Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 3, 2003
David Lofton (presenter)
Good afternoon everybody. First of all, I'd just like to give praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for just allowing me to be here today. I'd also like to the thank the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame for honoring my dad this weekend; and the city of Canton just for the warm welcome that they've given us and making this a really special weekend for my family.
Most people know my father as just James Lofton, the NFL player. But when you're only nine when he retired, I rely on highlights such as we just saw and faint memories to illustrate that depiction of him.
The man I do know is James Lofton – the husband, father, and role model. Many people who know my father know that he is really into quotes. We loves to quote lines from his favorite movies and books and give them to others as a source of inspiration. A few months ago, I came across a familiar quotation by Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit."
I'd seen it several times before but it struck me because I had never heard my father say it. But, immediately when I heard this line, I related it to him. I see my father as a man who strives for excellence in all aspects of his life. He has excelled as a student, an athlete, a coach, but most importantly, as a husband, father, and role model.
I used to believe that I was smarter than my dad. That was, until I came to Stanford. That's when I realized how difficult it is to balance school and football. And, he did it playing two sports. Excelling in two sports and graduating in four years with a degree in industrial engineering at Stanford is quite a testament to my dad's commitment.
Those close to my father all can attest to his work ethic. And, I have yet to meet a person who can match his devotion. He's always willing to take that extra step – be it lifting that extra set in the weight room, running the extra sprint on the track, or studying the extra hour of film. Whatever it takes to make himself better, he's willing to do.
A few years ago my dad injured his knee competing in Master's track and field. He had to have surgery to repair the damaged cartilage in his knee. The doctors said that he probably wouldn't be back to 100 percent for at least three weeks and recommended that he give up running to prevent any recurring injury. My father was very disappointed by the news but I didn't believe that that was going to keep him from one of his passions. I remember being in the hospital preparing to take him home when the doctors recommended that he use a wheelchair to get to the car. But, my dad persisted on leaving on his own two feet. It was then that I knew he wasn't going to let this injury slow him down. Sure enough, he was out running on the track a week later.
I cannot recall much of my dad's career in the NFL but I've often heard from his teammates, friends, and coaches that they've never known anyone who worked as hard as my dad. As I've gotten older these stories have become more significant to me as I see his continued commitment to staying in shape and being the best he can be.
Growing up in a home centered around football, I've always had dreams of playing in the NFL. I share these dreams with many of my peers not knowing that it would take more than a dream to make my aspirations become a reality. And, even though I had a dad with first hand experience, I often overlooked his advice. He would try to help me realize what I had to do to achieve these dreams but I often didn't want to make the sacrifices that he often preached about.
I think back to the summer before my freshman year at the time that I was probably the most frustrated with my dad that I've ever been. As a normal 14-year-old, I saw the summers as a time to stay up all night watching TV, playing around, and sleep in the next day.
My dad had slightly different views than me. He would wake me up before 7 in the morning and would take me out to the track with him and then to the health club to lift weights and I hated it. And, every morning I would let him know it. I thought he was crazy. Even if I had a friend spend the night, he would make them come out to the track with us. It's probably why none of my friends wanted to ever come to my house after the first time. Every morning I would complain and ask him why he had to wake me up early. My friends were on vacation, and I had to get up and work out. He would always tell me that in football there's no substitute for strength and no excuse for the lack of it. He explained to me that if I wanted to make it to the next level that it was going to take extra work. Looking back at those times, I'm ashamed for not trusting his expertise. He was just pushing me to be the best I could be and taught me that being a great athlete takes sacrifice. That season, I realized how much I had benefited from all the work outside that at one time despised.
I now look at that summer as a turning point in my athletic career. My dad taught me how not to settle for mediocrity, to expect the best from myself and how to achieve it. Without his advice, support, quotations, and early morning wake up calls, I'm sure that I wouldn't be where I am today.
