Kentucky's Meilinger is elected to College Football Hall of Fame

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMay 7, 2013 

Former University of Kentucky All-American Steve Meilinger has been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. (UK Athletics photo)

  • Hall of Fame Cats

    Former UK players and coaches Meilinger will join in the College Football Hall of Fame:

    Bear Bryant Coach 1946-53

    Jerry Claiborne Coach 1982-89

    Bob Gain OL 1947-50

    Lou Michaels OL 1955-57

    Babe Parilli QB 1949-51

    ■ Bernie Shively, who was athletics director at UK from 1938-67 and coach in 1945, was inducted to the Hall of Fame in recognition of his playing days at Illinois.

Steve Meilinger, a two-time first-team All-American who played on both sides of the ball and was known as "Mr. Anywhere," will have a permanent location: the College Football Hall of Fame.

Meilinger was among 12 former players and two coaches named to the Hall on Tuesday. The announcement was made by the National Football Foundation during a ceremony in New York City.

"I thank the National Football Foundation for naming me to the Hall of Fame," Meilinger said in a news release. "There are so many great players across the nation every year that don't get honored, so I really appreciate it."

Meilinger played at Kentucky from 1951-53 under Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and helped the Wildcats go 20-10-3, including an 8-4 mark in 1951 that was capped by a Cotton Bowl win over Texas Christian.

The All-American split time at end, halfback and quarterback on offense; on defense, he played end, linebacker and defensive back — essentially every position on the field except the interior offensive and defensive lines. On special teams, he was a two-year starting punter, and he returned punts and returned kickoffs.

Meilinger set Kentucky career records for pass receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns, with 75 catches for 1,210 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed 134 times for 714 yards and five TDs and passed for 127 yards and a TD.

Meilinger might have garnered more national recognition as a collegian were it not for his noted versatility. The 1953 UK media guide, before his senior season, said, "One national magazine cited the Kentucky star as 'Offensive Player of the Year.' He missed some of the major selections apparently due to a lack of a clear majority of nominating ballots at any one position."

Despite that, Meilinger had nothing but praise for how he was deployed.

"Coach Bryant was one of the finest persons I ever met," Meilinger said. "He helped me in many ways and helped me understand the importance of all the positions I played.

"When I came to Kentucky, he also told me that even though I was a hot-shot freshman that he was in charge," Meilinger joked.

Meilinger was selected in the first round (eighth overall) of the 1954 NFL Draft. However, he went into the United States Army and spent two years as a tank commander in the 100th Tank Battalion of the 1st Armored Division.

After his service, Meilinger spent six years in the NFL — 1956 and '57 with the Washington Redskins, 1958-60 for the Green Bay Packers and 1961 with the Pittsburgh Steelers — before injuries ended his career.

In 1960, he played in the NFL Championship Game under Coach Vince Lombardi. His NFL career statistics include 60 catches for 863 yards and eight touchdowns.

Meilinger's jersey has been retired by UK, and he was named a Living Legend of the SEC in 1999.

After football, Meilinger returned to Kentucky and worked for the U.S. Marshals Service. For a time in the 1970s, he did color commentary on the UK football radio network.

Originally from Bethlehem, Pa., Meilinger, 82, lives in Lexington with his wife, Eileen.

Meilinger will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Dec. 10 in New York City during the National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner.

The College Football Hall of Fame recently closed in South Bend, Ind., and is being moved to Atlanta.


HALL OF FAME CATS

Former UK players and coaches Meilinger will join in the College Football Hall of Fame:

Bear Bryant Coach 1946-53

Jerry Claiborne Coach 1982-89

Bob Gain OL 1947-50

Lou Michaels OL 1955-57

Babe Parilli QB 1949-51

■ Bernie Shively, who was athletics director at UK from 1938-67 and coach in 1945, was inducted to the Hall of Fame in recognition of his playing days at Illinois.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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