SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The Notre Dame coaches took one look at John Michels 48 years ago and sent him back home. Too small to play college football, they said.
Michels was back in South Bend on Saturday, this time to take his place in the College Football Hall of Fame.
"It's ironic and satisfying that I'm here today," said Michels, an All-American offensive guard at Tennessee and member of the 1951 national champions.
"Thank God I didn't listen to (the Notre Dame coaches) and neither did Tennessee," he said. "This is the zenith of my career."
The other inductees were: Bob Ferguson, Ohio State; Hugh Green, Pittsburgh; Frank Merritt, Army; Bob Pellegrini, Maryland; Pat Richter, Wisconsin; Jerry Robinson, UCLA; James Saxton, Texas; Jerry Tubbs, Oklahoma; Charles White, Southern California; Marc Wilson, Brigham Young; and coach Red Sanders, Vanderbilt and UCLA.
Inductees from the divisional class were: Joe Cichy, North Dakota State; Joe Delaney, Northwestern State; Fred Dryer, San Diego State; Joe Dudek, Plymouth State; William Grinnell, Tufts; Frank Hawkins, Nevada; Pierce Holt, Angelo State; Gary Johnson, Grambling; Ken O'Brien, Cal-Davis; Bruce Taylor, Boston; Lynn Thomsen, Augustana; coach Jim Butterfield, Ithaca; and coach Paul Hoernemann, Heidelberg.
Small school or national powerhouse, starter or practice squad, there's something special about college football that can't be found anywhere else, Pittsburgh's Hugh Green said.
"There's a purity to college football and there always will be," said Green, a three-time All-American. "Everybody gives a large effort and it's not repaid by money."
Bruce Taylor was the NFL's rookie of the year in 1970, but his best memories are of his days at Boston University. Grambling's Gary "Big Hands" Johnson said he never wanted the awards or trophies, he just loved playing.
And Pat Richter said the lessons he learned as a tight end at Wisconsin helped shape the rest of his life.
"You look back now and say, `Yes, it was very much worth it," said Richter, Wisconsin's athletic director. "The many special times we had had a profound impact on our lives."
Joining the hall held special meaning for the Divisional class, which didn't exist two years ago. Prior to that, players from Division I-AA, Division II, Division III and the NAIA were excluded from the hall.
Joe Dudek recalled how excited he was when Plymouth State asked him to come play after all the big schools had passed him by. The Division III school couldn't offer him a scholarship, only the chance to play for another four years.
The running back went on to set the NCAA record for all divisions with 79 career touchdowns, and rushed for a Division III-record 5,570 yards on 785 carries. Sports Illustrated put him on its cover, and he finished ninth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, highest-ever for a Division III player.
"I went (to Plymouth State) with no big dreams ... and here I am today," he said. "We must all strive to keep these programs alive because without programs like that, people like myself wouldn't be able to fulfill their dreams.
"This is truly the greatest honor I've ever achieved in my lifetime, and I'll be forever grateful," he said. "It'll be something I'll never forget."