San Diego has a long and rich football history. Our town has produced four Heisman Trophy winners and some of the greatest players in the game has ever seen.
This year San Diego might up the ante again and make a brand new kind of history.
The 2023 College Football Hall of Fame ballot is out. 80 players are on it, including quarterback Alex Smith and running back Reggie Bush. As you may have heard, they were teammates at Helix High School in La Mesa. Plenty of high schools have had multiple players inducted to the HOF.
But, Smith and Bush present a new, incredibly unique possibility.
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"I think the trick is that they were on the same team," says Steven Hatchell, President & CEO of the National Football Foundation. "I would say, without a lot of research right now, that this is very rare and very special."
College football has been around for more than 150 years and about five and a half million people have played the game over that time so the research on this would be almost impossible to do thoroughly, and the National Football Foundation is nothing if not thorough.
For HOF consideration they start every year with 1,500 candidates, each of them nominated by their universities. Those names are sent to nine regional screening committees, who narrow the field to the final 75 or so that land on the ballot. Fewer than 20 will make the final cut for enshrinement in the HOF in Atlanta.
Having high school teammates up for election at the same time? That's unheard of, and so unlikely the NFF hadn't even considered it.
"We didn't know they went to Helix together. It's just one of those really fun things," says Hatchell. "Like, we've got a deal here in Dallas. There's only one high school in the country that's got two Heisman Trophy winners, which is Woodrow Wilson HS, and the winners are Tim Brown and and Davey O'Brien. So, we love all of those notes, those are what make football very special. In this case, to have two guys who were teammates on the ballot at the same time is what makes this great."
Both are certainly deserving candidates. Bush was a 2-time All-American and Heisman Trophy winner at USC and is to this day one of the most exciting players in college football history.
Smith finished 4th in the 2004 Heisman Trophy balloting and was named National Player of the Year by multiple publications. He led Utah to their first undefeated season and BCS bowl game win (remember those?) over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.
Smith, in his first year on the ballot, was the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. A few years later Bush went 2nd overall. Both had successful professional careers but , interestingly, that's not really of much concern to the HOF.
"We ignore it," says Hatchell. "This is all about college and their college career. The fact of the matter is so few make it to the NFL that we just don't think it's the right criteria."
That's one of the reasons Tom Brady, a good but not great player at Michigan, is not in the College Football Hall of Fame but is a shoe-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Collegiate HOF considers a candidate's post-collegiate career in another way. They look at factors like whether or not a player earned his college degree and how they excelled in whatever career path they chose. Or, at Hatchell puts it:
"What are you doing in life? Great dads, great leaders, great coaches ... we get excited about that."
That bring us to another 2023 nominee, a teammate of Smith's at Utah who San Diego football fans know pretty well. Eric Weddle is on this year's ballot. The safety was a 2-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year who still holds the program record for forced fumbles and is 2nd in interceptions.
"It's pretty surreal and crazy to be in the running with all those names on that list," says Weddle. "I think it's a very, very, very, very long shot (that I get inducted) but it's just an honor to be included in that group of amazing players. It's just humbling. I'm grateful for my time at Utah. It really paved the way for the NFL career I had."
A career that ended in February with the Rams and a Super Bowl championship, and in his case that DOES come into consideration ... but not because of the Lombardi Trophy. What's important is the WAY he got the ring.
Weddle came out of retirement and was a vital contributor to L.A.'s success. He's now a fantastic example for the players at Rancho Bernardo High School as he transitions to take over has head coach of that program, exactly the kind of impact the HOF loves.
"When he walked into that high school team and got in front of those guys and they take a look at him, forget the Super Bowl ring. Look at what he did as a person," says Hatchell. "He didn't just play, he was a leader. They win the Super Bowl, I think, and the playoffs games leading up to it because of the leadership and just the sheer determination of Eric Weddle."
Weddle is an ambassador for the game. When asked to share the first thing that comes to mind when he hears the word "football" Weddle does not hesitate.
"Love. Passion. Teamwork. The greatest team sport in the world because it takes everybody."
Sounds like exactly the kind of candidate the HOF is looking for. Plus, having Eric, Alex, and Reggie in the same class would make one heck of a San Diego party at the induction ceremony.
To see the entire ballot, which this year also includes Florida legend Tim Tebow, click here.