Returning Hall of Famers Press Conference Transcript

08/01/2008

ADAM SCHEFTER: Welcome to Canton, Ohio, and the 2008 Hall of Fame Weekend. We're going to have a number of returning Hall of Famers come up to the podium and answer your questions. And the man we're going to start with first today is Class of 1996 Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs who obviously coached Darrell Green, Hall of Famer, and had Emmitt Thomas on his coaching staff.
Coach Gibbs, will you come up here and answer some questions, please.

Joe Gibbs | Thurman Thomas | John Hannah | Anthony Muñoz | Bobby Bell

 

JOE GIBBS

JOE GIBBS: I was also fortunate enough to coach Freddy Dean. I didn't actually coach him, but he was kind of there terrorizing everybody on defense while I was on offense.
So the group here really excited about this class. Obviously we just finished our luncheon. I think it's a special event, and I think that this is obviously a special class for us Redskins to have Darrell and Art and Emmitt, who also coached there with me. It's a special time for us, because we kind of I always look at it that anybody that gets to go in the Hall of Fame is a reflection on all the other players, the ownership, the Redskins fans and the great franchise we have in Washington. So we appreciate that.

ADAM SCHEFTER: Questions.

What stood out to you about Art Monk and Darrell Green and Emmitt Thomas?
JOE GIBBS: I'll start with Emmitt. As a coach, it's one of the rare qualities for a coach, I think, is to be able to really relate to players as they see things. Many times they look at us as the coach, the older person. Emmitt could get on their level.

And I always felt like with the group he was coaching and he coached the receivers some and the secondary too. I think he could coach anybody. He's just a coach. I think the thing that made Emmitt kind of special, the players knew he had played, he was a special player.

And I also think that he was very, very good as far as communication. And we know that coaching, a lot of it, yes, teaching but is also being able to motivate. I think Emmitt could do that.

As far as Darrell and Art, I've said that I probably tell the same general description over and over again, but I think that what I always like to start with everybody else kind of starts with talent, making plays, playmakers, I start with character. And I feel like that both of our guys going in, Darrell and Art, were great people first.

I think their character did a number of things. It kept them playing a long time, because they took care of themselves. Obviously one of the best trained. But, also, they were the kind of people that a coach wants to keep on the team. They were leaders. Coaches, they're pretty selfish, and towards the end of somebody's career, I've always said that a coach sometimes can prolong a career three or four years, because obviously you could make a decision, hey, this is it, I've had it with this guy, he's a pain.

And I think both of these guys are the people, the kind of people you want to keep on your team. Great characters. Great leaders. Two different kinds of guys. Art was very quiet. Led by example. I mentioned that when he did talk, everybody on our team would turn to listen, because as I said it's like E.F. Hutton, the commercial. Art rarely said something. He led by example. He was a great playmaker, so at the end of the game, Art wanted the ball and he wanted to try to win the game for you.

Darrell was the opposite as far as leadership. He was very vocal. I used to kid him because he's one of the few players I ever had that would come in every now and then, point out a few things I was doing wrong. I'd say, ‘Oh my gosh, Darrell's coming after me again.’ But Darrell was very vocal. High quality person. Extremely gifted, obviously. And to play speed corner for all those years, played 20 years, unbelievable for obviously for a cornerback.

I think the other thing about Darrell, I wish that we could have had him back on punts and kickoffs on a steady basis. We couldn't do that because we were kind of afraid he was going to get hurt. But he was, I think, one of the could have been one of the great playmakers in the return game, and certainly win games for us doing that.

I told a little story that it reminded me a little bit of the cartoon where you got the manager standing in the baseball dugout, the second baseman is like this, the popup fly is hit right next to him and the manager is saying to the crowd, ‘What can I do? He's hitting .800.’ We always wanted Darrell back there to run back kicks; we were afraid he was going to get hurt. So I felt a little bit like that all the time.

Can you talk about Fred Dean and the impact he had on the game?
JOE GIBBS: Freddy Dean to me was one of the toughest guys I've been around. I've been around a lot of football players and defensive guys who are extremely tough. This guy was a legend, strength wise too. Extremely strong for somebody. He was really linear built, but he was extremely strong. Fred meant a lot to our defense.

