Contributor / Contributor
Class of 2015
Super Bowl appearances
"The values the game teaches you are, A, diligence; B, Perseverance. There are many more downs then there are ups."
Bill Polian spent 32 seasons in the National Football League, during which time he earned the reputation of rebuilding franchises into dominant playoff teams. He is most noted for turning the fortunes of three different teams, constructing teams that made a combined five Super Bowl appearances (Buffalo Bills, 3; Indianapolis Colts, 2) during his tenure.
Polian, who began in the NFL as a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs (1978-1982), took over as the pro personnel director of the Bills in 1984. He built Buffalo into a powerhouse and led the team to four straight AFC Eastern Division titles from 1988 to 1991, including back-to-back 13-3 records in 1990 and 1991. The Bills also earned three straight Super Bowl berths after winning the AFC championship in 1990-92.
He worked in the NFL office in 1993 and 1994 as the league’s Vice President of Football Development before taking on general manager duties of the expansion Carolina Panthers. Under his leadership, Carolina advanced to the NFC championship in the team's second season. The ’96 Panthers won the NFC Western Division with a 12-4 mark and knocked off the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs before falling to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
In 1998, Polian moved to the Indianapolis Colts, where he served as President/General Manager through 2011. During his tenure, the Colts experienced great success that included eight division crowns and two Super Bowl appearance highlighted by a victory in Super Bowl XLI. With Polian at the helm, the Colts advanced to the postseason 11 times during a 12-season span and posted 10 or wins in each of those playoff years.
Not counting start-up seasons and his final year, Polian’s teams combined for a .625 regular-season winning percentage. In all, Polian led the Bills to the AFC championship four times, the Panthers once, and the Colts three times.
In 2009, he came the only administrator to be named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by The Sporting News six times.
1988 Buffalo Bills (AFC Eastern Division champions)
1989 Buffalo Bills (AFC Eastern Division champions)
1990 Buffalo Bills (AFC Eastern Division, AFC champions)
1991 Buffalo Bills (AFC Eastern Division, AFC champions)
1992 Buffalo Bills (AFC champions)
1996 Carolina Panthers (NFC Western Division champions)
1999 Indianapolis Colts (AFC Eastern Division champions)
2003 Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Division champions)
2004 Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Division champions)
2005 Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Division champions)
2006 Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Division, AFC, Super Bowl XLI champions)
2007 Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Division champions)
2009 Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Division, AFC champions)
2010 Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Division champions)
1988 AFC – Cincinnati Bengals 21, Buffalo Bills 10
1990 AFC – Buffalo Bills 51, Los Angeles Raiders 3
1991 AFC – Buffalo Bills 10, Denver Broncos 7
1992 AFC – Buffalo Bills 29, Miami Dolphins 10
1996 NFC – Green Bay Packers 30, Carolina Panthers 13
2003 AFC – New England Patriots 24, Indianapolis Colts 14
2006 AFC – Indianapolis Colts 38, New England Patriots 34
2009 AFC – Indianapolis Colts 30, New York Jets 17
Super Bowl XXV – New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
Super Bowl XXVI – Washington Redskins 37, Buffalo Bills 24
Super Bowl XXVII – Dallas Cowboys 52, Buffalo Bills 17
Super Bowl XLI – Indianapolis Colts 29, Chicago Bears 17
Super Bowl XLIV – New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17
|1978||Kansas City Chiefs||4||12||0||(5th)|
|1979||Kansas City Chiefs||7||9||0||(5th)|
|1980||Kansas City Chiefs||8||8||0||(3rd)|
|1981||Kansas City Chiefs||9||7||0||(3rd)|
|1982||Kansas City Chiefs||3||6||0||(11th*)|
Full Name: William Patrick Polian, Jr.
Birthdate: December 8, 1942
Birthplace: Bronx, New York
High School: Mount Saint Michael (Bronx, NY)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: January 31, 2015
Other Members of the Class of 2015: Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Junior Seau, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff, Ron Wolf
President Baker, members of the Hall staff: Thank you for making this day so special. Commissioner Goodell: Thanks for your help and friendship through the years. Congratulations to my classmates on this well-earned honor, and you saw earlier why we all love Charles. Special thanks to the electors and those who presented me in this process: Vic Carucci and Sal Paolantonio. In gratitude, I'm naming them honorary Irishmen.
