Roger Wehrli Enshrinement speech

Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 4, 2007


Larry Wilson (presenter):
To describe Roger, for me it's almost impossible. He was just a complete football player. He could catch the football. He loved to play the game. He just all around had the skills and the demeanor to be a great one.

It's a bit different back then. When you were a rookie you got hazed quite a bit. Roger went through his hazing with a big smile on his face, and really just kind of fit right in all of a sudden.

When you got on the field, you kind of felt like that he'd been there before. As a matter of fact, knew he'd been there before.

I think you have to talk to the opponents to know what their thinking was when they lined up against the Cardinals and Roger Wehrli on defense. They respected him. They just didn't throw the ball his way that often. And when they did, as the Cowboys tried to in a very important game, they found out that he could do the job.

The one thing I remember the most was him stepping in and making a great interception to kill a drive, how it alone pumped up our football team. The rest of the team might as well have not done that much 'cause Roger was out there and we were going to win that football game.

My most vivid memory of Roger Wehrli is the last year of his career, when he faked the field goal and ran with it. That to me was kind of the epitome of 14 years, I can still do it.

He was an example of what the game of football is all about. He is just a complete player. And, to boot, he is a fantastic person. I think that's why so many people in the National Football League look at Roger Wehrli and go, Wow, it's time.

I would first like to thank Roger for inviting me to represent this huge group of people here tonight. I feel very honored to do that.

You know, we just witnessed some of Roger's fantastic plays that he played in his 14 year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. His playing football ability speaks for itself. It's his inner soul that I'd like to talk about for a moment or two.

In the day when people and players talk about me, look at me, look at me, I can dance, Roger was a "we" person. He was a team player. He was unselfish, not just on the football field, but it's always been a part of his daily life.

Roger has the highest morals of anyone I've ever met. His love of his family, his dedication to his church and community, and his appreciation for his friends, teammates and foes are unwavering in all of his life.

Learning of his selection to Pro Football Hall of Fame, teammate and friend Keith Wertman said, Football's George Bailey has finally got his day, and he has.

Since 1982, the year Roger retired, Roger has always been a Hall of Famer for a lot of us. I think Roger has experienced the outflow of appreciation and love throughout the country. But I believe that he's really felt it in Missouri.

Here is a guy that played his high school football, his college football, and his pro career all in the same state: Missouri. The pride of Roger's selection runs a large gamut. The Cardinal organization is filled with pride about Roger's selection. Their owner Bill Bidwill, their president Michael Bidwill, are here today, wishing Roger the best.

When I left friends like John Omahundro, Jim Sheer, Mark Hallmeyer, the guys that really worked down in the locker room, they were all excited about, Give Roger a big kick when you get there.

And there's one other fellow that I must mention that his pride is fantastic. There's a guy by the name of Greg Gladysiewski that works for the Cardinals who was really instrumental in taking care of a lot of us older guys. Roger's name will be added to the ring of honor at the Cardinals new stadium at Glendale, Arizona, this year. We're looking forward to that.

Pro football has a great history and tradition. And what a great feeling to be standing here in the midst of that history tonight. But it's people like Bernie Miklasz, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who balanced the present and the past. I know what great pride Bernie has this evening in Roger's selection.

Gail, I want to say congratulations to you and your family. I don't think that a wife and the family really get as much notoriety as they should. I know that the demands that are placed on Roger have been tremendous. I congratulate you here this evening.

It's hard to have a friend such as Roger and sit down and write something that you'd really like to say about him. But here is a guy that you'd love to be your friend, you'd love to be with him on the football field, you'd like to be with him out on the fishing hole. You'd just like to be with him.

It's with great pride, I'd like to present to you tonight, and to the Hall of Fame, Roger Wehrli.

Roger Wehrli:
Thank you. Larry, thank you for that wonderful introduction. I couldn't have had a better mentor my first four years in the league than Larry Wilson, somebody to look up to and try to emulate. If you just did what Larry did, you knew you were doing the right thing when I first came in the league. Thank you, Larry.

First of all, I want to offer my sincere congratulations to the fellow members of the Class of 2007. We first met as a group at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii this past February. Not only are they great athletes, obviously, they have great families that we got to know a little bit. It makes me proud to be part of this class, to be in there with them.

I only had the privilege of playing against Charlie, and then not many times, because we were in different divisions. But he was one of the toughest tight ends that I ever faced.

I'm not known for being a man of a lot of words, and lucky for you, being a Hall of Famer is not going to make any change in that, so I will be brief.

But I do have some people that I want to thank some here tonight, others no longer with us, that all have impacted my life in some way.

I've been asked many times since the selection if I regret that I had not been selected sooner, as though this were a given or something.

The Hall of Fame is never a given.

