Larry Csonka Enshrinement speech

Larry Csonka Enshrinement Speech 1987

Presenter: Don Shula

Morning. The trademark of our back to back Super Bowl championship teams was very few mistakes and ball control. It was those strengths that enabled us to go 17-0 and 15-2 during our championship seasons. Our offense had the keen ability to keep the ball away from opposing teams with long, time consuming drives. Most of these drives ended in touchdowns. We very seldom had to settle for a field goal. Along with this success was Larry Csonka. He was simply the first fullback of his time. On first down, Csonka averaged 4.5 yards a carry. That enabled our offense to get in the good 2nd down situations. When he got tough on 3rd and short, everyone knew that #39 would get the ball. Like Jim Langer who opened many of the holes for Csonk, Larry played his best in the biggest games. He had three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 1971, 72, and 73 as we went to the Super Bowl in each of these years. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and over 100 yds. on the ground in two of them. Larry was the most valuable player in Super Bowl VIII gaining 145 yards on 33 carries and getting 2 touchdowns. Rarely did Larry make a physical or mental error. His strong arms and hands never let go of the football. One of the great statistics of a running back is he only fumbled 21 times in his career, that is one in every 95 times he got his hands on the football even as a rusher or as an occasional pass receiver. What separates Larry from some of the game 1 s other greats, is his superior competitive instincts and his love for playing football the old-fashioned way. He was blood and guts, dirt all over him, never leaving the game. In his career, high school, college and football, he had 12 broken noses. He just recently had it fixed; you will see how handsome he is when he gets up here.

I once called him the modern day Nagurski. Csonka was the big back we needed to make our offense go. Some called our offensive boring, conservative, predictable, efficient, business like. I called it briefly affective. And there is no doubt Csonk had a lot to do with the brutal part of it. A five-time all-pro choice, he had the respect of his peers. There was a let of intelligence and talent on our Super Bowl teams, but I know where the heart was, number 39 Larry Csonka.          

Larry Csonka

They bring us up here alphabetically, that is why I am first. I tell you mom; I wish dad would have spelled our name with a "z". I got to tell you one other thing, this is a very emotional thing and these guys behind me, these other 6 inductees, have been giving me pressure all week about setting the pace so, me not being a very emotional guy, I am going to try to keep it straight and not break down. And I thought I could do it until I spent the week with Nitschke. Ray is a competitor and he has been working on us psychology, you know how linebackers are. I have to tell you I have never been faced with a mere monumental task, worked harder at preparation and felt more ill-prepared. This moment absolutely has to go to the thanks for the people who happened to get here. I kind of broke them down into categories and the people I would like to name and really only have time to name most of them are some of the coaches and personal friends who have been involved with me through my life and career in football.

I thought I would start with the coaches going back to high school. My first one I encountered was Sam Estock at 100 lbs. I was in Junior High School and he was a coach who thought I might be able to play and suggested I go out. I went out and was coached by a gentleman named Jim Tyree who was a wrestling coach and taught me about the meaning of conditioning. Some of the other coaches were Walker, Warner, Blake, Eberly, Sloope and Zohless and finally Coach Volk had a lot to do with me going to Syracuse, I want to thank him for that. Coach Fortner came to the gym to me in my sophomore year and moved me into a full back into my junior year and he helped me make a very large decision in my junior year. We all fell out for the grass drill on our first day of practice, an August day much like this, and he was yelling the down and ups and we happened to be up at the time a red convertible went by the practice field and honked his horn. He was a friend of mine and he had two long-haired blondes in it and waved. At that time Coach Fortner said, “fellows there it is, you can either be here doing this or there doing that, now hit the dirt.” Everyone did except me. I had to think about it for a minute. And Fortner like Shula, didn't hesitate to lose the momentum of the moment and he said "down Csonka” and naturally I went down and stayed with it ever after. The other coach out of that group that I would like to make mention of is Larry Zohless. He was an instructor in my junior high school, he coached many teams, but was a referee when I came along and one day when I was out for junior high football and particularly dejected because we just bad the tar kicked out of us by a little older team, a stronger team, I walked off the field in a fit of depreciation and really thought about just turning in the helmet and at that point Mr. Zohless walked up, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “stick with it kid, you were the only player on the field today.” That made me feel a lot better and I need to thank him.

My college coaches, Schreve, Rocky Piro, Joe Zombothy, Coach Bell and Ben Swartzwalter. I will be forever in debt to Ben Swartzwalter for realizing that I was a tackle, but he needed a blocking back for Floyd Little, so he put me in there. And Floyd getting tired a couple of times, permitted me to get my hands on the ball and being a real honkie at heart, I made it count. I know Pittsburgh will like that. When I went to the pros, it was Coach Wilson. Monty Clarke, Coach Schnellenberger, Arnsbarger, Keen, Tassif, McVay, Sandusky. And finally, Coach Shula. The impact that Coach Shula and the Dolphins had on my wife I think I can reflect to you on my life and my family I think I can reflect to you. I have two sons who are out before me now, the older boy is Doug. At the ripe young age of 4 when the Dolphins were first coming on I had him down in the Livingroom tickling him, he demanded that I stop and I asked what would he do if I didn’t and he stood up before me, held up his little 4 year-old figure and said, “I’ll tell John Shula if you don't. A couple years later, my younger son Paul while standing in front of the tv with his Labrador puppy and wrestling around, stood up while listening to the Star Spangled Banner, the beginning of a 49ers-Eagles game, listened to the entire thing and turned around with a puzzled look and said "Daddy, why are they playing the Dolphins song for them.”

At this time, I would like to thank the Dolphins owner Joe Robbie for having a franchise and giving me an opportunity. And Giants owner, Wellington Mara, the same thing. Two other men who had a great deal to do with my short lively career, Bob Lundy our trainer, who put me back together many, many times and equipment man, Dan Dowell for designing all kinds of new and light equipment for a fellow full back. And last, but not least, a special group of friends and family. My family and here's where it gets tough. To all of you thank you. It has been a long and costly road, but we are here. I love you, mom. Just please don’t call me “gooch” in front of these people, all right. To my friends and fellow players, Jim and Mary Kiick who are in the audience, I love you both very much. His in-laws the Marshalls, his parents, George Kiick and Alice Kiick, my other set of parents, thank you for the help and finally the wonderful offensive unit that became my family, if you will, starting with Jim Kuchenburg, and Langer and Little and Morris, Evans, Wayne Moore, Doug Crusan, Bob Griese, Paul Warfield, Howard Trilly, Jim Mandage, Fleming and the whole group, thanks for letting me be a part of your gang.

And finally, Earl Morrall, for being about the most inspirational guy I have ever been around. He is a great man and a great quarterback, and he liked me to run the ball and you couldn't ask for much more than that. Finally, my thanks to my hometown, Stow, Ohio. Just a few short miles away my junior year in high school when the announcement was made that the Hall of Fame was going to be here and linked with the National Football League the way it has been, it was a great thing. We Ohioans had great pride in the fact that it was here in this part of the country. The mid-west part of the country is where great football is produced and the young men who played the game come from here to make it great in my opinion. We have always had a lot of pride about that, so it is particularly pleasant for me to come back after feeling that pride and finally making it. And last but not least, you may win yet Nitschke, I want to thank a little brown-haired girl. Thank you, Pam, I love you. Thank you very much.