Dan Dierdorf Enshrinement speech
Dan Dierdorf Enshrinement Speech 1996
Presenter: Jim Hanifan
Thank you. Good morning ladies and gentlemen, commissioner, new enshrines and you great Hall of Famers over there. It is my pleasure, and indeed it is an honor, to introduce Dan Dierdorf today. It's a well-deserved honor of debt for Dan, but it's also unique, and so many of you out there know that. Think of the odds, a young man, from Canton, born and raised right here, started his football career here, goes off to college, becomes an All-American, drafted in the National Football League, placed 13 years, and then comes back today to his home town, to Canton, and be enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Unbelievable, the odds.
Obviously, it is a tremendous accomplishment on Dan's part, but it is also, and it has to be, an unbelievable source of pride for you people out there, to the city of Canton, unbelievable. I'd like to tell you how he did it. I spent 10 years with Dan Dierdorf, and I know him extremely well as a player and as a person. He is one of those unique persons who has all the qualities to attain greatness in whatever field he would have chosen. And he's done rather well, I'd say, in both fields that he has particularly taken, taken on. The aspect of a player, he had that rare combination of size and speed, quickness, strength, and balance. And yet more than that, and what really kind of separated him apart from so many of the others, he had intelligence, and he had attitude. Now that intelligence, believe me, as his personal coach for years and years, he really, truly never made a mental mistake. Never did.
The attitude, he had persistence, persistence, he had that tremendous will, he had a toughness of spirit and a tenacity to excel, and that he did. I would have former players, this is an unbelievable compliment to a player, to have other players in his era, after they retired, come to me and tell me, say, you know, Dan Dierdorf made me a better player because when we played, he embarrassed me. He embarrassed me, and because of that embarrassment I told myself that was not going to happen to me again, ever again, and I became a better player. I thought what a tremendous compliment to an individual, to a player, you couldn't get a much better compliment than that. The times through the years, and of course I was with him for a decade, I marveled at the continuity of excellence, how he maintained a high level of play. And of course he was acknowledged for that by his peers, being named All-Pro many times, going to the Pro Bowl many times, and probably the best and the most obvious selection until this very moment now, being lineman of the decade of the 70s a great, great accomplishment and honor.
But then I think this: As a coach, the greatest compliment one can give to a player is really truly use, use their play as an example to younger players. And I have for many years, used Dan's film footage, of him in action, and yes, in practice, in practice, and I've kept these reels over the years to show my young ones, hey, this is how you can do it, believe me. Some of them wouldn't believe me and then they'd see Mr. Dierdorf execute what I was asking for and they'd go my goodness gracious, you actually can do it like that, that's unbelievable, and he truly was. He was an awesome force on the offensive line. I have really truly never been around another player that could take a defensive man off the line of scrimmage, remove him, and pancake him, as we call it, and it was an awesome display of power and technique. The thing that also he brought to the game was his great warmth, his leadership with the team, but the great warmth that he had not only for all of his teammates, and many of them are here today, but in particular, his own guys, the offensive line. This was a particular group of guys that shared in the success of that particular unit - and they really, truly share it. They led the league five years in the NFC, they led the league in the NFL four years, least amount of sacks. A great accomplishment, and he was the ringleader of that group. But, it was Dierdorf and it was Dobler and it was Banks and it was Bob Young and it was Roger Finney, Ernie McMillan, Tom Rahainey, Keith Workman, those fellows, they shared and shared well, and I know they're all proud of Dan's selection into the Hall of Fame today.
But one of the pleasures of introducing him that I am really, really proud of, is that I know that the old-timers of the 1930's, and the 1940's, and 50's and 60's, men like Forrest Gregg, Mel Hein, Jim Parker, Bulldog Turner, Willie Lanier, Ray Nitschke, Deacon Jones, these guys are gonna welcome this guy into the club, the ultimate, the immortal team because he's one of theirs. And I'd like to introduce you now to Canton's own and St. Louis's favorite son, Dan Dierdorf.
