During his time at North Carolina A&T University, Bethea was a three time Pittsburgh Courier Black College Football All-American. In college, he played offensive guard and tackle, as well as defensive end and linebacker. He was selected in the third round as an offensive lineman in the 1968 AFL/NFL draft by the Houston Oilers. He spent all 16 years of his NFL career with the Houston Oilers and played in 210 games, including a stretch of 135 consecutive. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. He led the team in sacks six times, finishing his career with 105 unofficial sacks. In 1973, he recorded 16 sacks, which still ranks as the best in Oilers/Tennessee Titans history. When he retired, he held three team records relating to career service: most seasons (16), most career regular season games played (210) and most consecutive regular season games played (135). Bethea was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Charles “Choo Choo” Brackins played college football at Prairie View A&M University from 1951 to 1955. He was a three year starting quarterback for legendary head football coach Billy Nicks and led the Prairie View Panthers to 33 victories in 37 games in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He was a big passer at 6’2" and 205 pounds and a two-time Pittsburgh Courier Black College Football All-American in 1953 and 1954. He led the Prairie View Panthers to Conference Championships in 1952, 1953, and 1954 along with two Black College National Championships in 1953 and 1954. After a stellar collegiate career, Brackins was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 16th round of the 1955 NFL Draft. He only played one game in the NFL, but his debut on October 23, 1955 made him the first HBCU alumnus to play quarterback in the NFL.
In his collegiate career, Gilliam passed for 5,213 yards and 50 touchdowns, leading TSU to back-to-back Black College National Championships in 1970 and 1971. He was known to be one of the most popular players in Tennessee State history. He gained his nickname because his name was heard all along historic Jefferson Street, which runs near the TSU campus. Gilliam was an All-American in 1970 and 1971. He went on to be drafted in the 11th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972 NFL Draft. He made an immediate impact with the Steelers as he became their starting quarterback in 1974, and led the team to a 4-1-1 start.
While at Prairie View A&M, Ken Houston spent time as a center before becoming the starting linebacker and an All-American in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He was an all-conference performer as a senior. Ken Houston was drafted in the ninth round of the 1967 AFL-NFL draft by the Houston Oilers. After six years with the Oilers, he was traded to the Redskins in 1973. During his career he was named a Pro Bowl selection for 12 consecutive seasons from 1968-1979. He finished his career with 49 interceptions, 21 fumble recoveries, and 12 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
Charlie Joiner won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship every year. During his time in college, Grambling’s record was a staggering 31-9-1, including the 9-1 campaign in 1967 that led to a Black College National Championship. He led all GSU receivers from 1966-68, gaining 2,066 yards. Joiner led the team in touchdowns in 1966-67, received the Outstanding Offensive Player award in the 1968 Little Rose Bowl, and was named first-team All-SWAC three times. In 1969 he was drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Oilers and had short stints with the Oilers and Bengals before settling in with the San Diego Chargers for 11 seasons. He was selected to play in three Pro Bowls and finished his 18 AFL/NFL seasons with 750 receptions for 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns. He retired as the then-NFL leader in career receptions, yards, and games played by a wide receiver. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
The 6’9” defensive lineman, Jones became a two time All-American defensive lineman at TSU. He was part of two Black College Football National Championship teams in 1971 and 1973. He finished his collegiate career ranked third in school history in sacks in a season with 12 and fifth in career sacks with 38. In 1974, Jones was drafted number one overall by the Dallas Cowboys, becoming the first player from a historically black college program to be chosen number one in the NFL draft. He was a member of the famed "Doomsday Defense" squad of the 1970’s and retired in 1989 after 15 seasons with the Cowboys. He finished his career with a sack total of 106, was a three time Pro Bowl selection (1981 – 1983), and helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XII.
At Bethune-Cookman College, Larry Little was a two-way tackle, team captain, and a three-time All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection. He would go undrafted after his college career, and have a short stint as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers before being traded to the Miami Dolphins. During the 1970s, Little was a fixture on the Dolphins’ offensive line. He was named the NFL Players Association’s AFC Lineman of the Year three years in a row (1970 - 1972) and was selected to play in five Pro Bowls. Known for his leadership and toughness, he missed only four games in his first 11 seasons with the Dolphins. During their perfect 1972 season, the Dolphins rushed for a then league record 2,960 yards and Larry Little was a key part in their rushing attack. He played in three Super Bowls, winning two: Super Bowl VII and Super Bowl VIII. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
Coach John Merritt had a record of 60-32-4 in his first job as head coach at Jackson State from 1953-1962. However, his greatest success was as the head coach at Tennessee State from 1963 -1983, where he compiled a record of 172-33-7. Five of his teams were unbeaten and five lost only one game. His teams were chosen by the Pittsburgh Courier seven times as the Black College National Champions. Merritt coached 144 players who went into pro football, including Eldridge Dickey, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Joe Gilliam, Jr. and Claude Humphrey. His total record for 31 years was 232-65-11. John Merritt Boulevard in Nashville is named in his honor. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
Charlie Neal started his broadcasting as a disc jockey in the 1970’s before turning to television as a sportscaster, working for several affiliates in the Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. markets. Neal’s broadcast credits also include hosting NBA halftime and post-game shows and announcing for gymnastics and track and field events at the first-ever Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986. He is best known for his 23 years with BET, as the lead commentator for Historically Black College and University (HBCU) sports. He joined ESPN in 2005, primarily serving as play-by-play announcer for HBCU football and basketball telecasts on ESPNU.
Sharpe was a three-time All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection from 1987 to 1989 and the SIAC Player of the Year in 1987. He was selected as a Kodak Division II All-American in 1989, and was a three-time Pittsburgh Courier Black College All-American (1987-1989). He led the Tigers' football team to their best records in the program's history: 7-3 in 1988 and 8-1 in 1989. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 1990 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. He remained with Denver until 1999, winning two Super Bowls. During his two-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens, he won another Super Bowl. Sharpe played in eight Pro Bowls (1992–1998, 2001) and amassed over 1,000 receiving yards in three different seasons. He finished his 14 year career with 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 69 touchdowns in 203 games. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
At Jackson State University, Jackie Slater was selected to the Southwestern Athletic Conference All-Star Game three times, and as a senior, was a first-team All-America selection. Slater was drafted in the third round by the Los Angeles Rams in 1976. He became a starter for the Rams in 1979, and that same season the team went to Super Bowl XIV. In 1980, he was a part of an offensive line that surrendered just 29 sacks and helped the Rams’ offense finish second in the NFL in total yards gained with 6,006. In 1983, he and the Rams offensive line allowed a league-low 23 sacks. He was voted the National Football League Players Association NFC Offensive Lineman of the year four times—1983, 1986, 1987, and 1989. Slater played in 259 games from 1976 to 1995, setting a record for offensive lineman, was the first player to play 20 seasons for one team, and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl seven times throughout his NFL career. In 2001, he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.