2014 HOF INDUCTEES: A 'SPECIAL' CLASS
Banquet the highest-attended ever
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 1:00 PM
RIDGELAND - The 2014 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame class induction ceremony was the highest attended ever, according to the museum's executive director and Rick Cleveland.
More than 600 people packed the ballroom at the Jackson Hilton on County Line Road for the ceremony, which enshrined Ole Miss running backs Doug Cunningham and Dulymus "Deuce" McAllister, Mississippi State basketball coach Richard Williams, Olympic medalists Calvin Smith and Ruthie Bolton and, posthumously, Alcorn State and Tennessee Titan quarterback Steve "Air" McNair.
"I would never say that one class is better, or more deserving than another," Cleveland said. "But I will say this - this class is special."
McAllister, the all-time leading rusher for both the University of Mississippi and the New Orleans Saints, said in his acceptance speech what an honor it was to be inducted.
"I mean, you look at the guys who are already in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame - you have the best running back of all-time, Walter Peyton, the best wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice, and arguably the best quarterback of all time in Brett Favre," McAllister said. "That just doesn't happen."
Steve McNair, who was murdered in July of 2009, still holds the all-time NCAA all-purpose yardage record and won one MVP award for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. He was represented by his big brother, Fred McNair - the original "Air" McNair.
McAllister, McNair and Richard Williams, who led Mississippi State to the Final Four in 1996 are all household names.
But the other three inductees were no less deserving.
- Calvin Smith of Bolton spent four years as the world's fastest human, and won a gold medal in the 4x100 relay at the 1984 games in Los Angeles and a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Seoul, South Korea games.
- Ruthie Bolton, from McLain, Miss., owns two olympic gold medals for basketball from the 1996 Atlanta games and the 2000 Sydney, Australia games. She also averaged 10 points a game over eight seasons for the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs, and is the only player in that franchise's history to have her number retired.
- Doug Cunningham should be a household name, but more for the old-timers. The Louisville native played tailback for legendary coach Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss, and averaged more than 9 yards a touch during a prolific college career from 1964-1967. He was drafted in the sixth round by San Francisco and rushed for 1,515 yards for the 49ers and Washington Redskins over eight seasons.
The Hall of Fame also honored 1989 inductee Archie Manning with the "Rube" Award - named for former Sports Hall of Fame Director and WLBT sports anchor Michael Rubenstein.
Manning was awarded the "Rube" for his career of contributions to Mississippi, on and off the field, which last week included founding the Manning Family Fund for a Healthier Mississippi. The father of two NFL quarterbacks (Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos) said he's seen the power of fundraising for a good cause.
"We have seen what it meant not only to the patients but their parents, grandparents and even their doctors," he said. "We want to do more."
At Friday's event, which was sponsored by Bancorp South, Manning told the story of the last time that Rubenstein was supposed to interview him at a Jackson charity event, but instead sent a cameraman with a prepared list of questions.
Recalled Manning, "We got to the last question, and I said 'Yeah, this is a good deal for Mississippi,' and I looked right in the camera and said: 'And Rube, the next time you want to interview me, you can get your (read-end) down here and ask me these questions yourself," Manning said. "We had cultivated quite the relationship by then, and he was a great friend."
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant spoke near the beginning of the ceremony, and said the athletes who were honored Friday night represented the best of the Magnolia State, and had made us all proud to be Mississippians.
"I remember when I was younger I would tune in on the radio to listen to Ole Miss football games because of Archie Manning," Bryant said. "He came along at a time when we didn't have too much to beat our chests about in Mississippi. When we were listening to him, it was like he was playing for us. He was 'our' quarterback, playing for all of us."
Bryant finished by saying that the athletes embodied one of his favorite Bible verses: Isaiah 40:31.
"They have waited for the Lord, and gained new strength," Bryant said. "They have mounted up with wings like eagles. They have ran and not been tired. They have walked and not become weary."
Cleveland, who took over as executive director of the MSHOF in 2012 after a 38-year career in sportswriting at the Hattiesburg American and the Clarion Ledger, finished the night by asking folks to come and visit the museum and to enjoy the rich history that it holds.
"None of this would be possible without the help of our corporate sponsors." Cleveland said. "We get by without a dime of government expenses for day-to-day operations, so we encourage everyone to come visit the Hall of Fame, and bring a child - who knows, it could encourage them, and one day they might be enshrined."