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May 24, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: White right there with Hall of Famers

MORGANTOWN — Back on New Year’s Eve, 2008, shortly after West Virginia University had edged North Carolina, 31-30, to win the Meineke Car Care Bowl, an attempt was made to put Mountaineer quarterback Patrick White into his proper historical perspective.

After all, he had just engineered his fourth consecutive bowl victory, something no other quarterback had ever accomplished, while finishing his career as the all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks. Why not try to assess his place in history?

The analysis put together that day certainly was open for debate, but he wound up No. 9 all-time, which is not really what we are here to discuss on this day.

Instead, the man who was given the moniker of greatest collegiate quarterback of all time in that analysis was one Tommie Frazier of Nebraska, and this comes to light again today because during this past week the Class for 2012 to enter the College Football Hall of Fame was announced, and Frazier was snubbed by the voters.

One does not quibble with those players who were elected, including at the top of the class the likes of Charles Alexander, the LSU tailback, and Art Monk, the Syracuse wide receiver.

But three quarterbacks were selected over Frazier, Steve Bartkowski of California from 1972-74, Tommy Kramer of Rice from 1973-76 and Ty Detmer of BYU from 1988-91.

None of them made the list that was presented that day of top quarterbacks, and neither Bartkowski nor Kramer was so much as mentioned among those who might have been deserving for consideration yet did not make the final cut.

If you were looking for the greatest passers of all time, certainly Tommie Frazier was not a Hall of Fame quarterback, but if you were looking for the quarterback who had the greatest effect upon a school’s history, on a quarterback who rose to the occasion over and over when a hero was needed and — most important — a quarterback who won, you could not overlook Frazier.

One tweet expressed the proper outrage:

“Tommie Frazier: 33-3, 2 titles, 4 conference championships, 6,266 yards and 83 TDs. NOT GOOD ENOUGH, APPARENTLY.”

And one writer put it another way:

“Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier was the best player on the best college football team of the past 25 years, and possibly the greatest college football team of all time.”

The worrisome part of this snub is that Frazier was Patrick White before there was a Patrick White, a different kind of quarterback who came along out of nowhere and changed the fortunes of a school, Frazier being able to take it even further than White as he won two national championships.

Neither White nor Frazier, however, are the kinds of quarterbacks that the world fawns over when the films of their performances begin to dim, for each was a runner and not a thrower, and we have been taught over the years to fawn over the Mannings III, over the Namaths and the “Slingin’” Sammy Baughs.

Neither White nor Frazier had those kind of arms and therefore failed to keep themselves in the public consciousness post-college with an NFL career.

But what did they do?

White changed the course of WVU history in mid-game, his team being pushed around by Louisville in a 2005 game when starting quarterback Adam Bednarik was injured, and White came in to create with Steve Slaton one of the greatest comebacks in WVU history.

Two years later WVU was on the doorstep of a national championship game until he was injured against Pitt and WVU failed to get the job done, again changing the course of history as Rich Rodriguez resigned as coach in its wake.

Frazier’s tale was much the same, Nebraska having won only one game over a Top 20 the year when Frazier arrived. With him at the controls the Cornhuskers won 13 of 15 against Top 20 in games he started, including that pair of national championships that included the greatest run ever made by a quarterback not named Patrick White or Major Harris.

As a junior, Frazier returned from a seven-game absence caused by a blood clot to direct the Huskers to a come-from-behind win over Miami, Fla., in the FedEx Orange Bowl and the school’s first national title in 23 years.

The next season he rushed 16 times for an NCAA quarterback bowl-record 199 yards in a 62-24 Fiesta Bowl rout of No. 2 Florida for the national crown.

This is Hall of Fame stuff, much as Patrick White’s performance is clearly of Hall of Fame value, and, it could come to be in a different sense, this year’s quarterback Geno Smith might well pass his way into the Hall with the monster senior season he seems capable of having.

There are those who are saying that Frazier was kept out of the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t eligible, the Hall having a little-known, unwritten rule that a school can’t have players selected in consecutive years and Nebraska had a player enshrined last year. Frazier, however, was also snubbed last year, when he was just as much a Hall of Fame performer.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter@bhertzel.

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