all-conference selection and a team captain in 1992, he finished his career with 689 completions for 9,411 yards and 69 touchdowns.
Payton also appreciated the coincidence that one of his fellow 2015 inductees is former Coach Jim Tressel, who guided the Youngstown State teams that downed the Herd and then lost to Marshall in the '91 and '92 national championship games.
"Really, that's pretty neat," Payton said. "Jim and I have become pretty good friends since we played those games. He's a pretty laid-back guy, and obviously he was a great coach. It will be good to see him again."
Payton played briefly for Dallas in the NFL and then two CFL seasons at Saskatchewan before finishing his playing career in 1996 in Arena Football with the Florida Bobcats. These days, Payton is a life coach and the senior staff counselor at Alternative Rehabilitation Communities in central Pennsylvania, and coaches the Central Dauphin Colts in youth football.
In those roles, he hopes the College Football Hall of Fame selection pays dividends, too.
"I try to give back," he said. "I can tell kids about the legacy I have, about what can happen to you, what you can do if you really try," Payton said. "If you're a good person, do the right things, stay away from drugs, you can have realistic goals in life and you can achieve something very special.
"It's possible. It happened to me. This is real. It's an amazing, humbling feeling to be so honored and recognized."