Elvin Bethea Enshrinement speech
Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 3, 2003
Hornsby Howell (presenter):
As Elvin Bethea's former football coach, I feel honored to be here on this momentous occasion before football's greatest to introduce him. Elvin has demonstrated that he's not only a talented football player, but he's also a leader on and off the field. Because he was selected for this distinguished honor, it fills my heart with joy and pride. I echo this sentiment on behalf of his family, his former college – North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, North Carolina – his friends, and all those whose lives he's touched throughout the years.
I reflect back to summer of 1964 when a humble but confident young man named Elvin Bethea arrived on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University to play for me. He would often say, 'coach, I'm the best offensive lineman you ever had.' I put up with that for one year. And then the next year, we were playing Tennessee State, and there was a lineman at Tennessee State who's a darn good defensive lineman – went on to play for years for the Atlanta Falcons – Claude Humphrey. And, Claude Humphrey and Elvin had a big battle, Elvin as a offensive lineman. After the game, I wrote Claude a nice little note, 'thank you very much.' And so, from then on, Elvin was a defensive player.
Even as a first year student in college, Elvin possessed tremendous work ethics, and I do not mean when the coaching staff was trying to bust his behind. Even though no one was watching, you could always find him doing the little extra, trying to improve his craft, constantly trying to make himself better, making the sacrifices for the team. These are the things that I've found in Elvin over the years.
In life now, Elvin and I talk usually two or three times a month, like a lot of our old players, we still talk on the phone. I know their families, all of their families, their parents. These are the kinds of relationships that have developed.
After graduation from North Carolina A&T State University in 1968, Elvin was drafted by the Houston Oilers and played 16 years for them. He started as a defensive end in their opener in 1968 and did not miss a game until breaking his arm in November, 1977. That streak of 135 consecutive games played still stands as a club record. Elvin also holds Oilers records for the most games played - 210; most seasons played – 16, from 1968 to 1983; most Pro Bowl appearances; Elvin led the team in quarterback sacks six times, including a career mark of 14½ in 1976. In 31 years of Houston history, only three players have the distinction of having their jersey number retired, Elvin is one of those three.
Elvin is currently employed by Anheuser-Busch as the Director of Government Affairs and Special Projects for the western region. He's been with this company for 19 years. Elvin's quality of good character, integrity, talent, and solid work ethics, are qualities I observed in him in 1964. To his credit, these qualities have helped him make him the man he is today.
Often I have heard that football makes men out of boys; that it makes one a better person. I would like to also add that football makes great people like Elvin Bethea who has given to the game, fought through adversity, and given back to others.
Elvin, the honors you are receiving and have received are well deserved. It is a compliment to you for the past but also reflects the future of great football as you present today.
Ladies and gentleman, Elvin Bethea.
Thank you. Oh boy! All I can say is that I finally made it, and it feels good. It feels great, even greater when you stand before all the past and present Hall of Famers who have been through here. I've said this is the greatest day for me ever.
I would like to say to the Hall of Fame selection committee, Mr. John Bankert and staff, the city – the great city – of Canton, Ohio, thank you for your hospitality, thank you for a great week, thank you for everything you've given us. And, everybody here, I'm sure they're saying, 'it is a wonderful time.'
My family, friends, and fellow Hall of Famers, before you stands a very humble person who never thought possible such a day as this would ever come. Like every man with whom I share this stage, I didn't make it here on my own. Looking back on my life, I remember the many people, and whose shoulders I stood on, and the people who pushed me through and pushed me forward to become the person I am today. Through their guidance, inspiration, motivation, discipline, I have now achieved the ultimate accomplishment of my football career.
