Paul Warfield Enshrinement speech
Pro Football Hall of Fame
July 30, 1983
Gene Slaughter (presenter):
Distinguished and honored guests of the dais, Paul, your wife, your children and your dad, ladies and gentlemen. It is great to be back in Paul Warfield's country. After spending 33 years of my life as a coach, I have come to realize that coaching is nothing more than a series of experiences, but if you are lucky there will be an experience that will be the ultimate of all those things past. And today, I have reached my ultimate experience.
Paul Warfield, all-state, All-Ohio, All-American, All-Pro, is the greatest athlete I have ever seen. This great human being was endowed with the God-given skill to become the finest player I have ever coached and the game's greatest and most feared receiver of all times. He was poetry in motion, superb skill without equal, and most of all, he saw virtue in being the best. And these things, Paul, have brought you to this dais today.
In those long-ago days in Warren, Ohio, from which you came, Turner Junior High School, Warren Harding then onto those days at Ohio State, the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins. Wherever this young man played, he always contributed to the greatest of the game with his unparalleled skill and as a man. He brought dignity and respect to and for himself, and when the moment when arrival was reached, Paul Warfield gave all he had. Paul, your hallmark of faith and dignity, your pride and humility have made you what you are, and in this day of turmoil and cynicism taking place in our beloved game of football you have all those characteristics that young and old should look up to and hold high before America. You have endured the struggle, and you have brought honor to yourself as an athlete and as a man.
But we must always remember the fact that most of this credit must go to a mother and father who believed in you and gave you this chance to be all that you could be. Well, Paul, you are being recognized today for all your great skills as a football player. But even greater than that, you embody all those qualities of what it takes to be a man. You have risked the lives of your families, your parents, your friends. I am so grateful to you for touching my life in such a profound way. As a friend with great humility and great pride and sincere thanks to you for allowing me to be with you as you join the majestic names of yester-year -- a privilege you so richly deserve. And so on behalf of your parents and your wife and children, my heartiest congratulations to you. The finest human being and athlete I have ever been privileged to know, and you honor me by allowing me to be a part of your finest hour. And as we rode in the parade today, we rode by a loud speaker, and I heard the
young lady say, "Paul Warfield is the hero of the people." Today, ladies and gentlemen, Paul Warfield is my hero for all times. Your enshrinee, Paul Warfield, 1983 ...,
Thank you very much, Gene Slaughter. Ladies and gentlemen, as I stand before you here today, it is certainly a humbling feeling to think that I will be, along with the 1983 enshrinees, a permanent part of pro football history. That in itself really is an awesome thought. It is awesome when you reflect back from where I came, because as I think back 25 years ago, it is almost ironic that just a few hundred yards ago, a few hundred yards over there in that stadium, that I really came to a very close point to the crossroads of my very young career at that time. I was just a second-year football player at Warren Harding High School, and the previous week of my very first game, I sustained a number of bumps and bruises. I wasn't quite sure that football was worth enduring -- the aggravations, the bumps and bruises. But nevertheless, I was able to get through the following week. And then on a Friday night some 25 years ago, a wonderful thing happened to me at Fawcett Stadium. Gene Slaughter, I would like to believe, perfectly called my number numerous times that night, and I had a very productive evening. Suddenly the bumps and bruises really didn't matter. Suddenly I knew this was the game I wanted to pursue. I knew that I wanted to stay in football and stay involved. I think it was a very valuable lesson that I learned right there at a young age. I learned that there is going to be a little pain and sometimes a little suffering involved in what we want, and sometimes we have to have the conviction and perseverance to stay with it. And, so, little did I know 25 years ago when I walked out of that stadium that at a later date, today's date, that I would be standing on this platform before you.
The reason why I am here today is really, I think, in essence a tribute to a lot of people who have been very much a part of my life and very much behind me. I've learned an additional lesson from playing in competitive sports and particularly in football, that you have to have good teammates in order to be successful. My faith throughout the years in which I first started playing football, which even precedes Warren Harding High School, and going back to First Street Elementary School that I had great teammates. They are not a household name to you, but they will remain forever with me. Teammates such as Poy Jones, who had the ability to throw long passes to a skinny young kid named Paul Warfield at First Street School that enabled us to win our very first championship. Later on, teammates in high school were very important to me. But also teammates off the field as well as on the field. As I look out through the audience today, I see many of those individuals. I see a friend that I have had since a youngster. He has been a continuing friend throughout the years. Dr. Joseph Logan, who is out among you today, never told me how to block, never told me how to tackle. All he talked to me about was character and being a man. For that I am ever indebted to him, because he has been with me through the ups and the downs and has always been by my side and has always supported me. He has always been there when I needed that voice to talk to, to use it as a sounding board. He has never questioned; he has just been there.