Marv often quotes the great British statesman, Winston Churchill. With apologies, I'll paraphrase Mr. Churchill as it applies to me: "Never has one person owed so much too so many."
Time precludes me from mentioning all who deserve my thanks. Please know, however, be it player, coach, scout, staff member, family or friend, you are in my heart today and every day.
It starts with family -- my parents, grandparents and aunts. A journey that began on a boat from Ireland led to Canton. I don't think they would have believed it, but I know they're proud. My sister, Regina, my late brother, Kevin, and their families, my in-laws and so many other relatives and friends, thank you for your love and support.
Most important, my immediate family. My wife, Eileen, the rock on which this family is built. [ Applause ] She's borne the burden of a football life with love, loyalty and sacrifice while raising the best family anyone could hope to have. None of the wonderful things that have happened would have been possible without her.
Our daughter, Lynn; our sons, Chris, Brian, and Dennis; our daughters-in-law, Debbie, Laura and Jenny; we are proud to be your parents. And God's greatest gift, our grandchildren: Annie, Will, Jack, Caroline, Kate, Aidan and Charlotte. You make the sun shine for us every day. I love you all.
To all the coaches from the sandlots of the Bronx to Mount St. Michael at NYU who put up with a low-talent, all-heart guy who loved the game: Thank you.
Two deserve special mention: George Paterno, my boss at Kings Point who taught me to be a professional and pointed me toward a career in scouting. And Bob Windish, my college coach. He was my toughest critic, my greatest advocate and my lifelong friend. Sadly, neither are here today, but their lessons are with me every day.
So many contributed to my growth through the years, and lord knows I needed plenty. Ron Waller and Jim Schaff in Kansas City; Pat Martin and Paul Robson in Winnipeg; Norm Pollum, Dave Olson and scouts (George) "Chink" Sengal, Bob Ryan and Dave Smith in Buffalo; and in the League office, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, one of the finest men I know. Thank you, all.
Football is the ultimate team game. At every club we had a special group of dedicated professionals, trainers, doctors, equipment men, videographers, groundskeepers, security, clerical and public relations staff, largely unknown to the public, but certainly not to me. I'm grateful to every one of them.
I had an extraordinary group of associates who always went above and beyond. Bill Munson and the late Ed Stillwell in Buffalo; my dedicated assistants, Debbie Pollum, Connie Papa, Toni Price and Sue Kelly; and from the beginning to end, Steve Champlin, the most loyal, selfless teammate one could have.
One of the greatest experiences I had was serving for 19 years on the NFL Competition Committee. It was chaired by Hall of Famer and friend Jim Finks. When I was named general manager in Buffalo, the first call I got was from Jim. His message was short, "Congratulations, you're one day closer to being fired." As usual, he was right.
The Committee that first year consisted of Paul Brown, Don Shula, George Young, Marty Schottenheimer, Tom Flores, the iconic Art McNally and from the League office, Don Weiss and Donna Montana. Football heaven.
What's a kid from the Bronx doing here? As a young man, I never thought I would meet such legends much less come to call them friends. Through the years co-chairman Rich McKay and Jeff Fisher, ably assisted by the NFL's most talented executive, Joel Bussert, and a group of great owners, coaches and executives and staff made this a labor of love. It was a joy serving with you.
I've also had the honor of sitting on various committees with some of the League's most prominent owners. Thanks to them and to all their fellow owners for creating the world's greatest sports league. The ultimate meritocracy, where a dream, talent, character and the willingness to pay the price is the only requirement. I am being inducted as a contributor, but in truth, this game, the NFL, has given me far more than I've given it. No franchise can succeed without committed ownership, and I've worked for some of the best.
Jerry Richardson gave us the opportunity to start a franchise from scratch in Carolina. Jim Irsay had a vision for his Colts and allowed us to help make it a reality. His generosity and loyalty gave us the tools to succeed. Thank you, Jim. And, of course, Ralph Wilson, to whom I owe a debt I can never repay. He took, in his words, a chance on a young guy with promise, and gave us the support to build one of the most memorable teams in league history. Thanks as well to the fans in Carolina, in Indianapolis, circling the wagons in Buffalo; you were truly the wind beneath our wings.