Dad, I congratulate you on being a new member of the Hall of Fame, but your accomplishments in the NFL do not compare to what you've accomplished as a father and role model. I love you, I'm proud of you, and I thank you for teaching me how to be an athlete, and most importantly – a man.
Ladies and gentleman, on behalf of myself and my family, I present to you a proud new member of the Hall of Fame – James Lofton.
Thank you. Thanks. Well, you can see that he got his smarts from his mother. And David, you did a fantastic job. All around the house we were worried about it, but there was no need to worry at all. His brother Daniel was a little concerned that David might not be able to pull it off. His sister Rachel was concerned. His mom and my wife Beverly, sitting there as nervous as she can be right now.
I'd like to congratulate my fellow inductees. And, as I stand here, I have to ask myself, 'how do you get to the Hall of Fame?' My path to the Hall of Fame can be summed up by faith, family, and football. It's interesting that my path began in a reverse single parent family. I was raised by my dad Mike Lofton. He was my biggest supporter without a doubt. He always praised me. He found ways to challenge me but he never really pushed me. When I watch my kids compete in their various sports, I realize how proud he, and any parent are, when they watch their kids compete.
While I was in college, my dad would write. Phone calls were a little too expensive for him back then. But, I'll tell you the truth, he was pretty cheap. And, at the end of every note, we would tell me how many months there were until graduation. He was always big on setting goals. He passed away in 1990, and I miss him. I wish he could be here today, but I know that he is truly watching us.
My older brother Michael was the captain of his high school football team. And, I remember when I got my first Pop Warner football uniform with the helmet and shoulder pads, and I was on a real team – I was 12 years old. My brother Michael was 19 at the time. He had already graduated from high school. He took me out in the front yard and he taught me how to get in a stance. Then, the next thing I remember I was waking up on the sofa in the den. He had knocked me out cold. He taught me the importance of being tough, and also about keeping a secret. He told me he would kill me if I told my dad when he got home. He passed away in 1986 tragically.
Being in a single parent home, my sisters Angelica and Sapphire, who's here today, were asked to play the role of mom at a far too young of age, and I thank you for doing it.
As a kid I played every sport but there's no bigger sport than playing football. I played flag football for a couple of years and then I got to move into Pop Warner football with the real uniform. As I moved into Pop Warner football, I slowly realized that my path to the Hall of Fame was starting. I got to play defensive tackle. You've heard the phrase, 'the older I get, the better I was.' In high school, I admit, I was an average high school quarterback but I was blessed with above average men coaching me. Ron Fowlkes, Ken Stumpf – who's here today, Gene Thomas, and Gary Cordray. They were molding me into an athlete that wouldn't quit, and I thank you for it.
During my first three years at Stanford, Jack Christiansen – another Hall of Famer – was one of my coaches. And, at Stanford those first three years, I was a role player. Okay, I'll be honest; I was a non-starter, a bench warmer. But that was in the fall. In the winter and spring, I was tutored and influenced by Payton Jordan, my track and field coach. He had been the coach of the 1968 Olympic team. Coach Jordan, by word and deed, taught me to think like a champion, to practice like a champion, to perform as a champion. But, above all, despite where you are, believe that you would always become a champion. Thank you Coach Jordan.
In the fall of 1977, a sweeping change came to the Stanford University campus and my path to the Hall of Fame really got a jump start. A young man with slightly graying hair was hired as the new football coach. Bill Walsh had not reached genius status then, he was just a smart guy. But, he did have some pretty good pass plays, although the first installment of the "West Coast" offense got off to a slow start. My first game as a starter my senior year, zero catches, zero yards. Bill, as he preferred to be called, came over to me and sat down next to me in the locker room. And he told me that I'd be okay, that I would catch a dozen passes in a game. And, I'm thinking, 'yeah, the coach is just blowing a little smoke up me.' Here's a guy who's been riding the pine for three years and he's telling me I'm going to catch a dozen passes in a game. But, a dozen it was by the middle of the season against the Washington Huskies. Thank you Bill Walsh for having confidence in me when my own was a pretty low. Thank you.
