Ralph Neely, Cowboys OL for four Super Bowl teams of ’70s, passes away

R.I.P. Ralph Neely, a four-time All-Pro at left tackle who moved to the right side to make way for eventual Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright. | From @ToddBrock24f7

The Cowboys have lost another integral member of the 1970s dynasty. Offensive lineman Ralph Neely has passed away, less than a week after his former Dallas teammate Dan Reeves.

Neely’s 13-year career included the Cowboys’ first four Super Bowl appearances; the team’s dominating win over Denver in Super Bowl XII was his final game as a pro. And while Neely is less celebrated than many Cowboys from that same era, Neely’s contributions to the early years of the franchise- and the unique part he played in the merging of two rival leagues- are worth remembering.

Neely starred for the Oklahoma Sooners on both offense and defense. A sought-after prospect coming out of college, the All-American was a second-round draft pick in November 1964 of both the NFL’s Baltimore Colts and the Houston Oilers of the AFL. He signed with Houston, as the Arkansas native preferred to play in the South. Houston’s offer also included a real estate job and ownership rights to a local to-be-built gas station (in the days when players routinely needed offseason jobs and pursued non-football business opportunities), but Neely asked that his signing be kept quiet to allow him to play in his college team’s bowl game in January. Word of Neely’s deal did get out due to how the contracts were dated, and he (along with future Cowboys wide receiver Lance Rentzel) were declared ineligible for the 1965 Gator Bowl.

Meanwhile, the Colts had traded Neely’s NFL rights to the Cowboys. That news- plus the belief that the Oilers had been to blame for the Gator Bowl debacle- caused him to reconsider his options. He entered into negotiations with Dallas, returning his contract papers and $25,000 bonus check to the Oilers. A bitter lawsuit erupted between the two teams.

After an outstanding first season that saw Neely named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team as the Cowboys’ right tackle, the NFL and AFL began the process of merging the two leagues. One of the sticking points, incredibly, was Neely’s flip-flop from the Oilers to the Cowboys. The two Texas franchises settling their courtroom war would be a requirement for the merger to move forward.

The Cowboys were forced to send four draft picks to the Oilers and pay all associated court costs. They also agreed to a series of preseason games against Houston- in the brand-new Astrodome- as a way to help buoy the struggling franchise’s attendance numbers. The Cowboys and Oilers competed for what was eventually named The Governor’s Cup, but for those first few years after the ruling, it was colloquially called “The Ralph Neely Bowl.”

On the field, Neely was a force, good enough to later be named to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team. He moved from right tackle- where he was a two-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro- to right guard to cover for an injured teammate, then switched again to left tackle as Rayfield Wright came to prominence on the right side in 1970.

“It was one of the great sacrifices in sport,” Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm said years later. “Ralph moved to the left side because we needed it. There’s no question that, to some extent, it hampered his effectiveness. He made a great contribution, but he was never quite the same on the left side.”

Though the individual accolades didn’t follow Neely to his new position, he nevertheless helped guide the Cowboys to four Super Bowl appearances in his final eight seasons.

Over his 13 seasons with the Cowboys, Neely started 168 games, a mark that still places him 11th in franchise history.

Neely was 78 years old.

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NFL legend, former Cowboys player-coach Dan Reeves passes away at 77

Dan Reeves was an integral part of the Cowboys’ first five Super Bowl appearances, and went to four more over an incredible NFL career. | From @ToddBrock24f7

Dan Reeves is best known as the head coach for three different NFL franchises and one of only ten coaches in league history to win 200 career games. Over an NFL tenure that spanned nearly four decades (in an official capacity), he was a member of the coaching staffs for an incredible nine of the first 33 Super Bowls.

But Reeves got his pro football start as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, amassing 1,990 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns over the course of 100 games in an eight-year playing career. But he also compiled nearly as many receiving yards and scores as one of the club’s earliest double-threat stars.

Reeves passed away early Friday morning at his home in Atlanta due to complications from a long illness.

A Georgia native, Reeves played quarterback for the University of South Carolina. Though he was far more proficient as a runner, Reeves finished his collegiate career as the Gamecocks’ passing leader.

The athletically-gifted Reeves went undrafted in 1965, but received interest from the NFL’s Cowboys and AFL’s Chargers, as well as MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates. He signed with Dallas, even though they offered him less money, because they were willing to try him at other positions.

Danny Reeves, as he was then called, spent time as a safety before being moved to running back to help cover for team injuries. He took to the new role well, leading the Cowboys in rushing yards in just his second season (despite sharing the backfield with Don Perkins) and finishing second in receiving yardage (behind only Bob Hayes). Reeves ended 1966 with over 1,300 all-purpose yards, a league-leading and then-franchise-record 16 touchdowns, and helped lead Dallas to their first championship game in 1966 versus Green Bay.

Reeves was in uniform for the next year’s NFL championship, too- the infamous Ice Bowl- where he rushed for 42 yards, caught three passes for 11 yards, and threw a 50-yard touchdown to Lance Rentzel on a halfback option pass. It would be the Cowboys’ only offensive touchdown of the game, and accounted for half of the team’s passing yardage in the wickedly frigid conditions.

Knee injuries began taking a toll on Reeves’s playing days in 1968, and he spent his last three pro seasons as a player-coach under Tom Landry.

It was a unique position that would serve Reeves well later in his football life.

“Probably the toughest part was learning to keep things to yourself,” Reeves would say later, as relayed in Joe Nick Patoski’s book, The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Team in America. “I knew a lot of things that were going on in the coaches’ meetings that I couldn’t share with players and a lot of things that players were complaining about that I couldn’t share with coaches… You had to keep your mouth shut.”

His double-duty stint included the Cowboys’ Super Bowl V loss- in which a pass he dropped was intercepted by the Colts and set up their winning field goal- and the 24-3 Super Bowl VI victory over Miami.

Following the 1972 season, Reeves stepped away from the team for a year, but returned in 1974 for a full-time spot on the coaching staff. After seven more years learning under Landry and trips to Super Bowls X, XII, and XIII, Reeves was ready for a head coaching job of his own.

He was the youngest head coach in the league when he took over in Denver in 1981. He would mentor a young quarterbacking phenom named John Elway and eventually lead the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances.

After being fired and replaced in Denver with future Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, Reeves took over the top job for the New York Giants. He went 11-5 and made the playoffs in his first year, earning AP Coach of the Year honors, but he lasted just three more lackluster seasons there.

From New York, Reeves went home to Georgia and was named the Falcons’ head coach in 1997. He led Atlanta to a 14-2 record in 1998. During that campaign, he underwent quadruple-bypass heart surgery in late December but still returned to the sidelines three weeks later for Super Bowl XXXIII, the franchise’s first, where they lost to his former Denver squad. He was named AP Coach of the Year a second time that season.

Reeves was replaced in Atlanta during the 2003 season at his request, again, by Wade Phillips.

To go with his 201 career victories, Reeves’ teams also notched 165 regular season losses, tying him for the most ever by a head coach.

Reeves even had a short-lived reunion with the Cowboys organization in 2009. After being hired as a consultant under Phillips (by then the Cowboys’ head coach), Reeves left two days later when specifics of his job duties could not be ironed out.

Reeves is in the Broncos’ Ring of Honor and has a special place in the history of two other clubs as their head coach. But his legacy in Dallas as both a player and a coach- and for a while, both at the same time- will make him uniquely missed by the Cowboys family.

The stoic Reeves was often asked throughout his life about the iconic Tom Landry, and his comments about his former coach and boss could just as easily pertain to Reeves himself now, as the NFL remembers a football life well lived.

“He was not going to make a rah-rah talk to get you fired up about playing,” Reeves said once of Landry. “He felt like the greatest motivator was preparation, and we never went into a football game that we weren’t very well prepared. We weren’t going to be surprised by anything the other team did because he covered every detail. His greatest motivator was preparation.”

Dan Reeves would have turned 78 on Jan. 19.

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Cowboys, Washington set to hit refresh on NFL’s most storied rivalry in Week 14

Break out the memes. A look at how the epic rivalry started, and how it’s been going.

This rivalry used to be magnificent.

Now? It’s closer to making someone pass the sticks instead of finishing a game of Madden when the score is too far out of hand. The Cowboys are simply dominating Washington around every corner. Washington fans want to pretend last year’s sweep mattered, ignoring the elephant in the room was all of the key Dallas players not in said room. One can’t blame them, really. There’s been so little for them to celebrate in the head-to-head series over the last five, 10, 20, 30 years…

What started as big brother finally relenting and letting little brother play in the pick-up game, has transformed into little brother dominating the field of play and making the elder look foolish.

Before the days of the internet and people moving a million miles an hour while sporting millisecond-attention spans, time once stood still when these two powerhouses collided.

The storied history is littered with pranks and shenanigans, debauchery and tomfoolery. There was the time Cowboys fans stuffed a live turkey in Washington owner George Marshall’s hotel bathtub.

Imagine that.

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DeMarcus Ware, Darren Woodson among 2022 Hall of Fame semifinalists, Romo out

Two Cowboys are among the 26 semifinalists for induction in 2022, including Ware in his first year of eligibility. Here are their bonafides. | From @KDDrummondNFL

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has whittled down their initial list of contenders, and things are once again interesting in Cowboys Nation. After releasing a list of 123 nominees being considered for induction into their 2022 class back in September, the esteemed group has narrowed their focus to just 26 players.

Dallas had several players under consideration who did not make it to the next round. DT La’Roi Glover failed to make the cut, as did RB  Herschel Walker and more notably quarterback and current CBS analyst Tony Romo. Two noteworthy Cowboys did make the cut, and they are safety Darren Woodson and edge rusher DeMarcus Ware.

Woodson has now reached the semifinal round six times in his career. He was a semifinalist for 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021 and now once again for the 2022 class.

Drafted in the second round of the 1992 NFL draft, Woodson was a part of three championships with the Cowboys. The safety was known for his ability to also play man-to-man coverage, often dropping into the slot to defend opponents receivers. His coverage ability, play diagnosis and hard-hitting nature earned him three All-Pro nominations and five Pro Bowl appearances.

For his career Woodson totaled 23 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, 11 sacks and 967 total tackles. He started in 162 of 178 career games, and each of them was in a Cowboys uniform.

Ware has a much more likely chance of making it to the final group as well as being inducted overall.

Ware is a four-time First-Team All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler, who left Dallas after nine seasons to finish his career with the Denver Broncos. The move worked as Ware was a member of the 2015 world champions.

Ware’s career stats closely resemble those of Jared Allen, a first-year finalist this year, but stunted by the star-studded class. Ware has 138.5 career sacks to Allen’s 136 and has a slightly higher Career AV of 128 to Allen’s 125.

Pro-Football-Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor ranks Ware as the ninth-best OLB, with a score of 95.33. The average Hall of Fame OLB’s score is 106.19.

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Exclusive: DeMarcus Ware talks Veteran’s Day, working with Micah Parsons, Cowboys SB chances

A sit-down with Cowboys sack legend and Hall of Fame nominee DeMarcus Ware covers dual-franchise love, working with Micah Parsons and more. | From @KDDrummondNFL

The Dallas Cowboys have a long and storied history of impact players and they have plenty to teach not just the younger guys in the league, but the fan base as well. What makes a superstar a superstar? How do they impart wisdom on the next generation? What’s it like when two teams they’ve played for line up against each other.

The Week 9 contest between the Cowboys and Denver Broncos brought into focus those questions and more for legendary sack artist and Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee for 2022, DeMarcus Ware. Cowboys Wire had a chance to chat with Ware about the game and what’s it like for a talented team to try to bounce back from such a sound, demoralizing beatdown. He shared his thoughts on his relationship with Micah Parsons and chopped it up about the Cowboys’ chances to reach the Super Bowl this season. He also took the time to speak on USAA’s #HonorThroughAction campaign, which highlights small businesses run by veterans.

The full interview can be heard, for free, on the Catch This Fade Patreon page where CBS Sports’ Patrik Walker and I host a subscription podcast with all of the goods on the Cowboys’ happenings.

>>Click Here to Listen<<<

Below are a few of Ware’s responses.

It’s like deja vu all over again for 2021 Cowboys as Ezekiel Elliott invokes Emmitt Smith memories

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The era and game have shifted, but Cowboys RBs making incredible, clutch plays? Same. @DailyGoonerRaf breaks down Sunday’s big play and harks back to yesteryear.

Strange things are afoot at the Cowboys Circle K. Some eerie and cheery resemblances between the 2021 Cowboys incarnation and that last Dallas championship bunch from nearly 30 years ago are emerging. It’s easy to wave them off as coincidence, but sometimes those coincidences have too many matching parts to ignore.

Like this one from Sunday night’s game-winning drive.

The situation: 3rd-and-11 for the Cowboys at the Minnesota 20. Dallas has just been gifted five yards after a defensive delay of game penalty, making a 3rd-and-16 far more manageable. The Cowboys trail 16-13 with 1:04 to play and face a game-tying field goal attempt if they do not convert.