Through the years, I've worked with exceptional and dedicated scouts. You are the backbone of our system. My gratitude to you is unbounded. I've had the pleasure of working with great personnel executives who have truly been partners in building our teams. John Butler and Bob Ferguson in Buffalo, the unparalleled Dom Anile in Carolina and in Indianapolis that helped create a system that produced many great teams and many great young men who are now making their mark in the NFL.
So many great assistant coaches contributed to our success. A few gave me my grounding in pro football. Bobby Ross, Dan Sekanovich, Dick Roach, Frank Ganz, Don Lawrence, Ted Marchibroda, Mike Murphy, Rusty Jones, John Teerlinck, Leslie Frazier, Tom Bresnahan, Jim Ringo, Tom Moore and Howard Mudd. We would not have succeeded, and I would not be here without these valued colleagues and friends.
The head coaches: Cal Murphy in Winnipeg. He gave me my first director’s job. He also gave me lifelong support and friendship. I miss him greatly.
Kay Stephenson. He brought me to Buffalo. He taught me by example that commitment to principle and loyalty are the true measure of a man.
Hank Bullough, who brought many good people to Buffalo.
Jim Mora, who built a culture of hard work and discipline that lasted through our time in Indianapolis.
Dom Capers, who took a group of strangers and through his organizational talent, sincerity and incredible work ethic, created a championship team.
Jim Caldwell. He followed a legend and took us to a Super Bowl and continues that great work today in Detroit. I was blessed to work with all these men.
Tony Dungy, America's coach [ Applause ]. What a joy to work with him. Many of our players felt that because of Tony's faith the almighty did him a favor from time to time, like steering storms away from training camp so two-a-day practices could continue uninterrupted. That, nor our many miraculous second-half comebacks, was not Tony's greatest feat. He did the unthinkable, the undoable. Because of my immense respect for him, he cleaned up my vocabulary. [Applause] You didn't have to applaud on that line. We never doubted for a minute that through all the heartache and heartbreak we would win a Lombardy Trophy. Tony's example of courage, class, dignity and dedication in the face of unspeakable tragedy made us a better football team and more importantly, better people. I look forward to his enshrinement in this hall.
Of course, Marv Levy. He took a dispirited, unfocused team, and through his teaching and motivational genius, created Buffalo's team for the ages.
The players -- I wish I had the time to name every one of you. The hallmarks of our team was that they were just that, cohesive teams. Everyone contributes, and everyone did. I'll name a few who are representative, but I want you all to know how much I value and appreciate the contribution of each and every one of you.
In Carolina: Sam Mills, Kerry Collins, Kevin Greene, John Kasey, Wesley Walls and Muhsin Mohammed.
With the Colts, those I know who will merit consideration for this hall: Jeff Saturday, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Adam Vinatieri, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and the incomparable Marvin Harrison. And of course, No. 18, Peyton Manning [ Applause]. If you keep playing, I may not be around for your introduction, but wherever I am, I'll be thrilled and proud.
There is a mural atop the entrance to Lucas Oil Stadium depicting scenes from our Super Bowl season. It says simply, "Lucas Oil Stadium, built by champions." Yes, you are.
The Buffalo Bills: Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, James Lofton, Darryl Talley, Steve Tasker, the late Kent Hull and so many, many more. Buffalo's boys of autumn. They brought a team, a talent and a dream together like few others in NFL history.
To all the players and coaches from all our teams. It has been such a joy to watch you grow and achieve so many great things. It has been a privilege to play a small role in your careers. We share a lifelong bond that will never be broken. We shared experiences, which few ever do, and which we will never forget. My honor is your honor. I stand here on your shoulders. I am here because of you, and I am forever grateful.
As the Bible says, the last shall be first. Coach Marv Levy. Four decades ago, he took an interest in an obscure scout whose reports impressed him. That was me. Not for Marv, I would not have a career in pro football, let alone be standing here. He is my mentor, my role model, my friend. I have very often failed to live up to his example, but I never fail to continue to try, because for me he represents all I ever aspired to be when I was a young man dreaming impossible dreams.
In Buffalo, prior to every game, from the preseason to the Super Bowl, Marv and I would walk down the tunnel together side by side. We would wish each other luck and embark on another contest together. I am thrilled that on this great day I can take another walk, side by side, into these hallowed halls with the man who did so much to put me here. Thank you, Marv.
The impossible dreams have all come true.
I began by paraphrasing Churchill. I'll close by quoting the pride of the Yankees, Lou Gehrig: "Today I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth."