Celebrities Regis Philbin, Jim Kelly and new college football superstar Larry Johnson paid homage, with several dozen other honored guests, to legendary Yale football coach Walter Camp 1882 at a banquet in Yale Commons Feb. 8.
The Walter Camp 36th Annual National Awards Dinner, sponsored by the Walter Camp Football Foundation, honored the 2003 All-American college football team and featured the unveiling of a new Walter Camp postal stamp by the United States Postal Service. The banquet filled the Commons dining hall to capacity and drew guests from all over the nation, including local politicians John DeStefano Jr. and Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro.
Before the meal began, USPS representative and Vice-Chairman John Walsh unveiled the new stamp with DeLauro and Athletics Director Tom Beckett. The stamp, part of an “Early Football Heroes” series to be released Aug 9., features a picture of a young Walter Camp in 1879, a year when Camp served as captain for the fledgling Eli football team.
Many of the modern football rules are attributed to Camp as rugby improvements, such as the scoring system, 11 men on the field and the line of scrimmage. The forward pass was also invented by Camp, but not until 1906, as a response to criticism from President Theodore Roosevelt and others that the game was too violent and unskilled.
After playing football at Yale from 1877 to 1882, Camp served as the first Bulldog coach until 1910 and continued to choose the All-America teams until the year before his death in 1925. The Walter Camp Football Foundation was founded in 1967 to oversee All-American selections and to raise funds for charities such as the Connecticut Special Olympics Summer Games.
The banquet awarded Player of the Year Larry Johnson, Coach of the Year Kirk Ferentz, Alumni Award recipient Dave Casper, Man of the Year Jim Kelly and Distinguished American Regis Philbin. In a short speech, Johnson, a senior tailback from Penn State, congratulated all award winners.
“I never knew much about Walter Camp or the award, but I’m glad to meet every person I’ve met here tonight,” Johnson said. “It’s always great to appreciate friendships made.”
Johnson averaged 8.0 yards per carry during the regular season and posted the 7th-highest single-season rushing total in NCAA history with 2,087 yards. He also set the record for most yardage during the regular season for the Big Ten Conference.
Ferentz, in his 4th year with the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, guided his team to a share of this year’s Big Ten Conference, tied with Ohio State.
“In many ways, I still consider myself to be a rookie football coach,” Ferentz said. “While we didn’t finish at the top of the polls, I can’t imagine a team that improved more and cared more about each other.”
Ferentz’s Hawkeyes finished ranked No. 8 nationally and made an appearance in the Rose Bowl just four years after Ferentz took the coaching reins in 1998, when the Hawkeyes posted a 1-11 record.
Football legend Kelly, after receiving the Man of the Year award, said he attributes his success to the people who surrounded him.
“Throughout high school, throughout college and the NFL, I had great coaches and great teammates on the field,” Kelly said. “There’s one person who deserves this more than anyone else, and that’s my wife.”
Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl for four consecutive years and set 18 records, including eight career records in the NFL. He and Alumni Award winner Casper were both inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
Kelly also established the Kelly for Kids Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising money to research the children’s ailment Krabbe disease. Kelly’s son was born with Krabbe disease in 1997.
Finally, TV celebrity Regis Philbin was introduced and honored with the Distinguished American award. Philbin, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, is the star of daytime television show “Live with Regis and Kelly.”
“Why am I last?” Philbin asked upon receiving the award. “I’m always last.”
He also said he felt humbled and undeserving when he considers the history of the award.
“When I look at the list of people who have been here before me, I shouldn’t be here,” Philbin said. “I’m telling you the truth.”
The banquet featured dialogues between Master of Ceremonies Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo and each of the All-American honorees. Beside Johnson, these included Boss Bailey, Brad Banks, Eric Steinbach, Dallas Clark, Michael Doss, Dallas Clark and Willis McGahee.