Salaam Inducted Into College Football Hall of Fame

LAS VEGAS — The late Rashaan Salaam became the ninth University of Colorado player to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame Tuesday evening, joining teammate Michael Westbrook and CU’s 10th member of the Hall, their head coach, Bill McCartney.
 
Salaam was officially inducted six years and one day after he passed away on Dec. 5, 2016 at the age of 42.  Nearly 28 years after he played his final game for the Buffaloes, he becomes one of only 1,056 players and 226 coaches who have been inducted.  That is out of nearly 5.54 million who have played or coached the game during the past 152 years; that translates into less than two one-hundredths of a percent (.02%) of the individuals who have earned this distinction.
 
Rashaan’s mother, Khalada Salaam-Alaji, attended Tuesday’s full day of functions, the morning press conference through the induction dinner.  She spoke on behalf of Rashaan at the morning presser and responded with comments when asked what Rashaan’s induction meant to the family:
 
“It means a lot to all of us.  It’s so interesting that Rashaan has received so many accolades since he’s been gone.  We had to really prepare ourselves to live without Rashaan being here.  But he has received so many wonderful accolades, and this really caps it all.  I didn’t know anything about the College Hall of Fame, so I called my son and asked him what are we going to do with all of this.  He said, ‘Mama, let’s launch Rashaan’s foundation.’ 
 
“We heard from the IRS a week before we came here, so this gives us an opportunity to launch this foundation in Rashaan’s name so that hopefully, not just in San Diego where we are from, but all over this country.  It’s about yourself, how you feel about yourself, how you treat other people.  We really want this to spread love and kindness in the programs that this foundation will support.  And of course, it will have a big athletic component to it.  That’s probably the best thing that’s happening in the country right now – sports.  It’s means a lot, and this is so surreal.  I asked this gentleman next to me (Terry Miller), ‘Am I the only woman up here?  And he said ‘yes.’ (laughter).  Any way it’s wonderful, and I hope that I am representing my son Rashaan’s name well.”
 
She had previously said earlier this year after his selection:
 
“Rashaan left five years ago, and it is still difficult to deal with. A lot of attention has been given to Rashaan since he has been gone which the family deeply appreciates.  I wish Rashaan was still here so that he could use this wonderful recognition to support mental and physical health issues.  His going into the College Hall of Fame is a good thing, but there is so much serious social work that has to be done on this side for our children and this planet.  If Rashaan was here, I think he would enjoy this honor and celebration of him being inducted into the National Football College Football of Fame.”
 
The call of him reaching 2,000 yards by KOA-Radio’s Larry Zimmer easily rates among the – if not the – most memorable in University of Colorado football history.  On Nov. 19, 1994, with that play, Salaam likely secured the Heisman Trophy and his name forever etched in University of Colorado history.  Take a trip down memory lane (see and hear it here:
 
Salaam joined Byron White (inducted in 1952), Joe Romig (1984), Dick Anderson (1993), Bobby Anderson (2006), Alfred Williams (2010), John Wooten (2012), McCartney (2013), Herb Orvis (2016) and Westbrook (2020).  Salaam is now the third player who was coached by McCartney to enter the Hall, joining Williams and Westbrook who also played for him during his 13-year tenure as head coach from 1982-94. 
 
A 6-foot-1, 215-pound tailback who played 8-man football at San Diego’s La Jolla Country Day, he would become just the fourth player at the time to gain 2,000 yards rushing in a season, when schools generally played an 11-game schedule and the NCAA did not count bowl statistics into season totals.  He ran for 2,055 yards in averaging 6.9 yards per carry, doing so even though he did not play in five fourth quarters and on two other occasions, played only briefly in the third quarter; over half of the yards (1,040) came against ranked opponents.  He led the nation in rushing, scoring (24 touchdowns or 144 points) and all-purpose yards (2,349) and reeled off nine consecutive 100-yard games (10 total), including four 200-plus yard games. All the aforementioned set and remain CU records. 
 