You can argue about which organizations are the greatest in the NFL but I'd have to say that I got to play for – the primary part of my career – for three of the greatest organizations in the NFL. I played nine years with the Green Bay Packers. Two seasons with the L.A. Raiders, and four great years with the Buffalo Bills. And, I had a cup of coffee – 10 weeks – with the Philadelphia Eagles, and a little sweetener – one game – with the L.A. Rams. But, you total it up – 16 seasons. Sixteen NFL seasons, three Hall of Fame mentors as head coaches – Bart Starr, quarterback. Six seasons, Bart taught me about priorities. When I mentioned faith, family, and football, I stole it from him. His lessons that he poured into me over those six years still run through my veins 25 years later and they echo in my mind today. Balancing faith and God, the importance of family, and the love of football; although football always seems to jump to the forefront but keeping it in the correct order behind faith and family.
Forrest Gregg, offensive tackle. Where'd did Forrest end up sitting? Okay, I was right the first time. Forrest taught me the pride of the battle. He was fiery, tough coach. And, it was a Saturday that it really came to the forefront. And Saturday is a real light day before game day. And some of the players, we were just kind of joking around, we were off to the side and we were talking about great pass rushers, and maybe we were playing a team that week that had a great pass rusher. And, we started talking about the "Fearsome Foursome" and great pass rushers, and Deacon Jones, and Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy. And all of sudden I heard Forrest Gregg say, 'but they never beat me!' And, when you think about it, he flared up as if he was 25 years old again. Offensive lineman don't have stats, they just have pride. And, it's that pride that you carry when you walk away from the game. Thank you Forrest.
Marv Levy. Marv Levy – coach and scholar. And, I don't throw that scholar label in there lightly because surely under Marv Levy, I expanded my vocabulary but more importantly I learned what it felt like to win. When we came back to camp, he gave us 'the return to the season' speech. I remember one year, the second year I was with them in 1990 – I joined the team in 1989 during the regular season so I had never got to hear the 'return to camp' speech. I had heard it from various coaches in years past. But that year I heard it from Marv Levy. And Marv Levy, in that meeting, outlined what it would take for us to get home field advantage. And, as an older player, I sat in the front row – my vision and hearing were fading a little bit. And he said, 'what we need to do is we need to win all our conference games.' That was eight games. We said 'we have eight more games, and we probably need to win five of those.' So, to me, that's 13-3. You know, I was an engineering major so I was pretty quick with the numbers. But, I expected – the younger players sit in the back – and I expected to hear some snickering. So I peered over my left shoulder and I turned around and everyone was just in this steely-eyed gaze. Marv Levy outlined the plan what we needed to do. And, every week, he outlined how we needed to go about winning. Thank you Marv.
Any receiver worth his salt knows he's only as good as his quarterbacks. I had many, many good quarterbacks throw me the ball over the course of 16 seasons. I was lucky to have two great quarterbacks throw me passes – Lynn Dickey with the Green Bay Packers, and you know who – Jim Kelly with the Buffalo Bills.
By the time I got to Green Bay, Lynn Dickey had lost some of his mobility to injuries earlier in his career. He had a shattered hip, broken legs – injuries that would have made most guys retire. But, maybe Lynn Dickey was a little too stubborn to quit.
You know, the game was a little simpler in the late '70s and early '80s. The defense would lineup, they would come after you with a blitz, the quarterback would audible. They'd blitz eight guys, we'd have seven guys to block, so that means one guy's going to knock the snot out of the quarterback. In today's game, the quarterback unloads a quick 3- or 4-yard pass to a hot receiver and ups his completion percentage and quarterback rating. Well, I averaged 18 yards a catch for my career. Some of those years I averaged over 20 yards per season. Most of those completions while I was with the Green Bay Packers, Lynn Dickey was flat on his back. One of the toughest men I've ever been around. Thank you Lynn.