I don't know what you can say there, other than he was a real playmaker. Extremely strong and fast, which is a rare quality. And I think some guys are kind of made to play football. I think Fred was he's one of those guys that the Lord made to play football.

He was extremely good at what he did. And I know he's a big part of the two years that I was with San Diego. I really appreciated being around him.

I had a chance to talk to Kellen Winslow today and he was talking about Don Coryell and he felt he should be in Hall of Fame. I was wondering if you could give your thoughts how you feel about that.
JOE GIBBS: Don Coryell, definitely I have strong feelings about this, like Kellen. Don, I played for. He was one of the best motivators. Don also is coaching, it just goes to show you he had no ego. He has great common sense. Worked nonstop. Don had an intensity for the game that I don't know I've ever been around anybody that matched his intensity. And he carried that over to the players.

The other thing about Don, he's extremely creative. And I think he fostered creative things in football because that's the way he was. I remember coaching I first started coaching, I was talking to John Madden, our original coaching staff at San Diego State it was John Madden, myself, Don and a guy named Sid Hall. That was it. Four coaches. And I can remember all the way back when we first started coaching there how Don was so creative with everything.

I took over the offensive line. It was my first year of coaching. Halfway through the year he came to me and said, I want to change the snap count. I was like, ‘What are you talking about? Change the snap count, you gotta be kidding me.’ I went and pulled my hair out being the offensive line coach. He was not afraid to try anything.

And he's very creative. Because of that, I think everybody that coached for him that was fostered in what you do, and I always laugh, I say, Don is one of the few guys I would actually be in the press box, you'd be up there calling plays, he's one of the few guys I ever heard. When he got on the phone, he'd say, ‘Let's start getting after their butt.’ He's the only guy I ever knew of from of coaching that would start throwing the ball. Quit running the ball, start throwing it. But Don in college, we could all tell a lot of stories about Don Coryell. He's one of the most intense people I've ever seen. He got ready to coach a game like he was going to cover the opening kickoff. He portrayed that to his players.

I can remember we played one game in college, when I was there, we had a good football team. And we were spanking the joint up in the first half. We all go in, we sit down, we sit in chairs, but we were all on a hard, tile floor. All the players sitting there. Don didn't come in. We were all kind of going, hey, three minutes, four minutes, five minutes go by, he hasn't come in. I'm sitting on the front row. Everybody is eating oranges and stuff.

All of a sudden the door flew open. Don came in. There were a crate of oranges up here. He grabs these oranges. He started throwing them at everybody in the locker room. I'm ducking and dodging. Guys are going back, falling in their chairs and everything. That was our halftime speech. He threw oranges at us for about 10 minutes. Called us every four letter word he could think of. We went out and played pretty good.

But I do think Don to this day, the way he called terminology you know, there's no geniuses in football, but I can say this: The way he called things, he spent hours thinking about that. And his system is still in today's football. And the reason why it's in today's football, he always spent a lot of time thinking about when you call a play, I want it to be a visual picture that the quarterback would have.

In other words, we used to number our pass routes, so it would be 585, okay, split receiver, tight end, flanker, F, cross, sneak. He spent all that time thinking about that, because he wanted the quarterback to do what? Not only is he calling that play, but he has a visual picture of what that is.

He spent hours. I've been in rooms where there was no light. And he was sitting in there trying to figure out a better way to call something. Don was very creative. I would think he'd be a great selection. I think he's affected a lot of coaches. He was successful not only in high school but in college and also in pro.

And, of course, two different places there.

How personal was it for you to see Art keep getting passed over?
JOE GIBBS: I think for all of us Redskins fans, everybody there, we knew what he meant for the team. And I said I had a little bit of a guilty feeling on it because the way we played Art, I felt like, cost him touchdowns, average per catch was affected because he was playing the inside receiver. And to be truthful, he blocked in there, too.

We asked our receivers in those days, we still did, but our three wide receivers said he played the inside. We put him in motion, and if we saw certain looks he'd have to block.

