Attention football fans: Event in Atlanta to honor military's gridiron might

There is really good news for all college football fans. The College Football Hall of Fame will open in a grand new facility in downtown Atlanta on Aug. 23. The move of the Hall of Fame from South Bend, Ind., to Atlanta is a strong indicator that the center of gravity of college football has moved from the Midwest to the Southeast.

 

THE NATIONAL Football Foundation, which is the parent of the College Football Hall of Fame, was founded in 1947. There were three leaders who were responsible for creating the NFF: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur; Col. Earl “Red” Blaik, the famous coach of the U.S. Military Academy football team; and Grantland Rice, the pre-eminent sportswriter of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.

The NFF is a nonprofit organization. Its mission is to promote and develop amateur American football on all levels throughout the United States; and to cultivate leadership, sportsmanship, enthusiasm for competition and the drive for academic excellence among America’s youth.

For those who would like to attend a very special event that will take place soon after the grand opening, there will be a gala dinner the evening of Sept. 2. There are still a few seats available. Details are outlined at the end of my column.

The dinner speaker at the event will be the superintendent of West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. Caslen played varsity football at West Point during the early 1970s. Col. Greg Gadson, a former Army football player who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Iraq, also will speak. Gadson played a role in the movie Battleship, and most recently has served as commander of Fort Belvoir, Va.

The master of ceremonies for the evening will be John Feinstein, noted TV/radio sportscaster and author of many sports books, including Civil War, which chronicles the Army/Navy football rivalry.

Since two of the three creators of the NFF were graduates of West Point, it is fitting that the event will highlight the academy and its 28 inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame. However, the evening also will draw attention to football programs with various military roots, including the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, The Citadel, Norwich University, Texas A&M, VMI, Virginia Tech, etc.

 

THREE ARMY FOOTBALL players were recipients of the Heisman Trophy: “Doc” Blanchard, Glen Davis and Pete Dawkins. Three other Army players had distinguished combat records: Robin Olds, Bill Carpenter and Don Holleder. Holleder was killed in combat, and was the posthumous recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for combat valor. Holleder is the only Army football player to have earned the coveted Swede Nelson Sportsmanship Award.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I should point out that this event is important to me for two reasons:

• My mother, Mary Emily Porter Smith, served as executive secretary to Grantland Rice during the 1920s. Hence, she had the opportunity to meet the great figures in the sporting world, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden and Bobby Jones. She had many stories to tell about those exciting years travelling with perhaps the most beloved sports reporter in American history.

• My roommate at West Point for three years (1953-1956) was Don Holleder. In December 1957, I served as the best man in his wedding. Holleder introduced me to the maid of honor (and now my wife), Connor Cleckley Dyess – a truly magic moment in my life. The book The Spartan Game, by Terry Tibbbetts, tells Holleder’s remarkable story very well.

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE to attend, seats still are available. Tickets cost $100, and may be obtained by contacting the host of this event, the West Pont Society of Atlanta, at https://secure.west-point.org/wpsa/events/specialevent.mhtml. Georgia Tech has purchased a table, and representatives of Auburn University, the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia have been invited.

The website of the Hall of Fame is especially impressive – www.cfbhall.com. If you cannot make the gala, you may wish to swing by the center the next time you are in Atlanta. It is right next to the Omni Hotel on Marietta Street, so parking should be
easy.

Tickets are available online or in person. The center is open seven days a week starting Aug. 23.

 

(The writer is a retired U.S. Air Force major general. His email address is genpsmith@aol.com. His website is genpsmith.com.)

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