When a quarterback first comes into the league, he's normally labeled 'cocky.' As he gets a little older, he's labeled 'confident.' I can think of another 'C-word' and it's 'control.' Jim Kelly could control a football game. Everyone knows we ran the 'no-huddle' offense and Jim Kelly had to call a play every 20 seconds. He didn't have the aid of a communications set in his head, he just went off what he felt would work at the time. He controlled the tempo of the game – fast, medium, ultra fast, run, pass, enough passing to keep the receivers happy, enough running to keep the lineman happy, and enough pace to wear the defense down. Nobody, nobody controlled a game better than Jim Kelly. Sure he had a great arm – nobody threw the ball better in the elements than Jim Kelly. I'm a little disappointed it's not snowing, I was going to ask him to toss me one. Thanks Jim.
I played with scores of great players; Hall of Famers – Jan Stenerud, Marcus Allen, Howie Long, Mike Haynes, Jackie Slater doesn't realize I lined up one play when he was in the game at tackle, the great Jim Kelly; future Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Tim Brown, and others who will receive Hall of Fame consideration.
Sixteen NFL seasons, five Hall of Fame coaches – Jack Christiansen, Bill Walsh, Bart Starr, Marv Levy, Forrest Gregg – there's no way I could have gone wrong. In my new role as an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers under Marty Schottenheimer, I know now what I knew then – how valuable and underpaid the assistant coaches are. But, I was blessed to have some of the best. Lew Carpenter – eight years in Green Bay, one year with the Eagles. Nick Nicolau – one year with the Raiders, three with the Buffalo Bills – I love both of you. Tom Coughlin – a year with the Packers. Tom Walsh and Charlie Joiner, a Hall of Famer, with the Bills. Offensive coordinators Zeke Bratkowski, Bob Schnelker, Ted Marchibroda – all former NFL players who knew the game and knew what it took to play the game.
I talked about my path to the NFL and the Hall of Fame, and it's interesting my favorite bible verse, Proverb 16:9, 'the mind of a man plans his path, but the Lord directs his steps.' And I want to thank Steve and Lynn Newman in Green Bay; Fred and Kathy Raines in Buffalo that work with Athletes in Action at the PAO – Pro Athletes Outreach – Norm and Bobbie Evans. They poured their hearts out to me, my wife, our family, and countless players over the years, and it covered us in prayer.
Early on, my path to the Hall of Fame may have been unexpected by most casual observers. But, if you look closely, I've been blessed with Hall of Fame friends – from elementary school to high school to college, the pro ranks, and after football. And, I'd get in big trouble if I named them all of them, I'd go well over my seven minutes I'm probably past already. They're scattered here today, they made the trip, the drive, the journey. Thank you guys for being here.
Now, my bust will be enshrined across the street at 2121 George Halas Drive, but to all those who know me, my Hall of Fame is my family. You saw my son David, Daniel down here in the front row, and Rachel, my daughter. I love you three with all my heart.
But, without a doubt, my path to the Hall of Fame began December 31, 1979 when I met Beverly Fanning. Truly behind or next to every great man stands an even greater woman. Bart and Cherry Starr sent us a little poem that has hung in our house. On the plaque it says, 'do not look for perfection in your mate, because you will not find it.' Well, that's not true; because I've found perfection in you. In First Corinthians 13, there's a little love sonnet. And we had a pastor once who said that where the word love is, you need to substitute your own name. Well, I tried that. It sounded kind of corny. But, when I put my wife's name in there, it all made it sense.
'Love is kind. Beverly is kind. Beverly does not boast, does not behave rudely, does not seeks its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in inequity, but rejoices in truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Beverly never fails.'
So, as my bust and my stats go into the Hall of Fame – honey, I love you, always have, always will.
I thank all of you for being here. It's a great game that we love and enjoy. Thank you.