Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 3, 2003
Larry Felser of The Buffalo News (presenter)
Lovers of football. The best and brightest of the best game that was ever. Welcome to the blue collar neighborhood of pro football. Joe DeLamielleure has been living in it since he first played with his high school squad of 13 players. His blue collar credentials are impeccable – born in Detroit, played college football in East Lansing, turned pro in Buffalo, and later labored in Cleveland. As he says, 'if Gary, Indiana had a pro football team, he'd have played for it.'
He's 'Mr. Middle America', 'Mr. Throwback' married to 'Mrs. Middle America – Gerri – with whom he used to walk to grade school every day of his early life. Parents of their own group – the bunch, they found room for more so they adopted. It's a family story with a happy beginning, a happy middle, and headed for a happy ending so it won't become a made-for-TV movie. It isn't one of those heart-hugging stories which starts with 'it hadn't been for football.'
There was no chance that Joe D would have ended up in trouble even if he had never heard of football. He'd probably ended up on an assembly line at Ford or GM giving a customer more than he paid for, caring for his family, and providing a happy life.
But, he did play football - played it so well he ended up in another rustbelt city – the symbol of Middle America – Canton, Ohio. When he was a rookie, drafted to give O.J. Simpson running room, he used to show up at the stadium when no one but the night watchman on duty. He would start his workouts at about 7, break for lunch, and return and stay until about 5 or 6. His coach, Lou Saban, worried about him, worried that he would overwork himself. For one of the few times in NFL history, a coach threw a player out of a weight room.
By the end of his rookie season, Joe D had opened the holes through which Simpson ran to set the NFL's then all-time seasonal rushing record. He was stuck with the great run blocker label for a number of years. But then he was traded to the Browns, was just brought up and joined the 'Kardiac Kids' and became known as more than just a run blocker as Brian Sipe and Cleveland led the NFL in passing. That didn't surprise Hall of Famer Jim Ringo, his offensive line coach in Buffalo. 'He's the best pass blocker I ever coached,' says Jim.
Today, Joe looks just about as he did as a player. He has the classic guard's physique – or what a classic guard looked like twenty years ago anyway. It disguised his skills as an athlete. No one in the Buffalo organization could beat him at racquetball unless they played him on Monday, the day after a game when every muscle in his body ached from complete effort.
If there's an irony about Joe's NFL career, it is for a couple of days it looked like it wouldn't start. In his rookie physical, a heart irregularity caused him to be kept idle for 24 hours or more while they retested him. The Bills' orthopedic surgeon warned him, 'there's a possibility you won't play again. But, personally I think you're going to be alright.' The doctor had great insight. The only thing different about Joe's heart is that it came in size 'huge.'
Joe DeLamielleure folks.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. There's a lot of pressure on me now to keep this thing short but I'm going to do it. But, I'd like to thank Larry for that introduction, and I want to thank the people at the Hall of Fame for this wonderful week they have given me and my family, it's unbelievable. John Bankert and Joe Horrigan and Judy Kuntz and Tammy Owens – without you, it wouldn't be possible, and I want to thank you.
I want to thank the people of Canton for their hospitality. You just ride down the road, everybody's got a smile on their face. My one boys says, 'this is making me sick, Dad. It's too nice.' But, it's a great place to come and I really do appreciate it.
I want to mention Will McDonough – who's a friend of everyone here at the Hall of Fame and a lot of these players and coaches back here – who passed away this past winter, the great sportswriter and Hall of Fame writer and we miss him.
I'm going to go into this quick. I'm going to talk about my mom and dad. Ten kids – my Dad had a bar, I think it was 43 years that he worked it – from 7 in the morning to 2:30 at night, open seven days a week except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. He taught me the meaning of work and what it meant. He was a dedicated dad who cared about his kids. And, the 10 kids had a beautiful family – we had a ball every day. I know my mom and dad didn't enjoy it but we sure did.
My mother taught me two things. My mother taught me teamwork and how to pray – two very important things. Teamwork came from this – one bathroom, no lock, 10 kids. We learned to share early, and I appreciate her. I know there up there, I thought they were crying they were so happy and I think they were. Those were tears of joys from all of our parents that are all passed away.
I want to thank the school that I went to – Center Line St. Clement – twelve years. Most of the kids in our family went there. My two oldest brothers, we sent them to Catholic Central. But, what a great place. The toughest games I ever played were at St. Clement's – the pads were weren't worth a crap – forgive my French. We used to fight for the white shoulder pads and if you were bad, you got a pair of red set and you broke your shoulder. But, it made you tough and I appreciate it. I got a high school coach and a lot of his staff is here – I'm just going to mention his name – Al Bumgard. Every guy sitting up here, every guy sitting up here would not be here without a great high school coach. And, I feel I had the best in the country, even in 1969.
