Next February, a trio of Tennessee State football legends will be enshrined into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
Current TSU coach Rod Reed doesn’t want it to end there.
Coach John Merritt, defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones and quarterback Joe Gilliam Jr. are three of 11 members of the Class of 2013, which was announced Tuesday. Reed believes more honors should be bestowed upon the Tigers greats — specifically Jones and defensive end Claude Humphrey.
"They should be in all Hall of Fames,” Reed said. “Too Tall Jones should be in the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame. He was the first player taken in the draft and had a stellar career with the Cowboys. With Richard Dent being the only one there I find that to be a travesty. I think Too Tall should be in the NFL Hall of Fame, along with Claude Humphrey.”
Dent spent 15 years in the NFL, primarily with Chicago, was the MVP of Super Bowl XX, amassed 137.5 sacks and went to the Pro Bowl four times. He was the first former TSU standout to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he went in last year.
Jones and Humphrey also posted impressive numbers in the NFL. Jones was a two-time All-American at TSU, helping the Tigers to black college national championships in 1971 and 1973. He was drafted No. 1 overall in 1974 by the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his next 15 years. He set the franchise record for the most games played (232) and went to the Pro Bowl three times.
Humphrey, who was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame last year, spent 13 years in the NFL with Atlanta and Philadelphia. He went to six Pro Bowls and recorded 126.5 sacks.
Gilliam’s NFL career was short-lived but he started the first six games of 1974 for the Pittsburgh Steelers and won two Super Bowl rings. He set every major passing record at TSU and was twice named an All-American while leading the Tigers to two black college national championships.
“I really don’t have any idea [why they’re not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame]. But the numbers speak for themselves,” said Reed, who played linebacker at TSU from 1985-88. “They all had stellar NFL careers and did great things while they were in college — especially in the NFL. I don’t understand that one. But that’s not my call.”
All four players flourished under the tutelage of Merritt, affectionately known as “Big John.” He coached the Tigers from 1963-1983, winning 81 percent of his games. Five times his teams put together undefeated seasons and seven times they won black college national championships. He also coached at Jackson State for 11 years and won 232 games between the two stops. He was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
Merritt will be inducted posthumously, along with Gilliam, when the 2013 Class — the hall of fame’s fourth class — is enshrined on Feb. 16 in Atlanta.
“They deserve it. It is richly deserved and I’m just glad they’re being recognized,” Reed said. “That is huge for our university. That’s huge for the history of our school. We’re very supportive and very appreciative of the Black College Football Hall of Fame recognizing them.”