DeMarcus Ware leads list of Cowboys eligible for 2022 Hall of Fame class

Herschel Walker, Darren Woodson, Erik Williams, and DeMarcus Ware are among 122 modern-era nominees for Canton’s Class of 2022. | From @ToddBrock24f7

This year’s gold-jacket recipients Jimmy Johnson, Drew Pearson, and Cliff Harris won’t even receive their rings until halftime of the Cowboys’ home opener against Philadelphia on Monday night. But the Pro Football Hall of Fame has already started the process of selecting the Class of 2022, and several high-profile Cowboys greats have made the first cut.

Over 120 players are on the list of modern-era nominees. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is among the first-year eligibles, while running back Herschel Walker, offensive tackle Erik Williams, and safety Darren Woodson are also on the ballot. Several other players- like Zach Thomas, La’Roi Glover, Jimmy Smith, Eddie George, and Randall Cunningham- spent at least a portion of their career wearing the star but are better-known for their stints with other clubs.

Quarterback Tony Romo was also eligible for Hall of Fame consideration this year, but is not one of the nominees.

The list of modern-era nominees will be cut to 25 semifinalists in November, and then to 15 finalists in January. The Class of 2022 will be enshrined in Canton next August.

‘The wait is over!’ Cowboys legend Drew Pearson revels in Hall of Fame moment

The legendary wide receiver gave an impassioned acceptance speech, spotlighting teammates and coaches while reminding everyone where he was. | From @ToddBrock24f7

Drew Pearson, the legendary wide receiver for the Cowboys of the 1970s and early ’80s, admitted last week that he’s been mistakenly introduced as a Hall of Famer for years. His stats and place in the league’s history have certainly warranted his place there ever since retiring from the game in 1983.

But now that Pearson can officially be called a member of the club, he was clearly excited to, as he put it, “wear it out.” Pearson said the words “Pro Football Hall of Fame” 15 times (and added the abbreviated “Hall of Fame” another eight times) in just 11 minutes at the mic at Tom Benson Stadium on Sunday evening.

Pearson’s long wait- and near-misses- for making the Hall had been well-documented, making his speech one of the most anticipated of the weekend. And the fiery Pearson didn’t disappoint, shouting, “The wait is over!” to open his remarks; spotlighting his bronze bust for having “the biggest Afro in NFL history;” pulling up his pant legs to show off the skinny legs that carried him all the way to Canton; even taking a friendly dig at fellow Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.

After paying tribute to Cowboys founding fathers like Clint Murchison, Tex Schramm, and Gil Brandt, the original member of the 88 Club honored many of his star teammates and coaches by name for the role they each played in his football journey. Ditka, a former Cowboys standout before going on to become the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl-winning coach, got a special mention.

“Thank you, Mike Ditka, my first receivers coach in the NFL,” Pearson said. “Mike was an All-Pro tight end, which means he taught me nothing about running pass routes as a wide receiver.”

The crowd ate it up.

“But, Mike,” he continued, “you taught me how not to just be a pro, but be a professional. And you did that by the passion you showed and that you brought to the Dallas Cowboys.”

Pearson, as expected, brought plenty of passion to his enshrinement remarks, just as he had to his playing days. He spent considerable time thanking his family members, both those in attendance and those who were, in his words, “gone too soon.”

But he also took the occasion to give a shout-out to a relative unknown named Otto Stowe. Stowe was a wide receiver who played just seven games for the Cowboys in 1973, Pearson’s debut season in the league. Pearson emulated Stowe early that year, and it was Stowe’s season-ending injury that opened the door for Pearson to start as a rookie and never give the job back.

“I learned so much from you, Otto,” Pearson said Sunday. “And I would not be here today without you.”

But the person Pearson is most closely linked to professionally is his longtime quarterback, Roger Staubach. Staubach presented Pearson Sunday night, the culmination of a prolific pairing that’s most famously remembered for the 50-yard touchdown versus Minnesota in the 1975 playoffs that served as the NFL’s original “Hail Mary” pass play.

But Pearson was a key figure in several other Cowboys milestone moments, too. He snagged the opening touchdown in Super Bowl X. He threw the final block that sprang Tony Dorsett on his record-setting 99-yard touchdown run in 1983. He caught the game-winning touchdown from Clint Longley in the team’s famous 1974 Thanksgiving comeback. And were it not for a one-handed horse-collar tackle, Pearson would likely have negated Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” in 1981’s NFC Championship Game with a late catch and run into field goal range.

But it’s the Hail Mary that has largely defined Pearson’s career over the years, the moment most fans want to talk about, the photo that he most often signs. Even though Staubach coined the term, Pearson is the one who personalizes his autographs with “Hail Mary to you.”

And that’s how he signed off his enshrinement speech.

“There’s so many special people in my life, but my time has run out. I don’t have a Hail Mary in my pocket, so I’ve got to wrap this up… Hail Mary blessings to you all.”

Pearson may be best remembered for that one miracle catch, but he racked up 555 others over his 11-year career. The Hail Mary was only one score; there were 55 others. And after 8,927 receiving yards (regular and postseason combined), three Super Bowl appearances, three Pro Bowls, three All-Pro nods, a spot on the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team, and a place in the Cowboys Ring of Honor, Pearson can now add “Hall of Famer” to his resume.

Judging by how often he visibly enjoyed saying it Sunday night, that may well be how he signs autographs for the rest of his life.

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‘We’re going to the Super Bowl, rookie:’ Cliff Harris shares Bob Lilly story during Hall of Fame speech

In 1970, the rookie safety got off-color words of encouragement from Mr. Cowboy, who was there Saturday for Harris’ Hall of Fame speech.

Every NFL player has an archive of personal stories about their time in the league, no matter how long or short their career is. If that player is fortunate enough to enjoy a long tenure and see some measure of success, the remembrances only become richer and more plentiful. And if that player beats the long odds to one day be enshrined in Canton, every moment from their playing days becomes indelibly stamped with a new sense of historical importance.

Cliff Harris was welcomed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night. And to mark the occasion of the ultimate ending to a football life, the 71-year-old thought back to one of his very first moments as a Dallas Cowboy.

Imagine standing in an NFL huddle during your first home game. Your stomach is doing somersaults, your mind reeling. You search desperately for any reassuring influence, some small thing to cling to as your senses go into overdrive and your grasp on reality starts to slip. Now imagine the actual face of your franchise staring at you and informing you- in off-color language and no uncertain terms- that his success and that of the rest of the team rides, in part, on every move you’re about to make.

Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

Harris, like seemingly so many Hall of Famers, took an almost unbelievable path to the league. A second-string junior varsity quarterback in his Arkansas hometown, Harris wasn’t expected to play past 9th grade. Then he didn’t even start until moving to a new high school for his senior year. Then he received just one scholarship offer, from the practically unknown Ouachita Baptist University, where his father had played.

Undrafted out of college, he was one was of 120 free agents invited to work out for the Cowboys in Thousand Oaks, California in 1970. He was one of very few who was still around for the return trip to Dallas. After the preseason, Coach Tom Landry announced that Harris would start Week 1 at free safety, the only first-year starter on the roster.

In the old Cotton Bowl Stadium, Harris joined the huddle with the rest of the already fabled “Doomsday Defense” in a game versus the Giants. Across from the 21-year-old rookie was Bob Lilly, the very first draft choice in franchise history. Lilly was at that point a seven-time Pro Bowler who was such a foundational piece of the organization that his nickname was “Mr. Cowboy.” And he was staring right at Harris.

“Before Lee Roy Jordan called the defensive play,” Harris recalled Saturday, “Bob looked over at me and said, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl, rookie. And I don’t want you to do anything to… mess it up.'”

The pause implied pretty clearly that Lilly had not used the word “mess” that late September day.

“I just nodded and said, ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Lilly.’

“And sure enough, we did go to the Super Bowl. But we didn’t win. Bob never made that part of the deal.”

The Cowboys finished Harris’s rookie season with a 10-4 mark and the NFC East crown. They beat the Lions and the 49ers in the playoffs, allowing just 10 points total in those two postseason games. They went on to lose Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts by a 16-13 score in an mishap-filled contest that went on to be remembered informally as “The Blunder Bowl.”

The Cowboys rebounded, of course, as did Harris. “Captain Crash” went to a total of five Super Bowls and won rings in two of them. He was chosen for six straight Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro four times. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1970s and is a member of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.

Now he’s enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And who was staring across the stage at Harris while he made his speech to mark the occasion?

Mr. Cowboy himself.

This time, though, Bob Lilly just smiled, knowing Cliff Harris hadn’t… messed it up.

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‘We did it:’ Jimmy Johnson thanks Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in Hall of Fame speech

The emotional Dallas coach thanked plenty, but also spoke about relationships, believing instead of dreaming, and using your time wisely.

When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson went through their “little transition” in 1994, famously parting ways after consecutive Super Bowl wins and a whirlwind turnaround for the league’s laughingstock, the football world waited for the two men to patch things up and recognize the other’s contributions to the rebirth of the Dallas dynasty they created.

Johnson had to wait 27 years for Jones to tell him he would at long last make the franchise’s Ring of Honor.

On Saturday night in Canton as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Johnson got his thank you to Jones out of the way 35 seconds after stepping to the mic.

“I guess you’re wanting to know what I’m going to say about Jerry Jones,” the 78-year-old Johnson said, after his opening remarks touched on the relationships that the sport tends to foster.

The crowd at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium applauded, laughed, got quiet again… and maybe even braced themselves just a little for what might come next.

“Well… Jerry?” Johnson stalled before launching into a story.

But as he started, emotion seemed to get the best of him as he made an early stumble.

“You told me. You said, ‘We’re going to make sports history,’ before we ever bought the Cowboys–”

Quickly realizing he misspoke, Johnson poke a little fun at his goof.

“–before you bought the Cowboys, because I didn’t pay a damn cent!”

The moment broke the tension beautifully, if accidentally. The crowd’s easy laughter allowed the coach to snap back into a more relaxed storyteller mode.

“And you know what? We. We did make sports history. But not only for the Dallas Cowboys, but for the NFL. To go from the worst team in the league two years in a row to winning back-to-back Super Bowls and building a heck of a football team, we did it. And let me tell you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Jerry. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.”

Keeping himself on the evening’s tight schedule for speeches, Johnson chose not to list everyone that made his legendary career possible, but he emphasized that football success is always a group project. He recalled being enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame thanks to great assistant coaches and players. He painted his inclusion in the Broadcasting Hall of Fame as inevitable only because of his producers and the other legends he shares the TV desk with.

Johnson’s football life has certainly been filled with some of the best names in the business at every level. But the man knows a thing or two about identifying talent and bringing out the best in those around him, to be sure.

“Looking back, I went and counted them up,” Johnson shared. “I coached, recruited, or drafted 13 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame… And on top of that, I coached or broadcasted with 14 more Hall of Famers. I think I know what one looks like.”

But still pulling for the greatness of others to be fully realized, Johnson used even that humble brag to tout the Canton credentials of two former stars who have yet to get the call.

“Zach Thomas belongs up here. Darren Woodson belongs up here.”

Ever the coach, always shooting for the next plateau, the next accomplishment, the next success, the next win.

“I never really dreamed. I wasn’t a dreamer. You know, dreaming is hoping. I believed. I really believed. People say, ‘What made you think, when you were at Miami, you were going to take these inner-city kids and they were going to get an education? What made you say that you were going to get them a college degree?’ Because that’s what I talked about. I believed they were. And 90 percent of them got their college degree. That’s what I was proud of. ‘What made you think you were going to win a Super Bowl when you were 1-15?’ I didn’t dream about it; I believed that we were going to win a Super Bowl. When you believe it, I think it has something with the way you act and how you deal with people: your expectation, and you put expectations on them. Treat a person as he is, he’s going to stay as he is. Treat a person as if he were what he could be or should be, he’ll become what he could be and should be. I didn’t dream. I believed we were going to do it.”

But Johnson admitted that his unfailing belief came at a cost. His two adult sons both played football growing up; Johnson revealed he “never saw them play a down. And that’s a shame.”

In closing his remarks, Johnson referenced an idea that Wayne Huizenga once shared with him. The late Dolphins owner called it QTL.

“Quality Time Left. Think about that. I’m 78 years old, and I think about QTL all the time,” Johnson explained. “The people that you love, like my family right over there, appreciate those people. Because there will come a day you’re not going to be able to appreciate them because you’re not going to be around.”

Johnson and Jones have finally gotten back to appreciating each other, too. Seeing them together this week in Canton and knowing they’ll be together once again when Johnson’s name is hung in the palace that Jones built, maybe it’s a new chapter for the two men whose legacies will always be intertwined. Maybe now it’s destined that they’ll ride off into the sunset as friends once again, wearing their matching gold jackets.

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