And so I felt like I felt bad about that. As a matter of fact, several times, which I've talked to people and said, hey, this was his role. He never complained about it, because he was a great leader and a great team guy. But I always felt kind of bad about that. I'm thrilled for all the Redskins. We're all celebrating in Washington because we've got Art and Darrell in.

Do you feel like it's about time? Because for awhile it was John Riggins and you from those championship teams from the Redskins and finally you have two other players coming into the Hall of Fame.
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I do. Mainly because if you look back at that period of time, and I don't know whether some of what those teams did and I know I'm talking about myself, I'm talking about the teams it was over a period of time it kind of overlapped the '80s into the '90s some. I don't know what happened there. But there's a block of time where we went to a lot of Super Bowls and did a lot of real good things. And I kind of felt like you kept hoping that there would be more people recognized.

And certainly this is the ultimate recognition, and so we were just talking about that a little while ago. I hope that there's going to be a number of our other guys that are qualified, can get in, too. So I know there's a process for it and everything. We really respect that. But we're hoping, you know, that there will be more guys from that era, because we had some real good football teams.

(Question off mic about Emmitt Thomas.)
JOE GIBBS: I spent some time here talking about Emmitt. I felt like Emmitt Emmitt could talk to players. Players respected Emmitt. Mainly because he played but not only I think he could get on their level and talk to them. Let me say this. Emmitt could get after you. He could get after you. And the guys took it.

I think the other thing about Emmitt, he coached the offense and defense. And I think those guys, whether it's Ernie Zampese and some of the great coaches I've been around, I kind of wish I would have spent time on defense and offense. Because I wish I had spent more time on defense. Madden fired me at San Diego State. That's a different story. So I had to go coach offense, but I wish I had spent more time on defense. We were talking about that this morning.

I think Emmitt has a real good understanding of all of football, like I mentioned, offense, defense, I think he could coach anything. But also as a player, obviously I wasn't around him when he was playing, but I certainly saw him, respected him, and he's a great player.

I see him more as the kind of person he is now and the kind of coach he is. So I think he's got all the football covered.

Darrell Green, when you left the first time you really expected Darrell Green to be playing 10 years?
JOE GIBBS: To be truthful, when you stop to think about that, that's one of the most amazing things about Darrell. He's a speed corner. Now you stop and think about speed corners. What happens is what? Normally after seven, eight years or so they lose their speed. Get hurt or something. They're done. Because you can't cover somebody. You're not going to go play them at safety. He's not going to be a hitter or tackler. He's a cover guy.

In Darrell's case he probably could have been a return guy. But I think that to think that somebody like that would play for that long of a period of time, I would say that's one of the more amazing feats in football. Because a speed guy still could cover. He may still be able to run 4.3, I don't know. You look at him. He probably would tell you he could. Our first mini camp it was one of the most amazing physical feats I saw I said was his 40. He ran I think it was 4.2, something. I don't know what it was. But it was awesome.

And so you got a guy there I think he would tell you the Lord blessed him with a great body for him to be able to play that long. But there's also a part of that where he and Art were two of the best trained athletes we had.

I still remember Art, one of the visions I have of Art or memories was he ran backwards on the treadmill. I mean, he could run backwards on a treadmill faster than most guys could run forward. Both of them were extremely well trained. Darrell wanted to go do his own training someplace, which I fought with him all the time. But that's a separate issue. I'll take that one with me. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.

THURMAN THOMAS

ADAM SCHEFTER: Welcome back everybody to Canton, Ohio. We're pleased to welcome back returning Hall of Famer, last year's inductee, Class of 2007, former Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins running back, Thurman Thomas.


THURMAN THOMAS: I'll tell you, I'm more relaxed than I've ever been in my life than last year, I can tell you right now. It's been a great day and a half for me so far to be back here with the guys knowing that I've already given my speech last year.

But just talking to guys like Emmitt and Art and Darrell and Gary Zimmerman, you can tell that those guys are a little bit on edge right now. And it's the same way that I was last year.

But I'll tell you what, it's so much more relaxing for myself and my wife, Patti, who is up here right now with me to enjoy the weekend, to see some of the stuff we didn't get to see last year as far as sitting at the Ray Nitschke luncheon and being more relaxed and listening to Deacon Jones talk and Anthony Muñoz talk, and it's just been something that's just more relaxing, and I'm just I'm glad that that part is over with, that I had to give my speech last year. And I know what the guys are going through right now with them trying to figure out what they're doing with their speech and everything. But it's been a great day and a half up here for myself and just to see all the Hall of Famers.

