The Morgan State football team will play its homecoming game Saturday under the watchful eyes of its two most revered coaches, Earl Banks and Eddie Hurt. Six-foot bronze statues of the men, both deceased, are set to be unveiled Thursday morning at a 10 a.m. ceremony dedicating Legends Plaza, a courtyard overlooking the east end of Hughes Stadium.
Hurt coached the Bears from 1929 to 1959, during which they won 14 league championships in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (known as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association until 1950). During an eight-year stretch (1931-1938), Morgan State went 54 consecutive games without a loss. Hurt's overall record was 174-51, with 17 ties. Two of his players, Len Ford and Rosey Brown, are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Banks, known as "Papa Bear," led the team from 1960 to 1973. Three times, his charges finished undefeated; between 1964 and 1968, they won 31 straight games. Under Banks, the Bears went 94-30-3, won five conference titles and appeared in four bowl games. Forty of his players reached the pros and two, Leroy Kelly and Willie Lanier, are enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
The statues are the work of George Nock, 71, a celebrated running back-turned-sculptor. He starred for Morgan State from 1965 to 1969 before playing four years in the NFL, with the New York Jets and Washington Redskins. Nock has a studio in an artists' colony in Buford, Ga., and has sold pieces for more than $30,000.
Nock spent nearly four months on the two likenesses and called it "a labor of love." Cap on, right arm outstretched, Banks peers out over Hughes Stadium as if directing his team from the sidelines. Hurt stands behind him — arms on hips — mulling the next play, perhaps.
"That's how I remember them," Nock said. "I'm the world's worst critic, for my own work, but i think I hit this one on the head."
The project, his idea, was years in the making, said Nock, who was reimbursed for materials alone. The works are appraised for $100,000 each.
The sculptures are a nod to both the football team's past and future, he said. The Bears are winless (0-5) entering Saturday's game against Savannah State.
"These coaches need to be remembered as part of Morgan State's rich heritage," Nock said. "When that happens, others may emulate them and get those championships back."