John Stallworth's Enshrinement Speech Transcript
Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 3, 2002
John Stallworth, Jr.
Thank you everyone. Hello. It's been a wonderful weekend here in Canton. The hospitality of the people here in Canton has been overwhelming. And that's truly a compliment coming from someone used to the hospitality of the South.
When I was five years old, I was in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room waiting for my dad to come from a game, and a reporter came up to me and asked me a question. He said, 'who's your favorite football player of all-time?' With all the confidence in the world, I said, 'Lynn Swann.'
Today, to my dad and to everyone here, I'd like to correct that statement a little bit, and to say that my favorite football player of all-time is John Stallworth. In preparation for this occasion, I was looking through some of my dad's old memorabilia, and came across a Sports Illustrated issue in which the title of an article read "The Stalwart's" - spelled s-t-a-l-w-a-r-t - Receiver of the Steelers." I had seen that article when I was younger and I remembered thinking 'My gosh, Sports Illustrated misspelled Stallworth.' Of course they had not had not misspelled Stallworth, they had used an adjective meaning perseverance, being powerfully built, and being steadfast. And those three adjectives perfectly describe my father.
At the early age of 5 or 6, my father was tested, his perseverance was tested when he was paralyzed, and told by the local physician that he had polio. Of course, he didn't but the doctor had told my father that he could never play football or even walk again. But, my dad's unquestionable spirit was apparent even at that young age. He was able to shrug off those auspicious predictions and later become a captain of his high school football team. Although in his senior year, they only won one game.
But my dad's dreams did not end there because he was able to go to Alabama A&M, and his dreams began to take flight. But, John Stallworth is also a man that is powerfully built. But, I'm not talking about his physical strength; I'm talking about the strength of his character, his will, and his determination. My father at Alabama A&M was playing defensive back and running back, positions that he didn't really feel comfortable in, positions that he felt his destiny could not be fulfilled. And at the time, Alabama A&M was not a passing offense, so he went to Coach Lewis Crews, and asked to be put in a receiver position. Of course, he was met with a little speculation. But, he felt his destiny would be made as a receiver and was determined to become one. So, he came to practice earlier and he stayed later than all of his other teammates. And, after setting the records for touchdowns scored in a season, passes caught in a season, and leading his team to a conference title, he became All-American.
He had faced the limitations of a situation and soared over the doubts of others with pure determination. Vince Lombardi once said, 'there's only one way to succeed in anything and that is to give everything. A man is finest in his hour when he has worked his heart out in a good cause, lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious.'
By now, John Stallowrth's trait of perseverance, and being powerfully built had paid off in becoming one of Alabama's finest football players. But his dreams did not end there, they just got larger. It was at Pittsburgh that his trait of steadfastness was most evident. But, it was not the fact that he was integral part of four Super Bowls, MVP of his team twice, possession of many team and NFL records, no that wasn't it. It was the fact, that for 14 long years of broken bones, pulled muscles, disregarding the naysayers of his life and giving it his all. John Stallworth was there for his team, his fans, and his family every time.
It was that steadfastness, that his teammates respected, and that his family has always been rooted in, and it is why we are here honoring him today. Today, my father has not stopped dreaming, he is still a stalwart, but he is a stalwart of life. I stand here - with the pleasure to be a part of my dad's finest hour and to help him and others look back on the playing field of his life and to say yes, Dad, you are victorious. We are so proud of you. Ladies and gentleman, it's my honor to present to you, a stalwart of all-time, my dad John Stallworth.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Last year I stood here and presented Lynn Swann. Lynn got up and he made mention of the fact that if this was his greatest hour, it was only a half hour, and I say to Lynn here today, I'm more than happy to complete that hour for him.
To the folks of the Hall of Fame, John Bankert and his staff, citizens of Canton, Ohio, if it was your goal this week to make me and my fellow enshrinees feel special, you've done that and done that in a magnificent way. Thank you very much.
My feelings since notification of my selection have run the length of the emotional spectrum. I've been humbled to realize how important other people have been in my life and the reason that
I'm here. I'm proud because I realize what a select group I've now become a part of.
I recall the initial excitement of getting the call of my selection. I'm joyful that I have my brothers Spikey and Phillip, my sister Mary, my father-in-law a very special person to me - a host of brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws and relatives and friends from Tuscaloosa and Huntsville here to share this with me.
I'm saddened that my mom and dad are not here, they both are not here physically with us. Mary and David Stallworth, the best role models a kid could have. Life for them was not a crystal stair. I look back and marvel at their faith and work ethic that saw them through some pretty difficult times and I believe their spirits are here with us today.
But most of all I have a feeling right now of peace and with that part of my life, the professional part of my life. I have vivid memories of games won and games lost, of good seasons and seasons not so good, of dreams fulfilled and dreams that seem to wither with time.
With this honor, this recognition, I can put that part of my life to rest. There's no battles left to fight, no doubts left to remove, no unrealized expectations and I thank God for that.