Being nominated over the years has put a sense of hope and "what if's" in my mind, but I never for once took it for granted that I should be or would be here. I consider this a great honor that has come because of the work of a lot of people that touched my life and helped me become the athlete that I did.

If I do have one regret, it is that my parents, who are now deceased, did not get to see this day. There were no more loyal and enthusiastic fans than the two of them. They were both athletes themselves, so they knew what it took to devote themselves to a sport and to a team. They would be so proud to be here and enjoy this, but I know they're in a much better place than even here in Canton today.

One of the men who had an early influence in my life, in my football life, was my high school football Coach Richard Flanagan, who is here today with his son. He was able to take a bunch of kids from a small town of about a thousand people, King City, Missouri, and coach us into a really good football team. He was a tough coach. There were no wimps on Coach Flanagan's teams, but he instilled the basics and the toughness in us that I would be able to take throughout my football career. I thank him for that. I thank him for being here to help us celebrate this day here. Thank you, Coach.

At the time, though, I didn't think my football career would be very long. I kind of expected to play basketball in college. In fact, I remember taking off those pads the last game of my senior year, throwing them down, I said, That's the last time I'll be putting those things on. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I received some offers from some small colleges to play basketball, but it was my success at the state track meet my senior year that caught the eye of the Missouri football coaches that thought I might have the speed and the quickness to play football at Mizzou. Out of the blue, I was offered a scholarship to the University of Missouri, and I took it, even though I wondered if I had what it took to play major college football. What a great decision that was.

I was able to step into a college program that college Hall of Fame Coach Dan Devine had built at Missouri. What a great coach and leader he was. I was able to mature as a football player and as a man under that program with help from a coaching staff that was second to none.

Defensive coordinator Al Onofrio, my defensive backfield coach Clay Cooper, both now deceased, but two of the nicest men and the best coaches that I have ever known. Coach Cooper was basically the man that taught me how to play defensive back. Coach John Cadillac from that staff is here tonight. I thank him for being here and for the influence that he and those Missouri coaches had on my life. Thank you, Coach Cadillac.

I was married my senior year of college. Started getting letters from pro teams about the draft. My wife, Gail, who really wasn't much of a sports fan unless I was playing, she heard about the draft. She thought they were talking about the Army draft in Vietnam. She was not ready for that. In fact, once we straightened her out on the draft, she said, You mean like the NFL with Bart Starr? That's the only player she knew in the NFL.

Well, babe, I'm up here with Bart Starr, so maybe we made it.

I was drafted that year by the St. Louis football Cardinals and started a career in St. Louis that I could never have dreamed of. The Bidwill family took a chance on me and I was there for the next 14 years. I want to thank them for that opportunity and their support over the years.

The Bidwill children, who were kids when I was playing, are now all active in the organization and doing a great job. We're looking forward to going out there for the Super Bowl when they host the Super Bowl this year.

Thank you, Mr. Bidwill and your family.

There were a lot of great players on those Cardinal teams of the '70s, three of them up here on this stage, Larry, Jackie and Dan. I'm so proud to be included with them here today.

Football is such a team sport that none of us are successful by ourselves. It takes a whole team for one person to succeed. I want to thank those players and coaches on those Cardinal teams and in some way share this with them. I hope they can feel the pride I have in being here on this stage as one of their teammates.

To the electors, and especially to Bernie Miklasz, I want to say thank you for this weekend. Bernie, without your excellent work on my behalf, I know this wouldn't have happened. I'm sure it's not easy to sell an old defensive back, but you did a great job and Gail and I will always be thankful for your efforts.

I want to thank the fans and friends from St. Louis here tonight in support of me. I will never forget the time and effort it took you to be here and be a part of this with me. The fans of St. Louis were wonderful over the years. They suffered through the cold and the rain and the heat and the humidity to support the Cardinal football team, and have remained loyal to us old Cardinals who still make St. Louis our home.

I thank you for all the cards and the letters and the emails of congratulations. We've saved them all and they all mean so much to us. Thank you all, St. Louis.

I want to acknowledge my family who is here tonight. I believe that God is in charge of all things and of our days on this earth. I believe that I was elected at this time of my life so that my children, Shannon and Michael, and their spouses, my three grandkids, Lauren, Ellie and Drew, ages 11, 10 and 9, could be here and share this joy and remember this about their grand dad. How special is that?

And to Gail, my wife of 38 years, I couldn't have dreamed of a better partner to spend this life with. This would not have happened without your love and support to free me to do the things that I needed to do every year, to get ready for the season and perform on the athletic field.

What a wonderful family I have. I'm so proud of who they are and who they have become.

Finally, many of you know me as a man of faith. I believe that God has guided each and every move I've made. He's put the right people in the right places to bring me here, and I thank Him with all my heart for taking a little guy from a little town with little dreams and making me fit to wear the title of Hall of Famer.

Thank you all very much and God bless.