I sat at a table today at the Ray Nitschke luncheon when Art Donovan and Bob St. Clair and Bill Dudley and you talk about guys who know football, I mean, guys who played and guys who know what they're talking about. Just to sit back and actually sit at the same table I sat at last year, so that's my permanent seat right now.

So it's wow. It's even more an exciting experience for me now knowing that I get to relax and just be kind of a regular Hall of Famer coming into this year, and so it has been an awesome experience for me to come up here my second year.

And I've been telling all the guys, you know, I just moved back to Buffalo and it's only a three and a half hour drive, so you can expect me up here every year. Just driving here was such an experience, because I drove from Buffalo last year and I've pretty much seen all the signs coming into Ohio, Ashtabula and Warren and all those cities and knowing that they had the PGA TOUR here, the memorial here.

And I got a chance to text my friend Scott Verplank, who was here last year and didn't get a chance to make it to the Hall of Fame, but he's here this year and I'm trying to get out there to watch him play some golf. And actually at this time I do have some time to do that, to go out and see him play a little golf.

So it has been wonderful. Like I said last year, I wish everybody can experience what these players and what all these players have gone through and what they're going through right now.

What stands out to you about this year's incoming class?
THURMAN THOMAS: Well, I'll tell you what, the thing that stands out the most for me when you go through the numbers, and you go through the names, that finally Texas is the number one state that has the most Hall of Famers in it. I talked to Darrell Green about that yesterday at the reception that we had. And, I mean, you look at the guys that are going in this year.

I had a chance to play against Darrell Green. I obviously had a chance to play against Andre Tippett being in the AFC East. I talked to him a lot last night. So, I mean, you look at the players on this football team that are going in this year, Gary Zimmerman, all these guys are great football players. They wouldn't be at this point right now in their careers had they not been great football players.

But you just have a mixture of Darrell Green being one of the fastest guys, as Joe Gibbs just said; Andre Tippett, real physical guy who I had a chance to play with in the AFC against the Patriots a number of years; Art Monk who has been mentioned for the last 10, 11, 12, 13 years. And you look at these guys and you look at a guy like Art Monk and when you think about all the things that he's been through to get to this point you know, it takes me back to a guy that I played with for so many years, Andre Reed. Almost the same numbers. I hope it don't take Andre Reed 13 years to get in, to get to the point where Art Monk has gotten himself to.

But it's just a great group of guys. I had a chance to meet all the guys last year and last night. And just a great special group of guys. And these guys would be mentioned together from here until the rest of their lives being the Class of 2008. And Gary Zimmerman, I met his mother in law last night. I just met a whole bunch of people.

It's just been an awesome experience knowing that I get to sit back and relax and see all the family and see all the friends. I mean, I never got a chance to see that last year. All the people I saw last year were Gene Hickerson’s family, Michael Irvin's family, and the class, Charlie Sanders, Roger Wehrli. I only got to see those guys' families, but now I get to see everybody's family. And that makes it more special because I didn't get to see them last year. And now I'm getting to meet a lot of different folks that I didn't see. And it makes it a lot more special. Puts it in your place, puts it in the perspective of what you accomplished in your life, what you accomplished in your football career.

Does the growing list of Hall of Famers from the Bills teams you were on, the expectation will be Bruce, of course, next year, you mentioned Andre, hopefully for him next year. Is it showing you that there's, as time goes by, a greater appreciation for what that team accomplished even though the ultimate success wasn't reached?
THURMAN THOMAS: I don't know how much you can say this is an accomplishment or winning four Super Bowls, losing four Super Bowls. I want to say we won four Super Bowls, but we can't. I think just when you look at the numbers, when you look at what we accomplished those four years, we had some great football players.

