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McNeal receives state honor

By By Matthew Nascone
Don McNeal is making headlines again in the state of Alabama.
McNeal grew up in the Atmore area in a house in McCullough, but he will receive the highest honor an athlete can attain in the state of Alabama. He will be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame May 31 as a part of the Class of 2008.
"It is a great feat for me to accomplish and it is a reflection on the number of people who have helped me along the way," McNeal said. "I am not crazy, I don't believe I got this honor on my own. I had the right people in my life to lead me to success. My family, my teachers and my coaches always believed in me."
McNeal is one of six inductees in the modern category. Also making the cut for the Class of 2008 are Gregg Carr, Condredge Holloway, Steve Lowery, Don Mincher and Oliver Robinson. The modern category is for athletes from 1968 and later.
Sim Byrd and Jerry Wilson are part of the Class of 2008 in the old timers category, which is for athletes who are 70 years old or came to fame earlier than 1967.
McNeal was surprised and humbled when he got the call informing him to get his formal wear ready.
"They told me and I said thank you and I tried to act as dignified as possible," he said. "But then I went and told my wife Rhonda and shouted for joy."
The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame will be a perfect place for McNeal to express his thanks to all the people who have helped him along the way, he said.
"I will now have the platform to thank all the people in my life who have made me who I am today," McNeal said.
That platform will be in the Birmingham Ballroom, at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. McNeal and the other seven inductees will push the induction class to 275 athletes since 1969, according to a press release.
McNeal was part of two national championship football teams in his time at the University of Alabama ('79, '80) and was named the Miami Dolphins "Player of the Year" twice ('82, '84). In both those years the Dolphins played in the Super Bowl.
He is a member of the Dolphins Silver Anniversary Team.
McNeal graduated from Escambia County High School in 1976 and he hopes the body of work he has accomplished will allow him to be something more than just a former citizen.
"I try to be a role model for kids nowadays," McNeal said.
McNeal has been the pastor of New Testament Baptist Church in Miami, Fla. for the past 14 years and he has been a public speaker for Sports World, Inc. for 10 years. Sports World is an organization that employs former NFL players to speak to children about the dangers children face in their everyday lives. McNeal is one of 12 former players linked to the program.
McNeal calls upon what he calls one of his lowest points in his life when he speaks to the children.
"One of the low points in my life is when I missed that tackle of John Riggins in the Super Bowl," McNeal said. "I tell whoever I speak to that was a definite low, but I did not let it get me down because I may have been alone on that field, but I am not alone in life. I have God with me at all times and I use that story to explain that fact to the children."
The tackle McNeal missed has gone down in history as the turning point of Super Bowl XVII, when the Dolphins lost 27-17 at the hands of Riggins and the Washington Redskins. The backlash from that missed tackle ate at McNeal for days, he said.
This and other stories of McNeal's life can be found in his newly published book, "Home Team Advantage."
McNeal still has to write his speech, but he already knows part of it.
"I want to thank all the people in Atmore, McCullough, Freemanville and Huxford for all they have done for me in the past," he said. "If I am a hall of famer, then all those people in those towns are hall of famers too."