Johnny spoke of a time in my childhood where I was paralyzed and I came away from that time with a deep appreciation of joy of just running, an appreciation of how precious time is and awakening to the importance of relationships. I had to deal with, at a young age, my own mortality. It was a constant thought for me and the only way that I could get rid of that thought or remove that thought was to be determined, commit myself to doing something to be remembered.
That desire and those newfound appreciations have motivated me throughout my life. I've learned that in every relationship there are opportunities to learn. I learned from my college teachers and my grade school teachers how effective we can be when we are passionate about our calling.
From the folks of my childhood neighborhood, I have learned to persevere in difficult times. From my college coaches at Alabama A&M, coaches Crews and Kent and others, how you can still accomplish much with a small budget. From my church family I've learned how a strong belief in God can see you through to the other side.
I've learned from the guys I played with in Pittsburgh and in college. I've learned from Donnie Shell how to stay focused when everything around you demands your attention. From Chuck Noll I've learned the meaning of true leadership. One aspect of that is to deny personal fame and glory for the sake of the team.
From Franco Harris I've learned how you treat people regardless of their status. From Jack Ham I've learned that greatness does not have to promote itself. From L.C. Greenwood I've learned a certain style, a certain grace. L.C. Greenwood, who Joe Greene said of him that he could have never done what he did without L.C.
From Jack Lambert I've learned about an unquenchable competitive nature, from Lynn Swann how to perform in difficult situations. From Rocky Bleier his commitment, Mel Blount his benevolence, [Terry] Bradshaw's perseverance and Joe Greene's leadership style.
I've learned from people around me all through my 14 years in Pittsburgh. Each one of you have given me a vital part of my life and helped me to grow to be who I am today.
I've learned that first impressions are not always correct. My first day in Pittsburgh was a mid-winter night right after the draft. It was cold, the trees were barren, it was snowing and I didn't bring a big coat from Alabama. I don't think I owned a big coat.
And I was going to a team that didn't seem to be terribly thrilled about throwing the football, the kiss of death for a receiver. My first impression of that situation was this is not a good thing.
Eight months later, I arrived at the airport and caravanned into Pittsburgh after our first Super Bowl win. It was cold. The trees were equally as barren. It was snowing. As a matter of fact, it had been snowing for several days.
But the difference were the people. They were lining the highway from the airport all the way to the city, easily a 20-minute drive. You would have thought it was mid-summer.
And I came away from that experience with a deep appreciation of the people of Western Pennsylvania. I thank you. I thank you, the people of Western Pennsylvania, for making a Southern boy feel at home for 14 years.
I received many letters of congratulations after my selection. I'd like to make note of two.
One came from Art Rooney Jr., who included in his letter a picture of his father, Art Rooney Sr., with a note about how special the players were to his dad. And it made me realize how special his dad was to us and how rare his dad was. In this day of bottom-line mentality, in this day of paycheck security, how rare his dad was in that he valued the player as a person.
Another letter came from Dan Rooney and in the letter he mentioned several things, but he closed it by saying 'You are a Steeler.' The cynic in me thought 'Now what does this guy want from me.' But you know what Dan really wanted to tell me was that you're good people.
'You are a Steeler' was synonymous with you are good people.
That was important to his dad, that was important to him and his brother and I think important to the new generation of leadership there with the Pittsburgh Steelers. What a great family. And I'm proud, I am proud to be a Steeler.
I've learned the joy of family. My daughter, Natasha, who has grown to be a very beautiful young lady, and I'm proud of the person that she's grown to be. My son, Johnny, who's stands with me here today and his wife, Joanna. And yes I had my son introduce me, but I also had one of my very best friends introduce me.
My wife, Flo, who's proof positive at times in life you get more than you dreamed of and a lot better than you deserve. She's my friend, my confidant, my motivation, my teacher, my advisor and the love of my life. She's a big part of why I stand here today.
As you've heard, I've had some wonderful people in my life who have within them a tremendous capacity to do good. And they chose to exercise that capacity for my benefit. Family, friends, neighbors, coaches and acquaintances and some people I will never know. To all of you I pray God's blessing upon you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for exercising your capacity to do good things for me. We all have that capacity. Some choose to exercise it, some choose not to and I stand here because of some people that chose to.
I believe firmly that more of us need to exercise that capacity to do good things. Who knows, that recipient of your kindness may motivate a young person to become a Hall of Fame receiver, or maybe a truly committed schoolteacher or maybe a youngster that might want to be a fireman, who may at some point have to make the choice of running into a burning skyscraper. Or maybe just a young lady who grows up to be the neighborhood Kool-Aid mom. Who knows? But this world needs us to try.
At a banquet not too long ago in Alabama, one of the recipients of an award made this statement. He said: 'Our talent is God's gift to us, and how we use that talent is our gift back to Him.'
I pray that God finds my gift back to Him a worthy one. Thank you.