You talk about Jim, Bruce, who should go in next year. First ballot, from what he says. Andre Reed. I mean, he's right there with Art Monk with the same numbers or whatever. You have, to me, in my opinion, the best special team player to ever play the game is Steve Tasker and along with that you have guys like Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett, Kent Hall. We had a lot of talent on that football team. And you hate to sit up here and say, okay, yeah we had a great football team but you guys lost four Super Bowls in a row.

We had players who loved the game. Unfortunately, we did lose four Super Bowls in a row. But to get to that point, to get to where we were, I think it's a great accomplishment. And I'm not to be up here and say that I'm ashamed that we lost four Super Bowls. I'll tell you what, it's one of the best times of my life.

Deacon Jones said it earlier today, besides getting married, your first kid, going into the Hall of Fame was one of the best things that can ever happen to you in your life. And right up there is, for me, and I guess a lot of my teammates do feel the same way, is that we accomplished a lot of things in those four straight years that we went to the Super Bowl. You look in those years. We had the greatest come back in NFL history against the Houston Oilers, with Jim Kelly not playing, Steve Tasker not playing and Cornelius Bennett not playing and I got out in the second half. I mean, you had Frank Reich, Kenny Davis, Andre Reed was still a part of that football team because he's the one that scored three touchdowns. So he's a big part of that. And then you have Tennessee, the Music City Miracle that we were involved in.

So we've had some great players, some great teams in the Buffalo area. And I'll tell you, still to this day I do believe we're still the closest team that ever played a game. I mean, when you have Jim Kelly having a golf event in Buffalo and you have anywhere from 30 to 35 guys who were on those four championship teams come back to Buffalo and play in a golf tournament, it's something special.

I mean, we even invite Scott Norwood back. He's been back every year. But the thing about those football teams is that when you look at the interviews after the football game, there's not one player in that football team that pointed a finger at another player that said, Scott Norwood lost the football game or Thurman Thomas lost the football game. We were all one. We were all together. And I think that was what made that team a lot special than a lot of people don't really know about.

I mean, we never pointed the fingers at anybody. We won as a team and we lost as a team. And to me my career couldn't have went any better than what it did being with the Buffalo Bills.

Last year, at the end of your speech, if I remember correctly, you proposed to your wife. Did you ever have the chance to renew your vows?
THURMAN THOMAS: I have not did that. I'm still planning that out now. Like I said, I moved back to Buffalo two weeks before I got inducted into the Hall of Fame. And actually I'm still planning that wedding out. But I have an idea of what I want to do, and it definitely will be a part of like I say, John Hannah and Anthony Muñoz, I'm trying to put together a nice package for my wife to where I personally want all the Hall of Famers to be at.

Because this is where I proposed to my wife, again, and these guys' schedule is so busy, probably won't be able to do it. But I'm going to at least try to have everyone's husband, wife, try to be at the ceremony. It's a difficult thing to do. I mean, I proposed to her at the Hall of Fame, so it's going to take some while. It took me five years to get in here, six years to get in here. It might take me six years to arrange all this wedding together. But it's something that I did and I told her and my kids that I promise that one day it would happen. I just haven't figured out a date of when and where it's going to happen.

JOHN HANNAH

ADAM SCHEFTER: Thank you.
Welcome back to Canton, Ohio. Our next returning Hall of Famer is from the Class of 1991, former New England Patriots guard, John Hannah. John?

JOHN HANNAH: Introductory remarks, I'm just proud to be here and be part of the Hall of Fame. I guess as I was thinking about some things, you know, not only is it great to be around these great athletes, but you also reflect on the game of football and what it's meant to our society. As you know, my father was able to play one year in the NFL back in 1951. He was a 30 year old veteran of World War II as a rookie.

And he always told me the story one time that the saddest day in his life was when they had an exhibition game in Birmingham, Alabama, with the Giants and his teammate Emlen Tunnell, who was a great defensive back, punt returner, actually was not allowed not only to be in the same hotel room as his teammates, but couldn't even participate in the exhibition game because of the segregation issues.

And when you go back and look at the effect that the NFL has had on society and those kind of racial relationships, as a progression of the whole effect that the NFL has had on our society, it's been a great thing. So I guess when you're here, you not only think of the history and the good things that the individuals here, like Anthony and Thurman and people like that, have accomplished in their contributions to the game but you look at the contributions to football itself. It's a great honor to be here. And with that said I'll open it up to Q&A.