Thank you. Thank you. I did a little homework, and this is my 20th enshrinement ceremonies here at the Professional Football Hall of Fame. And I can tell you that the view up here is better than the first nineteen. This is an entirely new look to this ceremony, and I can tell you it looks pretty swell from up here. I was gonna start this off like a meeting by just saying my name is Dan and I'm from Canton. And I am, and I'm proud of it. I must tell you when you look over here under this tent, all the prior Hall of Famers that have made the trip back to Canton and so many of them grace our town with their presence every year.
The highlight of being a new enshrinee is that you get to attend a luncheon on Friday afternoon and only Hall of Famers are allowed to attend. And the rookie class, we're not allowed to speak, we sit there, and the Ray Nitschke's, and the Willie Lanier's and the Deacon Jones' and the Bob Lilly's of the world tell us what it meant to them to stand on these steps and we get to soak up some of that atmosphere of what it's like. And before I begin to elicit tears from you, I just want you to understand they're also a very cruel group. Because amongst themselves they have a pool going as to which one of the guys up here will cry first and which one of them will cry the most, and they wager a few dollars on it if you can imagine that. Guys, I just want to tell you that Lou choked up a little bit up here when he was here, I cried in the parade. So, you settle amongst yourselves, but I choked up a little bit during the course of that parade.
I was here in 1962 to watch the ground-breaking when Pete Rozelle turned over a spade full of dirt to start the construction of this building. I used to walk down here from my house right, if you just go under the bridge and up Harrison Avenue, to 36th Street and make a right turn about two-thirds down the block on the left side, it's about a mile from here and I could walk it in about 15 minutes. And I used to walk down here, and I used to look at that steel over the rotunda here that was making that football, and I was thinking to myself, what the heck is that. And then I went to every enshrinement, every Hall of Fame game until I went into the National Football League in 1971, and then, of course, I've been here for the last ten years as part of the broadcast crew that does the Hall of Fame game. So, by my count this makes number twenty. And you think back to what are some of the things that you remember, and I'll never forget as long as I live the teams used to dress in the little locker rooms over here, they used to dress originally over in the Field House. And I remember I was probably 14 years or so of age, and I was standing outside that locker room, and I was distracted, I was looking the other way. And all of a sudden the locker room door burst open and out of this locker room door, and you guys will know who I'm talking about, came Bob Brown, the old tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Rams, and the Raiders, this guy, but Bob was with the Eagles and he came out of that locker room door, and Bob Brown was about six-foot-six, 300 pounds, and he had on those old, nasty grass spikes that we used to wear, those things about an inch-and-a-half long with steel on the bottom of them, when you' re walking on asphalt sparks come off those things. And Bob Brown walked by me and I thought it was an eclipse. The sun was blotted from my vision and I thought to myself: These men, these men are God. These men are things that I could never be. And there is no way on God's green earth that I would ever be able to stand here long enough, talk loud enough, or be eloquent enough to ever possibly explain to you what it would be like to go to the side of that locker room door, to have Bob Brown go past me, to make the quarter-mile trip down here to stand on these steps. It's truly beyond my comprehension and I'm overwhelmed by it all.
I'm proud to join, I'm proud to join Marion Motley and Alan Page and Lenny Dawson, and Paul Brown to become the fifth person from Stark County that enters this hallowed Hall. I'll take my place between Ditka and Dawson alphabetically, every now and then that Michigan education shows off. And I'd also be remising if I didn't take a chance to congratulate Lou Creekmur, and Lou and I have bonded certainly because he's an old tackle and I'm an old tackle; although he is an older tackle than I am. But by God, there's nobody my age, or nobody that will ever walk on a football field, that doesn't owe a debt of gratitude to the men of Creekmur's era. The men who founded this league in the 30's and the 40's and the 50's and who played without face masks and who played for not a lot of money, they played because they loved, and they honored, and they cherished this game. And every one of us that followed owes Lou Creekmur and his pals a debt of gratitude.
