Alabama Hall of Fame recognizes ex-Colt Jeff Herrod

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The enormity of the possibility of a lifetime achievement award hit Jeff Herrod a few years ago when he visited the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Museum in his hometown of Birmingham.

“Pretty awesome,’’ the leading tackler in Indianapolis Colts history said.

The museum is a veritable shrine to so many with Alabama ties who had done so much: Jesse Owens, Paul “Bear’’ Bryant, Joe Louis, Bo Jackson, Joe Namath, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Charles Barkley, Carl Lewis, Satchel Paige, Chuck Person, Mia Hamm, Evander Holyfield.

And long-time Colts linebacker Barry Krauss.

“He’s Mr. Alabama,’’ Herrod said with a laugh.

Last weekend, the roll call reached 345 luminaries, and includes Jeff Sylvester Herrod. Sport: Football. Position: Middle linebacker.

He attended Birmingham’s Banks High School before developing into a tackling machine at Mississippi and, finally, with the Colts. With more than 1,300 tackles in 10 seasons, he was a throwback middle ‘backer who remains the franchise’s all-time leader.

“It’s a huge deal,’’ Herrod said from his home in Tampa. “Huge, huge. There’s a lot of history in Alabama.

“I’m very proud of what I was able to do.’’

During his acceptance speech, Herrod cited the support of Rick Venturi, his position coach with the Colts who was instrumental in the team selecting Herrod in the ninth round of the 1988 draft.

“I’m so appreciative of Rick Venturi,’’ he said.

Venturi offered a letter of support to the Hall of Fame committee. So did Colts owner Jim Irsay. And Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Cornelius Bennett, Krauss and others.

After recognizing Venturi, Herrod got emotional when he shared the early influence of another Hall of Fame inductee. Tony Nathan, 10 years Herrod’s senior, also is a Birmingham native whose decorated career began at Woodlawn H.S.

Nathan was present for Herrod’s speech.

“I felt fortunate for Tony to be there,’’ Herrod said. “It brought me to tears. That’s how I got involved in football, watching him.

“Being honored and being in that museum with all those greats, I think I prefer that over the NFL Hall of Fame to tell you the truth. There is so much history there.’’

The celebratory weekend was a welcome respite from Herrod’s daily travails.

The price he’s paid for 153 games on football’s most vicious stage – the price for thousands of head-on collisions – involves a broken body. Now 50, he underwent recent surgery on his right elbow. That marked No. 17. Every joint aches; some days are worse than others. On occasion, his fingers are too gnarled to function correctly.

“The other day my hands hurt so much I had to bite the top of the water bottle to get it open,’’ Herrod said. “Everything hurts. Everything is taking a toll on me.”

“Can’t really work out with weights anymore. I walk a lot, do work in the pool.’’

He struggles with mood swings, occasional sensitivity to light and other symptoms associated with long-term brain trauma. Several years ago, he participated in a Boston Research Institute program studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He has donated his brain to the Boston Institute.

Having experienced the good and bad during his NFL career – he missed only 17 of 160 games in 10 seasons in Indy – Herrod chuckled while considering the current state of the league. The latest collective bargaining agreement further reduced the amount of practice time for players, and the amount of contact allowed.

“We did two-a-days every day. Every day,’’ Herrod said. “And Wednesday, Thursday, Friday we did goal-line.”

“I couldn’t play football like they’re playing it now. I couldn’t even go through walk-throughs on Saturday morning without trying to hit somebody. You know what I’m saying?

“We were taught you played like you practiced. I tried to do it the way I was taught. We went at it hard, all the time. That’s the only way I knew.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.