There are other support systems that were there also. Many of the people that I have worked with over the years. First of all, starting with my presenter today, Gene Slaughter. Gene Slaughter had a very positive impact on me as a young junior high school student, in search of possible football success. Gene Slaughter came to our junior high school in spring of 1957 and he talked to all of the young athletes who were there. Why, for somehow or another, I got the very distinct impression he was talking with me individually and what he had to say to me that day made me only want to be a part of what he was going to be a part of at Warren Harding High School. I wanted to please Gene Slaughter. I worked to become the kind of football player -- beyond that, the kind of individual -- that Gene Slaughter wanted his players to become. Gene Slaughter said the kind of things that were important for the community of Warren. He told us that we were highly invisible; he told us we had to be just as good in the classroom as we were on the field of play. He told us we had an ultimate responsibility to be good citizens of the school and good citizens of the community. But there was no small wonder that we were successful on the field, and it was no small wonder that my teammates were successful off of the field.
I had the privilege of joining one of the legendary coaches in all of college football, named Woody Hayes. It was a tremendous experience for me to play for him for three years at Ohio State University. I learned more than just blocking and passing down there, and Woody Hayes saw his mission to develop young men, not just to develop players for the NFL. He stressed the same things that Gene Slaughter stressed. He stressed the fact that we were there at the university first of all as students and secondly as football players. It is no small wonder that this man would stop two days before the Michigan game and talk to us not about game plans, not about how we were going to compete against Michigan, but talk to us about what we were doing in school, how were our families and whether we were measuring up to those standards. I respected Woody Hayes for that. All of his former players respect him for that. He was a man with great integrity, tremendous honesty and above all great, great compassion. And those are qualities that you have to look up to.
I think what has been said already and certainly being last on the podium you get a bit repetitious, but family plays so many important roles. I have been blessed to have a family that has supported me throughout everything I have attempted to accomplish. My mother and father were always there for me, always there to give me encouragement. I spoke to you a little earlier about having to endure the unpleasant experience of having to play a football game with the bumps, the bruises and the pain and having that little bit of indecision in my mind. I guess what really helped me get through one week and the next week to come over here to Fawcett Stadium is that when I went home that evening from the football game, my father was there and in his own comforting way, applying the very necessary medicine to me. Trying to soothe me, trying to make me feel better, trying to give me some comfort. At that time, I was full of indecision, and he was there for me. My mother is not with us today. I think she has always been in my corner. She, too, as Bobby Mitchell's mother, did not quite understand the game, was always afraid. I tried to run as fast and dodge as artfully and come home and tell her that it would be all right. But she was immensely proud of me, and if she were here today, she would be immensely proud of me also. She would be immensely proud of me because she would know that it has been a hard road, but she would have given me the support to endure.
My sisters who were a joy to grow up with. My sister Kay is really a Rock of Gibraltar. Strong. And I think that I drew my competitor spirit, although there were times I wish my outer personality was as strong as hers. My sister Barbara, easygoing, consistent, and I also drew some strength through her. My younger sister, Cherly, was just a baby at the time I was a high school football player, but nevertheless, she was there. My family has been very important to me and has been very important to me at this junction. I think the lessons I have learned regarding character, sportsmanship, humility, they come from the great coaches, they come from family and they have given me a sense, I believe, of commitment. Commitment to dedicate my ability as a player and commitment to striving for excellence. And I only say to many of the young people who are out in the audience today: It is a great experience to have played in competitive sports and to have played in the NFL, and the vital lesson that I have learned, that I think that many of the athletes have learned, is really no different to lessons that are learned in life itself. There are day-to-day struggles, there are times in which we fail, there are times in which we must learn to get up off the gander. Life is not going to be one smooth road. It is not going to be easy, and consequently, if you have that reserve from your experiences you can draw from, the chances are you will meet with success.
In talking about family, I nearly overlooked my beautiful wife, Beverly, and I am afraid I couldn't do that and go home tonight. But she has really been a sense of strength for me. She told me years ago when we were first married that she told her father as a young junior high school student, while watching me play football, that she was going to marry me. What a smart woman. She has been there at the absolute lowest point, when I was struck by injury during my second year with the Browns. At that point, I thought I was rather invincible. I didn't think that all the bullets that were flying would ever strike me, but they did strike me. Very, very afraid and very, very lonely. But she was there to provide the peace and comfort for me. She gave me the determination that I could come back as a football player, that I could achieve and do the same that I set out to do in the NFL. She has been there then and she has been there now, and I am happy that she is here with me.
And so my friends, I will draw to a close. This is really the highlight of my past career as an athlete both amateur and a professional. This is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my association with the world of sports. I feel so honored to be going in with this particular class. They are great individuals. They are filled with and embodied with all of the things that I have done: character, integrity and compassion. I am happy to be here this afternoon. I am happy to have a place in the pro football history, and I shall honor this forever and ever. Thank you very much.