I just want you to know something, we're told, we're told that we have seven minutes when we come up here. And the reason we know is because they have a red light, a white light, the white one goes on when you have a minute left, the red one when you're supposed to finish. I just want you to know I unscrewed them. I told you I would. So, whoever's on the end of that button can push his butt off for all I care.
My election it's a, a validation not just for myself, but for an awful lot of people who are in the same position that I was in. And that is simply this: For a long time, it appeared that the only way you could get in the Hall of Fame is if you played on a Super Bowl Championship team. And, and I hope that it was broken a little bit last year when we saw Lee Roy Selmon get in the Hall of Fame, and we saw Kellen Winslow, and we saw Steve Largent, men who didn't play on Super Bowl Championship teams. And again, represented here today, I never had that honor, I know that Charlie didn't, Mel, of course, went to Dallas, so, he played in Dallas, we know that he's got more rings than he can handle. But still, there are an awful lot of good football players in this league that never played on really outstanding football teams, we just didn't have the good fortune to be drafted by Pittsburgh, or by Dallas, or by Miami, or by the Raiders. We just happened to go to another team, it doesn't mean we worked any less, it didn't mean we weren't as good, we just weren't as fortunate in where we had the opportunity to play. And let me tell you something, I can only assume that it's a whole lot easier to get up in the morning and go down to the stadium for practice that first week of December, when you're 10 and 2, then it is when you're 2 and 10. Cause I know what it feels like to go down there when you're 2 and 10 and you try to screw that baby down tight, to play for some pride and to play for the respect of your fellow players around the league, and I just, I'm proud to be here and say I made it here without having played on a great team and I hope this validates something not just for myself, but for every one of my teammates in St. Louis.
You know guys, you played with me for years, you lined up next to me, you saw me make mistakes, you saw me fall down, I wasn't that much better than you. Now Conrad, I was clearly better than you but, let's, let's not mistake this new-found humility of mine for just a complete loss of my senses. You know there wasn't that much difference between us, and for all of you I hope you take some satisfaction out of my being here today. I remember sitting up in the ABC broadcast trailer a couple years ago watching Terry Bradshaw stand up here and deliver his speech, and he wowed the crowd when he turned around, and ~e, he talked about wouldn't it be a thrill to put his hands under Mike Webster's butt one more time, well let me tell you something, I played center my last two years in the league, and from the center's perspective, that ain't no thrill. So, I can honestly say I have never dreamed of Jim Hart putting his hands under my butt. So, if Terry wants to keep that to himself that's uh, that's fine with me.
You cannot stand here without saying thank you it is really the only reason you're up here. It is to thank those who helped you get to this spot. Umm, I'd like to start off by thanking my high school coach who I know is here this morning, Jim Richenbaugh. Jim was my coach at Glenwood High School. He was the first coach, that's Jim right out there, he was the first coach to teach me how to win. Jim if you only, I think you did know how much we were terrified of you, one look from Coach Richenbaugh brought us all to our knees, ahh, enough sprints brought us to our knees as well, but Jim thank you for the first time showing me how much fun it was to win, and I see Ed Bodnar sitting right next to you, and, it's, it's what makes part of this special.
I went to the University of Michigan, and I was recruited there by Pete Elliott's brother Bump, uh, Ohio State didn't want me, Michigan State didn't want me it was just a question of, it wasn't their fault and I hold nothing against them, I, I just was very late to mature, I didn't really have everything it took when I was a senior in high school. One school did recruit me though, uh, several did, but one trip I took I went to Miami of Ohio and at the time they were coached by some guy named Schembechler and I said, ah, I don't want to go there. So, what happens, two years later Bo Schembechler is the coach at the University of Michigan. And my line coach in college was a gentleman named Jerry Hanlin, and, Jerry came to see me when I was a senior at Glenwood, and he wanted to make one last pitch about going to Miami, and I did the manly thing, I snuck out the back door and left Jerry sitting up at Miami of Ohio. Two years later he was my line coach at Michigan, the first lesson that I ever had that the world is a much smaller place than I had envisioned it when I was seventeen years old. That was one of the first mistakes that really came back to bite me and bite me hard. Uh, Bo and Jerry are both here today, uh, Jerry Hanlin is the greatest offensive line coach college football ever saw. Uh, the most fun and pure fun in terms of just being a kick butt winner that I've ever had in my life was at the University of Michigan and for that Bo Schernbechler I'll be eternally grateful, and Bo, I wish I could have you up here with me, I just, you honor me by being here today. Thank you, Bo. I played for the St. Louis Cardinals, not the Chicago Cardinals, not the Phoenix Cardinals, not the now Arizona Cardinals. I played for the St. Louis Cardinals when they were in St. Louis which means, while I played for that franchise, I played for the people of St. Louis and a lot of you are here today, thank you for corning. We have the football team now, we have Deacon's Rams, but by God when I was there it was the Cardinals and there's still a strong nucleus and a strong hold over the whole Cardinal fans and thank you for corning.
