6/24/2016 0 Comments
They don’t teach “grit” in any institutions of higher learning, unless of course we’re talking about the school of hard knocks.
You can’t learn grit. It’s genetic, from your parents mostly, or those you associate with during your life who have led by example and shown the way through perseverance, duty, and character. It’s a trait in short supply these days but can still be found among firefighters, cops, teachers and coaches.
The origins of grit have been studied all the way back to the days of Aristotle, but scientists and sociologists have never been able to find an era more abundant in grit than in the soul of NFL linemen of the 1950’s.
Dick Stanfel, 2007 Chicagoland Sports Hall of Famer, was the epitome of grit and will be honored posthumously this August when he is inducted into The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Stanfel’s playing career began in high school in San Francisco as a blocking back. He switched to playing guard when he enrolled at San Francisco Junior College in 1946. After a stint with the US Army as a signal corpsman he played for the University of San Francisco under head coach Joe Kuharich, where Dick blocked for the great Ollie Matson with future hall of famers Gino Marchetti and Bob St. Clair.
Drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1951, Stanfel suffered a serious knee injury while practicing for the Chicago College All-Star game and underwent surgery that sidelined him for the entire ’51 season. He spent a year working with weights, swimming, and rehabbing the knee to return in ’52, becoming a key to the Lions vaunted running game as a blocker, leading the team to the 1952 NFL Championship.
In his second season the Lions repeated as NFL Champions and Stanfel’s fellow players voted this tough-as- nails offensive guard their Most Valuable Player, an honor Dick said was “the biggest thrill I’ve ever received in football.”
When Dick’s college coach, Joe Kuharich, took over as head coach of the Washington Redskins, he engineered a trade with the Lions to acquire his former All-Coast lineman. Stanfel finished his playing career as a 5-time Pro Bowler, 5-time First Team All Pro, 2-time NFL Champion, and in 1969 he was selected as an offensive guard on the NFL’s 1950’s All-Decade Team.
When Kuharich became Notre Dame’s head coach he took his favorite player with him as an assistant line coach, beginning a coaching career that brought him from the Fighting Irish to the California Golden Bears as Marv Levy’s assistant, to the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, and then with the Chicago Bears and Mike Ditka through 1992. After the 1985 Bears won Super Bowl XX, Ditka noted that the Bears had led the NFL in rushing for three straight years and called Stanfel, “the best offensive line coach in football.”
Dick was selected as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in both 1993 and 2012 and finally will be inducted this August of 2016. He died last June at the age of 87 at his home in Libertyville.
The Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame salutes the legacy and the “grit” of Dick Stanfel. His son Rich recently remarked, “He was one of the toughest players in his day, a fierce competitor, and modest player off the field, and the most important honor to him was being in the ‘Dad’s Hall of Fame.”