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Notable exclusion: Put Chester in Hall

The Baltimore Sun

You don't have to go far to find friends, family and teammates eager to state Raymond Chester's case for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Just don't ask Chester himself.

He doesn't mind talking about growing up in West Baltimore, playing at Douglass High and Morgan State and with the Colts and Oakland Raiders, and his post-career life and goals. His absence from Canton? Not high on his agenda.

"He's always been like that. That's what we love about him," John Sykes, his former Morgan State teammate, said last weekend. "He doesn't go around bragging, never did."

Sykes - who starred at City and played against Chester in high school - was among dozens of former players on campus for a homecoming-weekend reunion of the great Morgan teams of the 1960s, particularly the one that defeated Grambling, 9-7, at Yankee Stadium in a historic meeting 40 years ago.

Those were legendary, barrier-breaking teams, and to a man, the players acknowledged Chester as the best of them all.

They also wonder why Chester has never even come close to making the Hall of Fame, despite statistics and accomplishments comparable to those of the seven tight ends there. It is the least-represented offensive or defensive position in the Hall, which has no Maryland-born members but does include four Morgan players.

Chester, however, has other things on his mind.

"I am very humbled and grateful for that effort," said Chester, 60, who recently retired from his golf course-managing business in California and from his executive position coordinating ticket sales for the Raiders. "But what's more important to me is to galvanize more support for recognition for my university, for Baltimore, for Douglass, for everything.

"I'm always going to make myself available to do anything I can to help things out here, to make things better, to move things along."

That is why he spent his weekend here talking to Morgan officials about being a more active alumnus and to people at Douglass to see whether he can help stop its steep decline from one of the city's best public schools to one of its most troubled.

The vehicle Chester wants to use? His life and those of his teammates. He was proud to be surrounded not just by players who populated the NFL and AFL with him in the 1960s and 1970s, but also by doctors, professors, lawyers, businessmen and coaches. (And authors - one of his teammates on hand was William C. Rhoden, who chronicled the Yankee Stadium game, and Chester's heroics in it, in 2006's Forty Million Dollar Slaves.) The way Chester grew up, he said, wasn't very different from the way kids in Baltimore grow up now.

"Let's be real. I was supposed to be a thug, a gangster, a drug dealer or dead," Chester said. "Those were the odds of what I would be. When I started in high school, I started on a path of success in sports, and the truth of the matter is the gangsters and thugs, in the neighborhood where I grew up, they pushed me to go to school."

To him, the Hall of Fame would be more of a platform to inspire than an individual honor. Nevertheless, the push by his supporters for 2010 is on. There have been similar pushes recently, but Chester becomes eligible for consideration by the Hall's senior committee next year.

"It would be a great honor to be included," Chester said. "But for me, how can I use that? What will we do to recognize, stimulate and motivate people?"

One way to find out is to elevate him to Canton, where he belongs.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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