Billy Shaw Enshrinement speech
Pro Football Hall of Fame
August 7, 1999
Eddie Abramoksi (presenter):
Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentleman, it is indeed a great honor to present to you Billy Shaw for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Billy Shaw is the first player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame who played his entire career in the American Football League.
When the American Football League was first formed, it was intended to be league with teams that ran wide-open passing games. This was meant to be attractive to the fans. The Buffalo Bills deviated from this concept and instead featured a grind-them-out running game, in which traps, off-tackle plays and end runs were the bread and butter of their offense. This was done mainly through the ability of a good offensive line led by Billy Shaw.
On account of the system used by most teams in the league, which was the pass first and run second, there were an awful lot of 40-30 games. For a time, the AFL was even nicknamed a "basketball league in cleats." This made for a very exciting game, appealing to the new AFL fans that were eager for football in their hometowns. And for greater excitement, the league even made the football easier to pass by altering its shape.
However, as I stated before, the Bills were very successful during those times by running the ball and running it well. And Billy’s playing ability was a large factor in the Bills’ success.
Now let me tell you some things about Billy. He was big. He was fast. He was intelligent, tenacious. As a matter of fact, Billy embodied all the words commonly used by his coaches and scouts to describe the really great players. Above all, Billy was extremely durable and dedicated. He was a trainer’s dream, as were many of the Bills players of that era.
Throughout his career, he missed only part of the 1967 season due to a severe knee injury. Even then, Billy made it back on the football field much sooner than our medical staff had anticipated. In those day following knee surgery, it was a common practice to put a player in a cast for six weeks or so. When we removed Billy’s cast, he only had 15 degrees of motion. He looked up at the doctor and he said, “How soon will I start exercising to build up the muscle around my knee?” The doctor told him that as soon as he had full range of motion back, the exercise program could begin. Billy came back the next day with a good range of motion. He asked me “Abe, when do we start the weights?” Befuddled, I looked at him and said, “Billy, how did you accomplish this overnight?” He told me he put his young daughter on his ankle and lifted her up and down like a seesaw until the motion came back. This clearly illustrates the type of drive and dedication Billy had then and has now.
During Billy’s tenure with the team, there was an ongoing debate in the locker room as to whether Billy was truly fast or the Buffalo Bills’ backs were truly slow. Of course, the answer to that question depends on whom you ask, the lineman or the backs. Anyway, it was a great pleasure to watch Billy pull out, kick out the linebacker, turn up field, get a piece of the cornerback, and then match stride for stride the running back as they ran down the field for a big gain or touchdown.
One day during the normal banter that goes on in the training room, I asked Billy, “What goes through your mind when you pull out, Billy?” In a fashion that was typically Billy, he looked at me and he said, ”Eddie, when I pull out,” he said, “I look that linebacker in the face, and if he’s mean and has some teeth missing, I turn up field and get that little 170-pound cornerback and let the fullback deal with the linebacker.”
The old adage – behind every great man, there’s a great woman – certainly holds true for Billy Shaw. In his case, however, behind him stands his wife, Patsy, and his three daughters, Cindy, Cathy and Cheryl. Undoubtedly, with their years of love and support, Billy would not be here today. I offer him my sincere congratulations to them and the rest of the Shaw family.
Mr. Ralph Wilson, the Buffalo Bills, Billy’s former teammates and I, and the fans of the City of Buffalo, who incidentally are here in great numbers, are extremely proud of Billy’s upcoming induction into such a prestigious group. When one stops to consider the mass number of great players out of there, whether just beginning in high school, continuing college, playing
in the NFL, and all those who have played in the past. To be chosen as one of the elite is an honor beyond compare.
Ladies and gentlemen, Billy Shaw.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. I want to thank Eddie, Abe, as all of us affectionately know him, for his friendship over the years, for his dedication as a trainer, and keeping all of us well. It was a difficult choice to select a presenter. But when you put all the names in the pot and you look at that man that was instrumental in you career, it had to be Eddie Abramoski. And it was an honor and a privilege to have him present me.
I want to thank the Hall of Fame staff. The writers that selected me. I want to thank these guys sitting to my left. These last few days has been unreal. I didn’t know really what to expect. But after yesterday, when I got my instructions as to what it meant to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the duties that come with that responsibility. I thank them for their encouragement.
