From any media member who would bang the drum on behalf of College Football Hall of Fame nominees Leslie O’Neal and Roy Williams, there would be statements of the obvious.
O’Neal has been inducted into the Oklahoma State University Athletics Hall of Honors, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers Hall of Fame, and the best pass-rush defender in Oklahoma State history absolutely belongs in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Williams was a big-play superstar safety for the Bob Stoops-coached Oklahoma Sooners in 1999-2001. Williams was a key figure on the 2000 national-title team, and at the end of the 2001 season he was an All-American and won the Nagurski Award (given to the nation’s best defensive player) and Thorpe Award (given to the best defensive back).
O’Neal, Williams and former Sooners quarterback Josh Heupel are among 76 former major-college players on the Class of 2020 College Football HOF ballot.
In the Class of 2019, only 13 nominees received good-news phone calls and 63 nominees did not.
Heupel was the MVP of the 2000 OU championship season, and he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up, but it’s tough to get a feel for where he stands in the minds of voters nationally. He may not get into this hall of fame just yet. He will eventually, and when he does, it could be as much for coaching as for what he did on Owen Field.
Will O’Neal make the cut this time?
He came up short after having been on the College Football HOF ballot in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Obviously, too many voters haven’t done the required research on his dominance as a Cowboy.
Still OSU’s career sacks leader with 34, O’Neal was an All-American in 1984 and 1985. In 1984, he was voted the Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year. That same season, Brian Bosworth and Tony Casillas played at OU.
That’s a media presentation of the O’Neal and Williams qualifications.
If any voter has questions about either nominee, they should consider comments from Pat Jones and Ted Lehman.
Jones coached O’Neal at OSU. Lehman for two seasons was Williams’ teammate at OU.
Jones on O’Neal: “Depending on where you put Bob Fenimore, O’Neal is either the third- or fourth-best player ever at Oklahoma State. The first two are (Barry) Sanders and (Thurman) Thomas.”
In 2001, Williams and Lehman were tag-team partners on one of the more famous plays in OU-Texas history.
Late in the game, as Texas was backed up against its own goal line, Williams executed a blitz and his now-legendary Superman dive at Longhorns quarterback Chris Simms. The ball squirted free and into the lands of Lehman, who danced into the end zone with the victory-clinching touchdown.
Lehman on Williams: “Roy Williams is the most instinctual player I’ve ever seen. Instincts can be common, but the ability to act on them and make plays like he did requires a level of confidence and aggression rarely seen.”
Lehman said his favorite Williams memory isn’t of the Superman play, but of a violent tackle Williams made during the 2001 meeting of the second-ranked Sooners and third-ranked Huskers.
During Nebraska’s first possession, quarterback Eric Crouch ran a lead-option play toward the Sooners sideline.
“(Linebacker) Brandon Moore plays a perfect feather technique to buy Roy some time,” recalled Lehman, himself a two-time All-American linebacker who in 2003 won the Butkus and Bednarik awards. “It made Crouch stretch it a bit and make a late pitch to the tailback. Roy rips right through the fullback and the tailback.
“It looked and sounded like a grenade went off.”
Williams was a flashy knockout artist who in seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. He closed his NFL career with two seasons in Cincinnati.
O’Neal and Jones attended the same high school — Hall High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Recruited by then-Cowboys assistant Butch Davis, O’Neal signed with OSU after having strongly considered UCLA.
“(O’Neal) could probably play anywhere on the field, and I mean anywhere,” then-OSU coach Jimmy Johnson told The Oklahoman before the 1983 season, “but he’s going to be so dominating on the line.”
After a 14-10 loss to top-ranked Nebraska in 1983, O’Neal’s reputation began to blossom within the Big Eight region and then nationally. Against a Huskers squad considered to have been among the best in college football history, he was the best player on the field.
“I think it’s safe to say that through the decade of the ’80s,” Jones said, “O’Neal and (North Carolina’s) Lawrence Taylor were the two best pass-rushers in college football. O’Neal was dominant.”
The eighth player selected in the 1986 NFL draft, O’Neal totaled 12½ sacks as a San Diego Chargers rookie, but that season ended three weeks early because of a terrible knee injury. O’Neal didn’t play at all in 1987 and missed half of the 1988 season.
Ultimately, however, he was restored as a force. In 1989-99 (with the Chargers, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs), he made 164 starts. With a career total of 132½ sacks, he is tied for 13th in NFL history with Taylor (a 13-season star with the New York Giants) and Terrell Suggs (now an Arizona Cardinal after 16 seasons in Baltimore).
Because Williams played more recently and for extremely well-known Sooners teams, it just feels like he’ll command the votes necessary to be a member of the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020.
While O’Neal probably gets snubbed in a fourth consecutive year, it doesn’t tarnish his OSU body of work in the least. The people who coached him, played with him and played against him know who and what he was.