I was a rookie in '71 and the first assignment I had was to play in a college all-star game. I didn't go to the NFL with a lot of confidence either, because my first deal after the all-star game was, we had to go on two hours sleep. I got there in the middle of the night, I had to go the next morning to Rencalere, Indiana as part of the Cardinals because we were going to scrimmage the Chicago Bears in Rencalere, Indiana. I had been with the Cardinals about eight hours we find our way to Rencalere, I don't know how many of you have ever been there, if it's not the edge of the known world, trust me it could be seen from Rencalere, Indiana, this is in the middle of nowhere. First play of the game they send a receiver over the middle, over under the ten is Larry Wilson. Larry Wilson hits this guy so hard he knocks him into the next zip code. This guy is down, he is out, and I'm looking at this going 'Hey, even if he's on my team, that's the way it is.' We get the ball; we send a running back up through the line and he is met right between the four and the three by Dick Butkus. And that's exactly what he sounded like to that guy. Butkus hits this guy, the first thing that hits the ground are his shoulder blades and this guy is out. But Dick doesn't care. Dick is leaning over him yelling at him: Don't you ever come back in here again. Don't you ever come through this line again in my house. And I'm thinking to myself, Dick, he can't hear you, he doesn't know what you're saying. And then it dawned on me, Dick was talking to me. Dan you haven't put on those pants yet, you could still get out of here with your life and go home and don't think that I didn't think about it.
First game I ever started was for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys, Mel Renfro's Dallas Cowboys. And I felt confident at the time that I could handle either Tom or Mel. Unfortunately, I had to start across from Bob Lilly. And Bob Lilly, I could just tell you something right now, he was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and I'm one of the reasons why. Bob, I was so honored to be treated like dirt by you that day. I've made my way around it.
I've got to wrap this up in another half-an-hour or so, so I want to thank a few more people. Don Coryell came to St. Louis in 1973 and one of the great thrills for me to stand up here this morning is the fact that we're having a Cardinal reunion. Because for five years in St. Louis Don Coryell was our head coach, Jim Hanifan was my line coach, and Joe Gibbs was our running back coach. And folks, let me tell you something, this group comes from San Diego State. We were not overwhelmed by the fact that they were coming from San Diego State, we didn't really know a whole lot about it. But let me tell you something, they came to St. Louis in 1973 and they reinvented the way the ball was thrown in the National Football League. And every team in this league today uses some derivative of Don Coryell's passing system. And I'm just thrilled that Don is here to honor Joe today and Don, you honor me with your presence as well. Thank you.
When he got to St. Louis, he found that we had a lot of great players. Jim Heart and Jackie Smith and Terry Metcalf and Mel Gray. Jim Otis and Ernie McMillan, Jim Bachan and Roger Worley and along the, you know, as we went through the years, we added players, like J.D. Kane and Steve Jones and Tim Carney, on and on and on. And these guys wanted to win, and we just needed to be shown how. And thankfully Jim and Joe and Don, they helped us, and it was the best years we had in the National Football League.
And I want to thank some of my other teammates that came here today and made the trip, Terry Miller and Tim Vangalder and Mark Arniston and Terry Joyce. Thanks, guys, for being here.
