NFF College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Michael Payton
ASN will profile all 17 new members in advance of the Dec. 8 NFF awards dinner in New York City.
Michael Payton became Marshall’s starting quarterback as a redshirt sophomore in 1990, kick-starting a prolific collegiate career that resulted in 9,411 yards passing and 69 touchdowns. The two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year completed enough passes to become the second player on his own college team to enter the Hall of Fame after wide receiver Troy Brown. The added bonus: Payton also now gets to join his Marshall head coach Jim Donnan, who was inducted in 2009.
“When I heard about Coach Donnan, I looked at the qualifications, got the ballot and saw some of the players,” Payton said. “I know I had an opportunity. We excelled in three very successful seasons, and I was at the top … It was still a godsend ... Coach Donnan gave me the keys to the city (in 1990). It was my job to lose. People have told me, ‘Mike, you put up fantastic numbers in three years and all those games you just played three quarters.’”
Marshall was so good during that era that Payton usually was relaxing on the sidelines in the fourth quarter during the team’s ride to two Division I-AA title games against Youngstown State in both 1991 and 1992.
Youngstown State was coached by Jim Tressel, who is also a member of the 2015 College Football Hall of Fame Class. In the first meeting, Youngstown State rallied for a 25-17 victory, although Payton was throwing into the Youngstown State end zone at the end of the game.
“We wanted to get back at them (in 1992) and had a desire to get back in the title game,” Payton said. “I just remember before we went on to the field thinking about the city of Huntington (West Virginia). Those people needed something to uplift their spirits (after the 1970 plane crash killed 37 players). We could do a small part by winning the championship.”
Payton’s Marshall team won the 1992 national title, 31-28, when the soccer-playing brother of the regular kicker (who had been suspended because of a disciplinary issue), booted the winning field goal in the closing seconds. It was the only field goal of his college career.
“I had a lot of great players around me,” Payton said, noting the offensive line and his fellow Hall of Famer, Brown, who was inducted in 2010.
“He was one of the first players I saw who had start-stop speed. He could make a move, hesitate, and then take off. He had very soft hands. I remember throwing it, I never heard it hit his hands … Today, we remain great friends. I think he inspired me as I inspired him; collectively, we helped each other.”
Payton, who played briefly in the NFL and CFL and in Arena Football, left a legacy at Marshall. He was inducted into Marshall Hall of Fame in 1999, and for more than two decades, he held the I-AA record for most passing yards in a half (383), in a 1991 victory over VMI.
“I passed for 496 yards and I only played four minutes into the third quarter,” he said. “I probably could have finished with 700 yards passing in that game.”
Above: Michael Payton was so good he often only played three quarters of a game. (Courtesy Marshall Athletics)