Chuck Ealey no longer has to guess why he's not in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Ealey, 72, was named for induction Monday. It comes over 50 years after Ealey completed his collegiate career at Toledo with a 35-0 record as its starting quarterback before embarking on a seven-year CFL career.
"I was emotional about it, it was almost an avenue of, 'Oh my goodness, this is over, thank-you,' in the sense that it comes up every year," Ealey said during a telephone interview. "The only reason it was kind of in the back of my mind was it came up every year.
"I think it was a sense of relief when it happened, not for anything else other than just not going over it again and again and again."
Ealey was among 18 players and three coaches named for induction Dec. 6 at a yet-to-be determined location. The '22 class includes former NFL stars LaVar Arrington (linebacker, Penn State, 1997-99), Champ Bailey (defensive back, Georgia 1996-98), Michael Crabtree (receiver, Texas Tech 2007-08) and Andrew Luck (quarterback, Stanford 2009-11).
Ealey was at Toledo from 1969-71 and led the Rockets to three consecutive Tangerine Bowl victories, earning MVP honours each time.
Ealey finished his career as Toledo's all-time leader with 5,275 passing yards and 45 touchdown passes. He's one of just four players to have his number retired by the school.
While Ealey's induction accentuates his individual accomplishments at Toledo, he feels it's also validation for his teammates.
"It confirms what we did," Ealey said. "I don't really remember the individual awards . . . but I remember being 35-0 and remember no one else has done that.
"Maybe someone will do it sooner than later but it's been 50 years and no one has done it yet, except us. That's what it means because this is something my teammates can hold on to as well . . . it's something we own that no one else can have at this point."
Ealey, of Portsmouth, Ohio, was bypassed in the '72 NFL draft after making it clear he only wanted to play quarterback at a time when Black players weren't seriously considered for the position. He joined the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats and led them to a Grey Cup title as a rookie.
"I'd never even thought about playing pro ball right through my senior year," Ealey said. "I played football to help me get my degree, that's what I was fighting for, to graduate on time and then go into business.
"It wasn't until my senior year that the issue came up about playing quarterback and it was very easy for me to say, 'You know, if I go to the NFL I want to go as a quarterback,' even if I didn't make it because I wasn't afraid of that. It was easy for me to take that position without being nasty about it. It's just that if it wasn't in the cards for me, then fine. Then the Canadian league came down and created the thought process and I said, 'Hmm,' and it ended up being that after all."
The six-foot, 195-pound Ealey played with Hamilton (1972-74), Winnipeg (1974-75) and Toronto (1975-78). He was the league's top rookie and an East Division all-star in '72, capping his first CFL season in Canada as the Grey Cup MVP.
He finished his CFL career with 13,326 passing yards and 82 touchdowns. But Ealey said his early success in Canada wasn't a case of pro football coming easily for him.
"No, not at all," he said. "These were good players, good people, it wasn't easy.
"I knew when I got here I could do many more mobile things just like when I was in university, which allowed me to play. Jerry Williams was our coach at the time and he didn't try to make me into a drop-back passer, he created things for me to get outside and do the things we wanted.
"That made a big difference to me and my game, which as I look back now created a lot of opportunity for young, especially African-American, quarterbacks to be able to come and look at their abilities to play in the CFL."
Ealey helped pave the way for the likes of Jimmy Jones, Condredge Holloway, Damon Allen, Tracy Ham, Danny Barrett and Warren Moon to not only play quarterback in Canada, but succeed.
Ealey certainly achieved a lot of football success. From his high school days in Portsmouth through his time at Toledo, Ealey was 53-0 as a starter.
After news broke about his induction, Ealey spoke with Al Oliver, the former major-league player who also grew up in Portsmouth. Oliver accumulated 2,743 career hits, won the '82 batting title and was a six-time all-star but hasn't been voted into baseball's Hall of Fame.
"We talked about a little town like Portsmouth and the opportunities we now have based upon what we've done in our lives in sport," Ealey said.
Ealey said one reason for his college success was always having a short memory.
"Whatever we did the week before was gone, it didn't matter," he said. "After Saturday's game, you'd see where your mistakes were, then move to a new game and focus on that without saying, 'This is No. 22 in our games of winning.'
"You get a bunch of guys who gel together but there's no magical thing people can do to go undefeated that long. I know it sounds cliche, but it's one game at a time, one play at a time. That's what I lived on, I never counted . . . I didn't hold it as a pressure point."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press