(Photos courtesy of Detroit Lions)
By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
Eddie Khayat played defensive line for 10 years in the NFL between 1957-1966 and then spent much of the rest of his life teaching young men the intricacies of avoiding blockers and making tackles. So he is wise in the ways of what makes a dominating offensive lineman. And when he studies them he uses one man as his measuring stick: Dick Stanfel.
Khayat is also a courtly man who grew up in the deep South of the 1930s and ’40s, a product of Moss Point, Miss., not given to hyperbole or hysteria. Good manners, except when battling offensive linemen, have always been his hallmark. That’s what made his remarks all the more jolting when we ran into each other one day at an NFLPA function in Atlantic City a few years back, and he asked if I was still a Hall-of-Fame voter.
When I replied in the affirmative, Khayat’s jaw tightened for just a moment before he said, “Why in the hell are you keeping Dick Stanfel out of the Hall of Fame?”
Since I lacked either the power or the inclination to do that, it was easy to explain I’d had little to do with Stanfel’s rejections when he was a Hall-of-Fame finalist in 1993 and 2012 as a senior committee nominee. In fact, I had argued his case unsuccessfully three years ago and was startled when his nomination was rejected.
So were the men who knew him best … and they remain so to this day. Men like Khayat, who competed with and then against him in the late 1950s, and Hall-of-Fame coach Marv Levy, who flatly says “Dick Stanfel is one of the greatest linemen to ever play football.” Levy has also said if there was one player he could give a pass into the Hall of Fame, it would be Dick Stanfel.
That’s how sure he is of Stanfel’s rightful place in Canton.
So why has someone eligible for Hall-of-Fame induction for 51 years been lost in the great, gray vacuum of time? Other than longevity, there would seem to be no sound defense for the oversight.
Stanfel played his first NFL game in 1952, having entered the league a year earlier at 24 after having served in the military before college. After the Detroit Lions selected him in the second round (the 19th overall pick) in 1951, Stanfel tore up his knee so badly in the College All-Star Game that summer he missed his entire rookie season.
Despite that, Dick Stanfel’s impact on the Lions was immediate. He became the starting right guard the following season on a team that would reach the NFL championship game three straight years, winning twice. So dominating was his play that in 1953 he was not only named All-Pro but was also selected by his teammates as the Lions’ Most Valuable Player on a championship team that included future Hall-of-Famers Bobby Layne and Doak Walker.
“They gave me a big trophy for MVP,” Stanfel once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune during one of his two tenures as the Saints’ offensive line coach. “That’ll probably never happen again for an offensive lineman. That was a different time.”
Indeed it was. And that may have contributed to the 51-year snubbing of a player who was named first-team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl five times in his seven-year career (including the final three seasons) before leaving to become an assistant coach at Notre Dame at the age of only 31.
Despite playing only three years (1956-1958) for the Redskins, Stanfel in 2002 was named one of the 70 Greatest Redskins of all-time. He was also named to the NFL’s 1950s’ all-decade team. His former college coach, Joe Kuharich, had traded to acquire him and Stanfel was named All-Pro all three years he was with the Redskins. But when Kuharich left to become head coach at Notre Dame, Stanfel left with him for good reason.
He’d earned only $18,000 that final year in Washington and was by then one of only four offensive linemen in the league 31 or older. Considering those realities, Stanfel did the prudent thing for a young man with children. He left for a better paying, more secure job.
“It was a chance to get started in a career that would last,” Stanfel once explained about cutting his NFL career short. And he was correct. He coached offensive lines at Notre Dame and Cal before returning to the NFL to again work under Kuharich with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1964. He would go on to coach offensive lines for nearly 40 years with the Eagles, 49ers, Saints (twice) and the Bears, winning another championship ring there as the offensive line coach of “Da Bears” of Mike Ditka that won the Super Bowl in 1985.
Despite the gaudiness of the ring he won that year, Dick Stanfel still wears a different championship ring — one with only one stone in it. It’s the one he won with the Lions in 1953, the year a right guard was selected as the Most Valuable Player on the NFL champions.