I thought that what I would do this afternoon as an induction speech is to carry you through some of the people that have been so instrumental in my career. Not only as a football player but as a person. I would like to start in high school. There was a football player in my high school at Carr Central in Vicksburg, Mississippi, by the name of Richard Price. Richard Price was one of those players that matured very quickly. I was one of those players that didn’t mature as quickly. But the day after day after day of 101 with him, I matured a little quicker than maybe normal. And I give Richard a great deal of the credit for me getting a college scholarship and having the opportunity to go further. And the coach of that team was a man by the name of Gene Allen. And Gene Allen and his wife, Peggy, are here today and I would for like them to stand if they would. If he looks younger than I do, he was only 24 years old when I was 18, and he was my coach. But I give him all the credit for putting me off to the right start.
Then I would like to move from high school to my hometown of Vicksburg. Sometimes we take for granted, a town. Vicksburg, Mississippi, gave me my start. They taught me values. I appreciate all those coaches in that town that gave me a start in whatever sport it might be, and I thank them for their support.
From Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Georgia Tech. I’m going to be prejudiced, the greatest university in the United States, Georgia Tech. They taught me values that I didn’t know existed. Academically I was not a Hall of Famer. But they endured me, and I endured them. But in that process I got to play for the greatest coach that a man could play for. Really an extension of Gene Allen to Atlanta, and that is Bobby Dodd. His uncanny ability to give you the right answer. I went to Coach Dodd when I was drafted by Buffalo and then by Dallas, or was being considered by Dallas, and I asked Coach Dodd, and said, “What should I do?” This is February of 1961. He says, “Bill, I would go to Buffalo.” He says, “That is a new league. It is going to be successful, and you can be a part of history.” Well 10 years later, that became true. That was the kind of wisdom that Bobby Dodd had. And I am a tremendously blessed person for having had the opportunity to pay for him. Also in attendance today are some of my teammates from Georgia Tech. And I thank you for making the sacrifice and coming and being a part of this occasion.
From college to pro. You know, a professional football player’s career a lot of times is guided by luck, or destiny, or being in the right place at the right time. Coming to Buffalo was a blessing for me. A class organization led by a class owner in Ralph Wilson. And I thank Mr. Wilson – Mr. Wilson, stand – I thank you, Mr. Wilson, for giving me the opportunity to be here.
Coaches, we all have a lot of coaches in pro ball. I had Lou Saban and Joe Collier as coaches. I had Red Miller, Jerry Smith, Marvin Bass as line coaches that took what talent I had and molded it. And I thank them for that.
The city of Buffalo – couldn’t play in a better place. A lot of times the city of Buffalo gets a bad rap. But that rap is unjust because we learned to love that city, that city learned to love us, and we have some lasting friends. They took a young man, just out of college, put their arms around him a better citizen, a better father and a better football player. I thank you, the city of Buffalo.
It was mentioned awhile ago that I played my whole career in the AFL. It’s with pride that I stand here today in support of that league, and in a way being a part of all of those men that played in that league. Thank you, men, for helping me get here.
And my hometown of Toccoa, Georgia, and that’s where we live today for the last 27 years. That town has supported me, has made my family welcome. My wife is from that town, so obviously they are going to make her welcome. I was suspect for many a year, but now they have supported me. Thank you, Toccoa, Georgia.
Friends, what would a man be without friends? How does that affect a man’s career? Well, if you’re not a happy person, and content, then you are not going to be the kind of football player that deserves to be in a Hall of Fame. I have many friends here today, from Buffalo, from Toccoa, from all around the United States. If you are here representing me, today, in that category, I would like for you to stand. I want to honor you. Thank you for your sacrifice and your travel.
A man can’t be happy without a good place to work. I’ll very quickly say thank you to Hugh’s Supply in Orlando, Florida, for letting me have six months of somewhat freedom. Thank you to Chip Street, to David Hughs, to Stewart Hall, and to Grady Windstead.
And then it comes time to honor those who put you here, my family. I have my three daughters here today. And that would be Cindy Matthews, her husband, Gary, and Drew and Ben. Would you stand? And then I have my second daughter, Cathy Thorton, her husband Robert, her two children, Jake and Molly. Then our third daughter, Cheryl, and Chip Henderson, and our newest granddaughter, Cassy.
My mom is here today. Mom, I just want to say a very simple, most meaningful, thank you for all the sacrifices that you made. We lost dad 25 years ago, and he was my best friend, my first coach, my partner. And I know he’s enjoying this day.
My sister and her husband are here, Mary Elizabeth and Jim. Thank you for making this trip and being here with us.
And then comes our faith. No football player is ever complete without his faith. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ as my savior. I thank him for dying on that cross for me, and for giving me the strength and ability and wisdom for playing this game.