On Saturday afternoon the Pac-12 inducted 12 more former conference athletes into its Hall of Honor. This year it was quite the list of dynamic athletes.
The 2019 list included:
- Meg Ritchie-Stone, Arizona
- Frank Kush, Arizona State (Posthumous)
- Natalie Coughlin, California
- Lisa Van Goor, Colorado
- Bev Smith, Oregon
- Dick Fosbury, Oregon State
- Dick Gould, Stanford
- Ann Meyers Drysdale, UCLA
- Ronnie Lott, USC
- Steve Smith Jr., Utah
- Trish Bostrom, Washington
- John Olerud, Washington State
Having the privilege of sitting down with some of these great athletes is something that is hard to forget. I look forward to meeting these Hall of Honor inductees every year because they remind me of all the good that sports can be. It reminds me of the inspiration that athletes can provide people.
The other aspect of these athletes that you pick up on real quick is just how humble and grateful these former athletes are for their careers.
Having only an hour to sit down with as many of the inductees as I could I decided to sit and talk with John Olerud, Steve Smith Jr., and Ronnie Lott.
The former Washington State baseball player who went onto a phenomenal career with the Toronto Blue Jays was up first. Olerud is a humble man. He brought his daughter with him to share in the experience.
What does this honor mean to you?
“It’s a huge honor. The Pac-12 has so many great athletes that to be included with them is a tremendous honor.”
What was it like going to school at Washington State?
“I had a great experience at Washington State. My family had history there. They had a great baseball tradition, so being a part of that was tremendous. I loved just being able to put on the uniform and compete for Washington State.”
Talk about the landscape of Pac-12 baseball and how far it’s come.
“I think it’s come a long way. Back when I played it was divided into North and South. The schools in the South tended to be stronger because they could play in the sun all year long and that attracted the better players. However, we had great teams at Washington State and thought we could compete with those teams. Now, you have Oregon State and the success they have had over the last 10 years and Washington getting to the College World Series it is great just seeing these teams being able to compete on a large scale. The way the teams travel now days helps them tremendously too. When I was at Washington State we traveled by those 16 passenger vans. I will say that some of my best memories on are those long road trips in those vans. The comradery between the players and myself is something I’ll never want to replace.”
Steve Smith Jr.
Steve Smith Jr., who played at Utah and then went onto a tremendous career with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and then finished his pro career with the Baltimore Ravens was fun to talk with. Smith has that swagger that makes you believe he could still compete on the highest level. However, he was incredibly grateful for all the support he got at the University of Utah.
What does this Pac-12 Hall of Honor induction mean to you?
“In the grand scheme of things, honestly, I didn’t know they had this. When I finished my career I didn’t wake up and say ‘what do I have to get inducted into now’? I didn’t have a checklist of things. This is one of those things that l made a pitstop with. When the conference came to me and asked if I could make it out for this. I said ‘of course’. I came out here with my wife and we are just loving this opportunity.”
Explain to me how far the Utah program has come since joining the Pac-12 Conference.
“Five years ago half the school would not be there if it wasn’t for the influx of revenue from the Pac-12. The facilities, and I’m not talking about football, I’m talking academic. The ski team has remarkable facilities. Just seeing all the stuff that is there now is really cool. As an alumni of Utah and to see all of the improvements is great.”
“If I didn’t go to Utah I would not have realized the impact the Utah made on me. I would not have met my wife who is from Utah. I wouldn’t met one of the greatest men in my life Coach Graves. Most people don’t realize this because I don’t tell them, but most people don’t know how much high regard I have for the University of Utah.”
If you are aware of Pac-12 history and NFL history you know who Ronnie Lott is. Lott is remembered for how aggressive he played his position and the vicious hits he would put on his opponents. If you didn’t wear the same jersey as Ronnie Lott you were the enemy.
Where does this honor rank in your illustrious career?
“The reason this one ranks so high for me is that it’s honoring all the sports. You watched these honorees showcase their talent on a weekly basis and be so good for so long. You can literally say that everyone who is being honored today deserves it. These inductees are so good at the highest level. Everybody has their moment during their career. It’s ridiculous how good these people were at their craft.”
What was your moment at USC?
“My moment at USC was the moment that I learned how to compete. I learned how to compete every day. I learned about competition like others who came before me. Learning how to compete as much as Coach Robinson. Learning how to compete as much as Charles White. It’s pretty hard to learn that. Charlie was the type of guy that left every thing on the field. He was an absolute monster of a player. Learning how to compete was it for me.”
What was your moment in the NFL?
“The great thing about the pro’s is that it’s a collective group of people that is striving for excellence. One of the best things was that after a Super Bowl win a teammate told us that we didn’t play our best game. We were always searching for excellence on the field. Searching to play that perfect game was my moment. Never being satisfied with our performance.”
What does the Pac-12 need to do to get back to football prominence?
“One of things that I like is that the quality of the coaching has got much better. We have coaches that are excited about teaching the game and are great leaders in their own right. These coaches understand the importance of winning and what it can do for a university.”
These three gentlemen carry themselves in a way that may seem like they came from a forgotten time, but being humble and talking about “we” and not “I” is something that should travel from era to era. Let’s hope the example that these Pac-12 Conference greats set gets picked up by this generation.