My family – my brothers and sisters. I'm going to through this quick – Bud, Darryl, Laurie, JoAnn, Tom, Dave, Nancy who passed away, and my baby sister Margie. Without you, I wouldn't be here. My brothers never picked me on their team so they could beat the crap out of me. I'm the baby boy. Marlene, I have a special mention for her. She made me my first pair of cleats – oxford shoes with three-inch nails driven through them. Ten years old. My feet to this day hurt, but I loved them because she made it with love and I really appreciate that.
Teammates from the high school. Tough guys – I'm not going to name your names because someone's going to get upset if I miss it. I went to Michigan State. I was Bo Schembechler's first recruit. I got recruited by lots of schools but I was Bo Schembechler's first recruit. I really wanted to go Michigan bad, Dan (Dierdorf). I wanted to go so badly, they put me with Paul Seymour when I got recruited. That was a pretty tough experience but he still didn't deter me from wanting to go to Michigan. But, I went to my dad and I said, 'Dad, I want to go to the University of Michigan.' And he said, 'Joey,' which he always called me, 'I don't want you going there.' I said, 'why?' "Two reasons. Duffy's Catholic and I can't say Schembechler.' So I said, 'DeLamielleure, and you can't say Schembechler. Good God.' But I always did what my dad told me. I took his advice. I went to Michigan State and it was the best decision I ever made. I thank all the Spartans that are here – we're going to have some fun tonight, too. But, I'll never forget our first meeting and this is very important. Duffy Dougherty gathered us together as Freshman and he said 'guys, to be a great football player you need three bones – a backbone, a wishbone, and a funny bone.' And, I took that advice my whole life. My kids will tell you, the biggest bone I got is a funny bone.
And, I am glad for Coach Dougherty and the guys I played with. A couple of coaches out here, I know Hank Bullough is here from Canton; and I'd be remiss if I didn't say my line coach at Michigan State – Joe Carruthers. Not only as my line coach, he's my friend and he has been so ever since 1969. All the guys I played with – great players. Brad Van Pelt, Billy Joe Dupree, I could go on and on. But, I'm going to mention two who I roomed with because those guys set the bar high for me. They made Hall of Fames of their own. My college roommate Bryce Bowron – he hurt his knee, three surgeries, 18 months. I never forget this, at one hospital, I said, 'what are you going to do now?' because our dream was play in the National Football League all three of ours. He said, 'I think I'm going to give the Secret Service a shot.' Man, did he give it a shot. He was director at age 43. The director under Bill Clinton. Right now, he just got named Director of Security here at the Cleveland Clinic. I've always looked up to him because he's a tough guy – three surgeries, career cut short, he didn't whine about it, he moved on with life and became a winner himself.
My other roommate John Shinsky from Cleveland St. Joe's. He was in an orphanage, came to Michigan State with a very bad SAT, or low, whatever. John was just an amazing guy. He used to read hard. He didn't practice hard, he read hard. Know what he did? Came to school, I don't what it was John – we talked about this, your SAT – it doesn't matter. He's a doctor, a PhD., and John lived in an orphanage, he always impressed me, so I go, 'John, what are you going to do when you're older?' He said, 'Joe, I'm going to open an orphanage.' John didn't open one orphanage, he opened two. He had the interest; he got two orphanages going in Mount Morris, Mexico – that's tough.
From there, I got the greatest phone call I could ever receive – it was from Ralph Wilson, the great owner of the Buffalo Bills. And, he said he drafted me in the first round. My dream was becoming a reality and I just could not believe this. I could not get to Buffalo quick enough. I hustled over there, I had two coaches that coached me in the Senior Bowl – Lou Saban, the master motivator. Any guy who played for him, loved him; I don't know about the owners, they didn't like him. But, the players loved him. Then, I had the master technician, Jim Ringo. He taught four Hall of Famers – John Hannah, whose sitting with him; Ron Yary, Jackie Slater, and myself.
Then, we had the "Electric Company," we ran the ball because we couldn't pass. We had Joe Ferguson so he wouldn't get his confidence shaken up, so we couldn't pass block. So, what we did, we took Paul Seymour, made him a tight end. We had tackles (Dave) Foley, and Donnie Greene – one from Purdue, one from Ohio State. The other guard – Reggie McKenzie, he could run like a deer. Center Mike Montler, and myself. Then, we had great wide receivers, nobody knew it. We had J.D. Hill, and the late Bobby Chandler. We had another tackle who was in the backfield – Jim Braxton. The guy was 260 pounds and the greatest blocker I've ever seen. And, we had the "Electric Company," and no other offensive line ever was dubbed a nickname, and I am proud to have played on that team.