I must begin with my high school coach, back in 1960-whatever. His name was Coach Clements. Clements was a very small man, and I still remember him today. He started the foundation on which others have built upon for my journey here today. He inspired me from the very first day, I remember. I was on the junior varsity squad, never knew what football was. I went out with a friend of mine; we said that we're going to go out for football. Had never played football, always played soccer up until my ninth year. That first day that I went out of the team. The next day, the coach says 'you're on the varsity squad.' And, I'm saying, 'how did I make it onto the varsity squad after one day?' His answer was to me that he liked the way I hustled, he liked the way I moved around the field, and he liked my tenacity and toughness. So, I think that has gotten me here today. That's from a long time ago. What my coach would always say was 'what you put into practice is what you get out of it.' And that's what has gotten me here from that day on to today. He also would say, 'you always practice and push for perfection.' And, I guess that's the reason why I'm here today because every time I went out to practice or whatever I did as far as my sports – whether it was track or football – I wanted to be perfect. And, I think that has given me the strength in everything that I needed to get here today.
I went to college in 1964 and I had a number of colleges to choose from at the time. I chose North Carolina A&T. Thank you. Well, I can't really say that, I would have to say my mother chose North Carolina A&T. All I remember, she packed my suitcase, brought me a brand new $2 white shirt, put me in a car with one of the coaches, and said, 'see 'ya.' That was the best time that she had had, and the best time that I can remember that she had a smile on her face, and that hey her son was going to college. Those four years at A&T were the best that I had had, meeting a lot of friends. But, going there meeting the coaches that I was under – Coach Bert Piggot, Coach Carry Neely, Coach Howell – here was a guy that I thought was insane, crazy, out of his head, but he was the man who put me here today; I would always say that to everyone. Coach Howell would push me to the point of no return. He would push you to the limit and beyond, and this is what I think, with his push and believing in me and saying you can do it. I remember the many three practices (a day). But that's what it all takes, and that's what it all took to get me here today, and I say thank you Coach.
But, I have to say, that we always had the other side of him. He was like Jekyll and Hyde. At first, he was a trainer when I first went to A&T. He turned into a coach and it was just like Jekyll I guess. He had some great sayings, great quotes. And, I think he is the one that started them. He would also tell you, 'either be good or be gone, because I'm not leaving' or he would always the other famous one, 'it's either the trailway, or it's not my way, it's always the trailway,' or I remember him telling one kid, 'I should have given your momma a scholarship and left your sorry butt at home.' But, that was Coach Howell. That's the way he coached. I don't think he could coach in the college ranks today, without having a lawyer beside him.
Playing under these coaches they taught me much more of what teamwork meant. They taught me what dedication, sacrifice, determination, hard work, self motivation, and trust, and what they all meant in order to achieve success. I would like to say thanks to all the players I that I played with at A&T and I know there are many here and I won't name one yet. But, thank you; I enjoyed those four years and all the troubles we had, and times we were having good times. I remember those days. There's one (player) standing there, sit down!
I would thank all the friends of A&T that are here, all of the alumni. As we said, 'keeping the Aggie pride alive.' I think standing here today, I hope I carry that torch.
My professional career began in 1968. I was drafted by the Oilers, and I was wondering who the hell the Oilers were. But, that was the beginning of a great career that I now have in front of you. When I retired in 1983, the time had passed so quickly that I didn't realize that I played 16 years. During those years, I had seven coaches, seven coaches. I played under so many coaches, I was waiting for the eighth one but he never showed up. I played on a team that had two years of 1-13 teams back-to-back. They were the longest years of my career. But, I fought through them. I kept my attitude, I kept my poise, and I kept focused. And, that got me here today.
There were two coaches that stood out during those 16 years – Coach Sid Gillman who was a Hall of Famer. I would have to say Sid was tough. He was a no-nonsense coach and always to the point. A lot of guys didn't like him. But, I liked coach because he was a real friend to me. He knew that I whenever I went out to practice, I went out to practice, and I was going to leave everything on the field. He would trade you in a heartbeat, and many players know that. We'd have three-hour practices and he demanded and gained respect by all the players.