John, you had a chance to go up against Andre Tippett, not directly but watch him on a regular basis in practice. What made him the Hall of Famer that he now is?
JOHN HANNAH: I got to go against Andre one on one a lot of times. We played in the era where coaches believe you should hit at practice. There was no shorts and shoulder pads; it's full go on Wednesday and Thursday. I think what made Andre great was his tenacity and basically just his unrelinquished desire to play football. He was one of those guys that gave it everything he had, not only on game day but during practice, and it was an inspiration to the rest of his teammates.

I think also people like in our era didn't have the benefit of free agency, and so a lot of times great players were selected by very weak teams. And they were forced to play under those poor ownership teams for their whole career. And so they were never able to really go to great teams and be a part of a great team and get the kind of notoriety that they deserve.

So to see Andre, to see a lot of guys who weren't Super Bowl champions but yet were still great players in their own right, to get inducted like that, I think it's a great tribute to him and overcame a lot of odds that people, for instance, who played in big media cities like New York or LA or played on a Super Bowl champion and got that notoriety, I think it's well deserved and about time.

What is the toughest lineman you ever ran against?
JOHN HANNAH: Andre had to be one of the toughest guys. If you count the number of guys that took me to the cleaners, I could name a lot of them. Starting with Buck Buchanan, Alan Page, Randy White. Geez. Ernie Holmes. Just one after another. Clay Matthews, Tom Jackson, Andre. I mean, they're just great, great players, all of them. And some days you would have their number and a lot of days they'd have yours.

And it was just fun to battle with them and it was just always a challenge and probably one of the best things going. But Andre would have to be one of those guys even in practice, when you were going up against Andre, you would get nervous. You'd get that competitive spirit going and not want him to beat you. And it made me a better player from having practiced against him. He's just a great player.

You mentioned that Andre and you played for a team that back in the day did not get a lot of attention and exposure. To what do you attribute the popularity growth of the New England Patriots, the franchise that you once played for?
JOHN HANNAH: The popularity of Patriots grew when they started winning Super Bowls. I mean, let's face it, everybody loves a winner. You know, there's no secret about that. And I think one of the biggest attributes that ever has happened to the Patriots was Bob Kraft becoming the owner of that team. And if there's ever an owner that I think should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, he's one of them, because he turned that organization around and created a philosophy, was a great manager in hiring not only great coaches, but also kept great players on that team.

If you look back at some of the previous owners, a player would be a great player and once they started getting to the point of demanding a higher salary, they would trade them, like Leon's trade, to Leon Gray's trade to the Houston Oilers, which was devastating, I think to our offensive line because I thought Leon was such a great offensive tackle. And one of those guys who has been overlooked, I think, in the Hall of Fame because he was unquestionably one of the best.

I used to love when Leon got traded to Houston, one of the great things I looked forward to going to the Pro Bowl was being able to play next to not only Anthony but also to Leon, because Leon and I were just so close and he was such a great athlete.

So owners have a lot to do with the team, because they keep players together. They keep quality players on their team, and rather than making money by cutting the budget, basically, they find ways of making money by producing championships. And I think that's what Bob Kraft has been able to do and been able to do it very, very well.

Do you think the success of the Patriots has helped shine a spotlight on yourself and Andre and some of the older guys?
JOHN HANNAH: No question about that. And not only that, as the notoriety of the Patriots brought notoriety back to us, I think Bob Kraft has orchestrated that a little bit in the fact that he understands and tries to build tradition around the current team.

And, as you know, he's built a new museum which basically houses a Hall of Fame for the New England Patriots, of which 10 guys are currently in that: Gino Cappelletti, who played back; Babe Parelli; Steve Nelson; Steve Grogan; Stanley Morgan; now Ben Coates; Andre; myself. So a lot of great players. And what he has done now is he is understanding how that team was built and the great players that built the fan base that allowed him then to come in and build off of that.

So he's been great in that regard in helping the retired player. And my hat's off to him for what he's done. And, yeah, the winning has brought it to us, but it's also been a planned strategy, I think, of Mr. Kraft to help build that tradition for the organization.

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