I got traded to Cleveland in 1980 and another great year. I'll tell you, the 'Kardiac Kids.' I want to thank Art Modell – hold it, I know you guys will boo. But, I want to thank Art Modell and Sam Rutigliano, who's a great coach and a great friend, for trading for me.
I'll be remiss, one thing – two of my best friends in the Buffalo situation are here. Willie Parker and Merv Krakau. I love you guys for coming. It's a long way, and I thank you.
When I got to Cleveland, I was put in an awkward situation, I felt. Going to an offensive line that was old, and I had to take someone's place. Luckily for me, or unluckily for Robert Jackson, he hurt his knee and I fit right in and played, and we became the 'Kardiac Kids.' Great players. Brian Sipe became the MVP. It was a great five years in Cleveland. I enjoyed them all.
Mr. Modell, Mr. Wilson were kind enough to trade me back to where I came from – Buffalo – for one year. Hank Bullough coached me. I always said that if Hank got Jim Kelly as a quarterback, he would still be coaching maybe. He was a good coach, just had some trouble at quarterback.
That's my football career. After that, I went in – pretty good, I'm not even reading these notes my daughter and I worked so hard on. I'm just going to tell you this. After that, football's over. I missed it so much, I can't tell you. My guts ache when I don't play football. I mean, I cry – Joe Schmidt, Dick Butkus – those are my guys. That's what I wanted to be my whole life. So, I'm out of football. I get a chance from Sam Rutigliano to go coach at Liberty. I do it. I get to coach at Duke. I do it, I do the best job I can – I coached like I played. I love it. And, I got three guys that I enjoy coaching some much I want to continue my friendship like Elvin did with his coach – Mike Hart, Terrance DuPree, and Nick Borzinski – nobody even knows them. But, I love you guys, I coached you and it was great.
I'm not coaching at Duke, maybe that's a blessing people say. They haven't won a game in about five years. But, I loved it.
Now, I'm going to talk about my family – my six kids. My oldest daughter Ellen and her son Cole and we just had a new addition to our family, four weeks old – Caroline. Her husband Barry and Ellen. My next one is my travel agent, she's going to get married – Mary. She's the humor of our family, I love you. Who's next? Ellen, no, no – I'm not going in order, I'll go with my girls. The next one is Allison, her husband Brook Coyne, and I love you guys. She's a teacher. Best thing in the world – be a teacher. My next is my son. First of all, he's been my workout partner for 24 years. Then, he's my business partner, and he's my best friend – Todd. Then, I always tease my kids. I don't drink but I'm going to tell this anyhow. I have two Koreans boys and I say, look, I never drink. But one night I got drunk, and mom said, 'we adopted who?' I got two boys – Andy, who's a lacrosse player – he's my free spirit, I love you. And, Matt who – this is really amazing to me – he works at Newport News shipyards and he's building ships for this country. Two Korean boys that would never be here without John Shinsky in the first place. I love you guys.
I know Gene Upshaw didn't think I signed very good contracts when I played, and I know didn't. But, I loved playing so I didn’t care. But, the most important contract I ever signed – these guys stole my speech I think – was March 24, 1972. I married my best friend and her name is Gerri. I've never not known her and I said that I'm not from West Virginia – that's a joke. But, I love her. When I signed up for that deal, I could not believe it. No trade, no cut, she's the GM, head coach, trainer, cheerleader, and our number one fan. And, without her, I wouldn't be here. I want to thank you.
I want to thank all the players behind me for making it possible for me to be what I am. When I was a boy – I'm going to end with this – I was 10 years old, I think it was 1962, Jim – you guys played the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day – they call it the 'Thanksgiving Day Massacre.' I went with my dad and my four brothers to that game. I don't know if you guys remember this but you guys got the bad seats, me and Dad got to sit on the fifty. I held Dad's hand and I said, 'Dad, some day I'm going to play in this game.' He didn't doubt me for a minute. He said, 'when you do, I'm going to be there.'
Nineteen-seventy-eight – time passed – my father had a heart attack maybe three of four weeks before that game. Long story short, we played the game. O.J. got 273 yards. Jim Ringo told me, 'I never seen you play a game that hard.' I played it because my Dad's not going to be there. I walk out of the locker room and there he is. I go, 'Dad, what are doing here? Man, you shouldn't even be here. What are you crazy?' He said, 'don't you remember 1962? I'm not going to miss this for the world.' And, that's a true story.
You guys talk about coming back to Canton. Guess what, I'm not going to miss this for the world. You are my heroes and I'm glad to be here. Thank you very much.