Second coach is Coach Bum Phillips. Now this is a real coach – he came in with a cowboy hat and a pair of cowboy boots, and I said, 'we're in trouble.' Coach had a more laid back attitude, approach and philosophy of the game. Training camps were run like country clubs. He took care of the old players. The older you were the better he'd like you. Thursday nights were called 'Pizza and Pickin' Night.' And you'd have a country band that he'd bring in. We ate pizza and listened to country music. Some of us to drank beer to drown out the country music.
One thing I loved about Bum, he knew each player and how to motivate them. And, one of his famous lines was, 'you play like you practice,' and that's what I did every day. Thank you Coach for everything you instilled in me in getting me here.
There's one coach I'd like to mention, Coach Eddie Biles. He gave me that last 16th year, and I know you're out there. Thank you Coach.
I must say I'd like to thank Mr. Bud Adams and the Houston Oiler organization. Sixteen years with them, many times I wanted to get traded but I didn't. But, I'm certainly glad I didn't because I'm proud to say that I'm standing here on this stage as a Houston Oiler, and there are three of us in here. Thank you.
Fans of Houston, I know you're watching me out there. You're the greatest. Have to mention those '78, and '79 teams where we lost – took second place to Pittsburgh Steelers. But, the only thing, once we got back to our Astrodome, we had 60,000 people, 60,000 people waiting for us. That was the greatest feeling that I had ever had while playing for the Houston Oilers. Thank you fans.
I'd like to thank John McClain, who was our sportswriter, who was my champion as far as really working hard to get me on this stage and I think after all my tributes, and all of my stats, and everything, I am here. I can finally say I made it. Mr. Bob Hyde who was a real friend of mine. It goes back with the Oilers days. He kept in touch with me and let me know where I stood as far as getting here today. Thank you Bob.
Mr. Mark Adams. Mark Adams – I call him the 'Cheese Man.' Mark is a guy that found out many stats on me that I didn't know, and he sent them all to the selection committee many times over the years. And, finally we got here Mark. Thank you.
I would like to say thanks to my corporate family. I'm just throwing a plug in here – which is Anheuser Busch. I've now been with them for 20 years, and I want to thank each and every one of them who have supported me over the years. Thank you. And I would like to say, 'this Bud's for You.'
All of my relatives, who are here, quite a few of them, drove many miles from New Jersey all the way to Florida, to California. I thank you. This is a very special day for me, a very special day I hope for you. I hope I make you proud for this day and many more.
I would like to say thank you, and I'm very proud of each one of my family members who are here. Lamont, who surprised me – I knew he was a pilot but I didn't know he was going to be flying over today. But, he's made me proud, very proud.
I would like to say Brittany, my daughter, I hope you are proud of me today as I am proud of you. She is now working in Houston working with CPS – Child Protective Services in Houston, and she's going to be successful in your life.
And, Damon, who's my youngest, I would like to say I'm very proud of him. All three have graduated from college. He is now, we are hoping he can get a shot at pro football and he's been working even harder than what I ever worked. Damon, I just say, keep your eyes on the sky, keep your eyes on the pride, keep everything together, and you're going to make it.
I would like, Pat, my wife, I thank you because with all of her hard work over the years watching over me, keeping behind me. Every time I'd ask her, 'should I do this?' She would always support me in every way, every matter. I thank you. Thank you for today.
And, my mother and father are not here today. My mother and father are not here today. But, all the times that they gave me, all the good times. All the times that I remember my mother or father picked me up from practice, whether it was cold or hot. I wish you were here to just see her smile. And, I'm sure they're smiling on me today – both my mother and father.
My father, he was very tough. I think he gave me the toughness that I have because he thought football was a regular game. He always worked and that's all he did and that's what he thought I should have done. But, I say they're the ones who really stayed behind me, pushed me to where I am today, my guidance from them, my strength from them.
My mother was very religious. There was a song that she would always love and it was about God and how you just follow his lead. And, the one song I always loved to hear went, 'God – he may not come when you want him, but he's always on time.'
And, I'd like to say, thank you the Hall of Fame. Thank you my fellow Hall of Famers. Today is definitely on time.