Tonight, Darryl Talley joins football royalty when he is officially inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Enshrinement ceremonies will be carried live at 8:20 p.m. ET on ESPN3 and will also be streamed on the National Football Foundation website [www.footballfoundation.org].
Talley became West Virginia’s third consensus All-American, and its first in 27 years, following a terrific season in 1982 that saw him record 135 tackles, seven sacks, five tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a pair of interceptions as an outside linebacker.
Talley’s signature game at WVU came against top-ranked Pitt in Pittsburgh in ‘82 when he intercepted a pass, blocked a punt that resulted in a touchdown and lined up at just about every position on the field that afternoon.
“Darryl was just tremendous that day,” recalled West Virginia coach Don Nehlen.
Talley’s journey to West Virginia started in East Cleveland, Ohio, where he said as a kid growing up he used to have to fight his way through school every day.
“Growing up in East Cleveland was kind of tough because on one side of the street was notorious for having gangs, and then on the other side of the street it was notorious for having a bunch of smart people,” Talley said. “I had to fight my way through school because I was a little African-American kid and I had a lot of [Native American] in me so I had stringy hair.
“I would go to school and people would want to pick on me because I was different than everybody else so I had to fight,” he continued. “I fought my whole way through school until I got to be the size of everybody else.”
Talley was never able to showcase his full talents in high school because of a preseason ankle injury that robbed him of most of his senior season. Yet West Virginia assistant coach Gary Stevens saw just enough film of him to understand what a great future he had in football.
“Nobody saw what I saw in Talley,” Stevens once recalled. “They weren’t recruiting him like I was recruiting him. I pounded him.”
When Talley finally did get back on the field he played like a kid possessed.
“One coached who was there scouting someone else said to me, ‘Son where have you been all year?’ I said, ‘I’ve been hurt all year. I have a broken ankle.’ He said, ‘You have a broken ankle and you ran like you ran tonight?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve only been practicing for a week,’” Talley recalled. “That guy just looked at me and shook his head.”
Talley was a good player his first couple years at WVU before really blossoming into a star when Nehlen moved him to outside linebacker to showcase his talents. Before that, Talley was still trying to figure things out.
“When I was a freshman everybody else was up for all-East that year: [Teammate] Delbert [Fowler], Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson and Delbert and I had our picture in the paper one week with the headline ‘When East Meets West,’” Talley said. “That was when we were trying to sack Danny [Marino] because all those guys were ahead of me. They were up for everything and I said, ‘I can play just as well as they can.’”
That was the moment Talley decided to put everything he had into football.
“At that point I decided that I was going to play just as hard as they did,” Talley said. “[Teammate] Robert Alexander started giving Delbert crap. He said, ‘Uh oh, you aren’t the best linebacker on the team now.’”
By his senior season in ’82, Talley was one of the best players in the country and was the big man on campus. He used to wear a blue and yellow ‘Members Only’ jacket with the word ‘assassin’ stitched on the front of it.
“Jack Tatum was one of my idols, as was Ted Hendricks,” Talley said.
Talley accomplished just about everything a player could accomplish on the field with one exception – his teams never defeated rivals Pitt and Penn State.
“When you think about it, Pitt had that great graduating class [in 1980],” Talley recalled. “Penn State had it in ’79. Just about everybody else that was a senior on that team got drafted in the top three rounds. Then Pitt turned around and did it the following year.”
Talley recalls absorbing some pretty thorough beatings against Pitt and Penn State during West Virginia’s lean years of 1978 and 1979. In fact, he remembered once getting hit so hard by Penn State fullback Matt Suhey on a student body sweep that his helmet flew off and he actually had to chase the ball carrier down the field without it.
“I remember getting back to the huddle and looking at [linebacker] Dennis Fowlkes and he said, ‘We ain’t ever letting anyone beat us up like that again!’” Talley said.
Against Pitt in ’79, Talley remembered teammate Calvin Turner getting the Pitt treatment after embarrassing Panther All-American offensive lineman Mark May on a play that resulted in a tackle in the backfield for a loss.
“Calvin had jumped around May and made a play and tackled Rooster Jones in the backfield and he got up yelling,” Talley chuckled. “Well, May looked at him, picked up Rooster off the ground and said, ‘Come on, we’re going right back at him! We’re going to get his ass!’
“Oh my god, the two of them – May and Russ Grimm – [on the next play] they just picked Calvin up,” Talley said. “I was so light then, too, and all I could do was just run in there and try and dive in and make the tackle. But those two guys just blew Calvin up on this play.
“There were some really good battles, and Calvin held his own.”
Although Talley failed to beat Penn State and Pitt, coming close against the Lions in 1980 and falling just short against Pitt in 1982, the gap between the three programs had been narrowed significantly and Talley had a lot to do with it, especially up at Pitt in '82.
“I just wanted to beat Pitt so bad,” he said. “We tried everything in the world to beat them. Delbert was a track star coming out of high school – he was a 220 sprint champ – and I’m like we can do this. We’re just as big as they are and we’re just as fast. I tried everything for three years to beat their ass and I could not do it. I just decided if I’m going to do it by myself then I’m going to do it.”
And he almost did.
Congratulations Darryl. Your honor is well deserved.