The Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) hasn’t produced a Pro Football Hall of Famer since Michael Strahan left Texas Southern in 1993 or a first-round draft pick since Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie put Tennessee State in his rear-view mirror in 2008.
But the HBCU produced dozens of great players in previous years, including Hall-of-Famer Art Shell and Black College Hall-of-Famer James Harris, both of whom dropped by the Talk of Fame Network for its latest broadcast. And while both lamented the passing of great HBCU football, which accounts for 10 percent of the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, each mentioned what they consider the greatest HBCU quarterback that time … and fans … seem to have forgotten.
And that’s Eldridge Dickey, a star at Tennessee State who was so accomplished the Raiders made him their first-round draft pick in 1968 (and the first ever African-American quarterback chosen in the first round of the NFL draft) and Ken Stabler – who became a Hall-of-Fame quarterback – their second.
True story. So how good was Eldridge Dickey?
“He was so good that when the guy came out of college … you know what they called him?” asked Shell. “They called him ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ That’s what he was called in school because he was so good. The guy would get into a game and throw five or six touchdowns like it was nothing.
“He was spoiled a little bit because of who he was in college, but I’ve never seen a guy as talented as this kid. Eldridge could throw the ball with his left hand as good as he could throw the ball with his right hand. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I used to watch him … you know, when you’re fooling around and you watch guys just before practice, fooling around … and he was throwing the ball with his left hand just as good as he threw with his right. It was amazing. There’s no telling what he could’ve done (if he were playing today).”
Dickey was so marvelous that he led Tennessee State to the Grantland Rice Bowl (held for schools in the NCAA’s college division) in 1965-66, with the Tigers undefeated in 1966 when they outscored opponents an average of 41-4 and won the HBCU national championship – with Dickey named the game’s MVP.
In 2005, Dickey was chosen the quarterback on the All-Time HBCU team, but he never had a chance to play the position in the pros. The Raiders moving him to wide receiver for the start of the 1968 season – a position he never conquered and a move from which he never seemed to recover.
He died in 2000 from a stroke at 54.
“Let me put it to you this way,” said Harris. “I think Eldridge Dickey was the best quarterback I played against in college, and I was certain he would make it in the NFL. And I feel bad that he didn’t get a chance to play because he was before his time.”