In the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, 1995, he gained 83 yards and scored three touchdowns against Notre Dame in the Buffaloes’ 41-24 victory, which helped CU to an 11-1 record and a final No. 3 ranking in the polls.  After the game, he announced he was foregoing his senior year and declared for the NFL Draft.  McCartney had previously announced he was retiring; among Salaam’s postgame comments included, “I’m leaving with Coach Mac.”   He would be selected in the first round of the draft (21st overall) by the Chicago Bears, and would go on to win the NFC’s Rookie of the Year honor with a 1,000-yard season.  Injuries would eventually derail his professional career.
 
There was a three-man race for the Heisman Trophy between Salaam and Penn State’s running back Ki-Jana Carter and quarterback Kerry Collins.  On Dec. 10, 1994 at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, Salaam was the one who had his named called, in the process becoming the 60th to win the coveted prize.  Carter finished second, with Alcorn State’s Steve McNair edging Collins for third.  Salaam had won easily by over 800 points and collected almost twice as many first place votes than Carter and Collins combined.  He had won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back the week before and the Walter Camp Player of the Year honor days before the Heisman, in addition to earning unanimous first-team All-America honors.
 
Back in Boulder, the team was hosting a recruiting dinner at the Dal Ward Athletic Center with all current players and numerous recruits.  When Rashaan’s name was called by the Heisman’s chairman, there was massive applause and cheers, and the offensive linemen all lit up cigars.  When Salaam returned to Denver the following Wednesday, a dozen players greeted him at Stapleton Airport, and were actually allowed down the jetway at to greet him when he exited the United flight with the Heisman in tow, again to the cheering of a hundred strangers on the flight.
 
Salaam was a member of CU’s highly-ranked 1992 recruiting class and originally was ticketed to redshirt as a freshman.  But being so eager to play, he ran onto the field on the kickoff return unit in CU’s third game at Minnesota that fall.  He saw limited action on offense that season (27 carries, 158 yards and one touchdown), but as a sophomore the next year (’93), he would split time with Lamont Warren and despite missing two games due to injuries, he rushed for 844 yards and eight TD’s in the regular season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.  In CU’s win over Fresno State in the Aloha Bowl, he carried 23 times for 135 yards and three scores, offering a glimpse of what was to come.  When Warren declared early for the NFL Draft, Salaam would assume the featured back role by himself in 1994.
 
A first-team All-Big Eight performer in both 1993 and 1994, he was the conference’s offensive player of the year as a junior.  A three-time league player of the week, he garnered national honors for his final regular season game against Iowa State, when he went over 2,000 with 259 yards.  He had ended his sophomore year by being named the player of the game in the ’93 Aloha Bowl, and captured the Fred Casotti Award for the team’s top junior-to-be after spring ball.
 
He finished his career with 3,057 rushing yards, second all-time at CU at the time and still fourth, with 33 rushing touchdowns (first and remains third).  When tacking on 38 receptions for 412 yards and one kickoff return for 13, his 3,482 all-purpose yards were third (now ninth).  His number was officially retired on Oct. 28, 2017; CU had ceased retiring numbers in the 1970s but an exception was made for the school (and the state’s) only Heisman Trophy winner.
 
“The first thing that always comes to mind when thinking of Rashaan is that he was a complete player,” McCartney said.  “Thorough and fast, competitive spirit off the charts.  He could run inside, he could run outside, he could catch the ball, he could block with the best of them.  When we recruited him, we knew that throughout the process that if we could get him, we would get a diamond – someone really special.  He was one of those guys who, if going into a game evenly matched with the team you were playing, once you gave him the ball, you were no longer evenly matched.”
 
“Even though he was playing 8-man in high school, everyone knew he was the real deal,” he added.  “The really good ones aren’t always humble, but Rashaan was humble, unassuming, genuine.”
 