I've saved for last though, my brothers on the offensive line. There used to be a banner that hung in St. Louis and it was about 30 feet long and it was entitled "The Great Wall of St. Louis." And it had the five of us across this thing, Roger Finney at left tackle, and Bob Young at left guard, and Tom Banks at center, and Conrad Dobler at right guard, and I was hung out there at right tackle. And let me tell you something guys, and gals, and kids and whatever, we were, we have no Super Bowl rings to prove it, we have nothing but the respect of the people we played. But we were one of the great offensive lines that ever walked on the field in the National Football League and we are very, very proud of it. Men. We were joined during the years, Tom Brahainey and Keith Wardman, they filled things in, they played when some of us retired, when some moved on, and we moved on and didn't miss a beat. And all of us are here today, the exception of Roger Finney who couldn't make it, and for our fallen teammate Bobby Young, who died a year ago with a heart attack and Bob's widow is here, and Mickey thank you for coming. Don't think we've ever, ever forgotten him. Mickey, thanks for being here.
The players of today are bigger and stronger. They're faster, they make more money, God knows that, but who cares, they're entitled to all that. The thing that concerns me, and I worry about it for their sake, are they having as much fun as we had. Are they making the lifelong relationships, are they forming the relationships like we did? I certainly hope that they were able to. Jack Buck is here, my broadcasting mentor from St. Louis. It's a thrill for me that Jack got the Pete Rozelle Award and that he is on these steps with me. It just adds to its being perfect, and Jack, I'm so glad that you're here. My ABC Sports family is here. For ten years we travel the country together every fall. How heartbreaking this would be for me if they weren't able to be here. Frank Gifford and Al Michaels, my partners in the booth. Frank is always smiling, of course, if my wife made ten million dollars a year I'd always be smiling too. Al Michaels of course, probably most famous for his line, 'Do you believe in miracles.' And as I stand here Al, yes indeed, I do. It's very obvious to me. It's a time of healing for us at ABC Sports. J. J. mentioned that our Executive Producer, Jack O'Harra and his wife Janet and his daughter Katlyn, were on their way to Paris for the ~our d'France, which we carried last week on ABC, and they were on TWA's Flight 800. So, all of us at ABC have been thrown for a loop but yet we' re here to cover this game. We'll be up there tomorrow afternoon and Kenny Willis in the truck, and Craig Janoff directing the cameras and all the tape and camera and technicians that I've travelled with are all here. We're all in mourning but I'm still, gentleman thank you for being here, I'm thrilled that you were able to be here on my big day.
Finally, I just would like to say that when you live in a hometown you make friends for life and I've made some here. And they're out here by the hundreds. My high school teammates John Noise and Donny Dasco and Torn Anthony and Mark Fultz, thanks for being here guys. My mother is right here in front. She's 77 years old. Mom, big time stuff, huh? I'll say. My four children, Dan and Kristen, my two daughters, who were here up front, what a thrill it is for me that they are here. They've never seen me play football. Last night at the dinner when they ran my highlight clip, my ten-year old daughter went 'Wow.' She'd never seen me in a football uniform before, and if I had to wait a while to get here, I 'rn very appreciative. I just want to tell you something, that my wife Debbie is sitting right here. This is not just one of those things that a guy just throws our lightly. There is not a more happily married man in the world than I am, and she is truly my best friend who has sweated this thing out with me, and sweetheart, we have finally got here.
And lastly, I know I have spoken too long, but I only get to be here once. I just want to, I know, hey, you've already won your bets, just pass the money around and shut up. I just have one last thing to say. It was my father who brought me here in 1962 to watch this building being dedicated. It was my father that brought me to every Hall of Fame game. It was my dad who went to every one-off my high school games and it was my father who stood with me and watched me grow. And my dad died 15 years ago and all I can think about is how much he would enjoy this. How much he would enjoy seeing his baby boy go into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. And Dad, all I can tell you is that I hope I honor you by being here today. Thank you. God Bless.