Speaking of Salaam’s blocking, he had one of the more notable ones in CU history.  On the final play one September Saturday in Ann Arbor in 1994, Kordell Stewart dropped back to throw what has become known as the “Miracle in Michigan.”  Wolverine defensive end Trevor Pryce had slipped a block by tackle Tony Berti, but before he could get to Stewart, Salaam stood him up; Berti gathered himself and then pancaked Price to the ground, buying time for Stewart to connect with Michael Westbrook some 64 yards downfield in the end zone and a 27-26 Buff victory.  Of all the plays he made during that season, Salaam was most proud of that particular one.
 
Colorado’s linebacker coach at the time, Brian Cabral, recruited southern California and Hawai’i.  He had known about Salaam from a relationship he had with his head coach at La Jolla Country Day and started recruiting him early.
 
“Oh, my goodness, this is terrific news,” were the first words Cabral spoke when finding out Salaam would be joining the Hall.  “When I recruited him from 8-man football, I wasn’t sure if he would be good enough to be a running back, but with his size, he could be a linebacker for me.  (The late) Ben Gregory was our running backs coach, and I asked him if this was someone we want to offer as a running back, and he had no hesitation whatsoever.  He didn’t care that was coming from 8-man football, he loved everything he saw about Rashaan on film. 
 
“I just remember his great smile,” Cabral said.  “Not only was he a great player, he was a great kid.  He contributed all his success to his offensive line and to the team — he always gave credit to everybody around him and never took any for himself.  Rashaan had a phenomenal attitude that way, and that said a lot about him.  He was the consummate team player.”
 
With Salaam joining Westbrook in the Hall, they become the second set of Colorado players from a same team to be inducted.  Brothers Dick and Bobby Anderson were teammates in 1967, when Dick was a senior defensive back and Bobby a sophomore quarterback.
 
“I was talking to (former Buff) J.J. Flannigan and we were discussing the talent that era of CU football had,” said Westbrook, the first and only CU receiver in the Hall.  “We know about one in 66 guys make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but in college, it’s something like one in 5,600 hundred to get into the college Hall.  It was an honor for me to make it, and now for a teammate I used to block for, bleed and cry with in the trenches together to get in is really something special.  We always had each other’s back; if you were to ask Rashaan every time he got the ball to the outside, he’d look for number 81 to be mowing people down.  Just like if I caught a designed short throw, there was number 19 doing the same for me.”  
 
Salaam was the son of former Buff Teddy Washington (’64), and late CU sports information director Fred Casotti was familiar with the family bloodlines.  Though the elder Salaam (Washington later changed his name to Sultan Salaam) transferred after his freshman year and never played a down at CU, Casotti told a few folks after watching his son after just his third day of practice in CU’s 1992 camp, “This kid is really, really good.  He’s going to win the Heisman.”  True story, and even more prophetic since the Buffs hadn’t practiced in pads yet.  Casotti, who was associated with CU for half a century, never predicted that about any other player.
 
Salaam had previously been inducted into CU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012, and posthumously into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

The 2022 College Football Hall of Fame Class—Players: LaVar Arrington (LB, Penn State); Champ Bailey (DB, Georgia); Michael Crabtree (WR, Texas Tech); Sylvester Croom (C, Alabama); Mike Doss (S, Ohio State); Kevin Faulk (AP/RB, LSU); Moe Gardner (DT, Illinois); Boomer Grigsby (LB, Illinois State); Mike Hass (WR, Oregon State); Marvin Jones (LB, Florida State); Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford); Mark Messner (DT, Michigan); Terry Miller (RB, Oklahoma State); Rashaan Salaam (TB, Colorado); Dennis Thomas (C, Alcorn State); Zach Wiegert (OT, Nebraska); Roy Williams (DB, Oklahoma).  Coaches: John Luckhardt (Washington & Jefferson/California Pa.); Billy Jack Murphy (Memphis); Gary Pinkel (Toledo/Missouri).

 

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