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Pro Football Hall of Fame to honor former New Orleans Saints trainer Dean Kleinschmidt this week

Kleinschmidt spent 31 years working for Saints and developed lifelong friendships along the way

Former Head Athletic Trainer Dean Kleinschmidt worked for the New Orleans Saints for 31 years. He will receive an Award of Excellence for 2024 honoring his NFL career from the Pro Football Hall of Fame on June 26 and 27 in Canton, Ohio.
Former Head Athletic Trainer Dean Kleinschmidt worked for the New Orleans Saints for 31 years. He will receive an Award of Excellence for 2024 honoring his NFL career from the Pro Football Hall of Fame on June 26 and 27 in Canton, Ohio.

He may have spent 31 years with the New Orleans Saints, but for former head athletic trainer Dean Kleinschmidt it was not about the wins and losses as much as it was about the relationships.

Kleinschmidt is one of the recipients of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Awards of Excellence for 2024. He will receive his award and be celebrated at the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside 14 other recipients on Wednesday, June 26 and Thursday, June 27 and his image will be placed in the Hall.

A member of several other halls of fame as well receiving the Joe Gemelli Fluer De Lis Award in 2002 from the Saints Hall of Fame, Kleinschmidt said this award represents the "pinnacle" for him.

"Well, when you talk about the hallowed halls of Canton, Ohio, to anyone from the NFL, it'll give you goosebumps," Kleinschmidt said on the New Orleans Saints Podcast earlier this year. "I am so humbled, honored and overwhelmed to be selected as one of the inductees for this year's Awards of Excellence."

Kleinschmidt started his NFL training career with the Green Bay Packers, doing two summer internships in between returning to his college program at Indiana University, but the NFL was his professional goal after he finished his degree.

"Going back to college football after the two summers with the NFL team just wasn't the same," Kleinschmidt said.

Luckily, Kleinschmidt would get that opportunity as his mentor at Indiana University, Warren Ariail, joined the Saints for the franchise's second season in 1968 as their athletic trainer. Kleinschmidt would get an opportunity to join him for the following season in 1969 as the assistant and said he was "beyond excited" to join an NFL team.

"I was a graduating senior, skipped graduation, got in my car and drove from Bloomington, Indiana to Metairie, and went to work for the Saints the next morning," he said.

Kleinschmidt would take over the head role for the 1971 season at the age of 23 becoming the NFL's youngest head athletic trainer in history. He would stay with the team until 2000 working under 13 head coaches throughout his time with Saints, including several iconic NFL coaches.

"Tom Fears was a NFL Hall of Famer, played for the Rams, and a great guy," Kleinschmidt said. "And he hired me, gave me a lot of respect as a new young rookie assistant trainer. Going on to Dick Nolan, just characters, and Bum Phillips for crying out loud, Mike Ditka. I had Jim Mora for 10 and a half years. Ten and a half years, which were probably my toughest, the hardest 10 and a half years, but I overlook that because we won. That's when we started winning, as a franchise."

Kleinschmidt also said he learned a lot working alongside team executives like Jim Finks, Jim Miller and Bill Kuharich among others.

Kleinschmidt also got a chance to work with countless Saints Legends.

"It was the relationships that was more important to me and some of those players and certainly the guy that was my first first-round draft choice, Archie Manning in 1971 when I became the head trainer would have been my premier friend and confidant and just the ultimate professional. Guys like Stan Brock then, and Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, were just terrific guys that that I've maintained friendships with."

Kleinschmidt could tell countless stories from his time with the team. He got a welcome to the NFL moment when he saw former Saints kicker Tom Dempsey in training camp, awestruck as Dempsey overcame his lack of toes on his right foot and no fingers on his right hand to make the team.

"He was at Palomar Junior College and he came in for a tryout and shocked everybody," Kleinschmidt said. "I mean he was a near 300-pound nose tackle at Palomar Junior College, but he also kicked and what Tom overcame with his handicap, birth defects. It would rate right at the top of the amazing things that I was able to witness."

Dempsey would go on to set the NFL field goal record by kicking a 63-yard field goal to secure a 19-17 victory for the Saints over the Detroit Lions in 1970, another moment in history Kleinschmidt was a part of.

Kleinschmidt was there for the little moments like weighing players every Friday. One player in particular, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward had a rough time with those weigh-ins and was a player who stood out as one of the biggest personalities he encountered during his career.

"This was in the Jim Mora era, and Jim was very, very strict about players weight, but they weigh and I was the weigh master. I had to weigh every Friday morning and, and they'd get fined. Back in those days, it was $50 per pound per day for every pound you were overweight.

"Well, I think that Mora had assigned him, like a weight of 250 pounds. Now again, he's a ball-carrier, right. He's a running back, but he came to training camp at 301 pounds. That would have been a hefty fine. And so, the deal was that he had to show progress toward that 250, and I had to weigh him every day, not every Friday, but every day and then put that note on the head coach's desk before the 9 a.m. meetings. And Craig didn't want to get weighed. He would hide. He would hide in the restroom .. but a great character and a great guy played a long time in the league."

Former Head Athletic Trainer Dean Kleinschmidt worked for the New Orleans Saints for 31 years. He will receive an Award of Excellence for 2024 honoring his NFL career from the Pro Football Hall of Fame on June 26 and 27 in Canton, Ohio.

Over the years Kleinschmidt developed relationships with many players but one in particular stood out and that was his relationship with Manning. The former Ole Miss star would serve as the best man at Kleinschmidt's wedding and their relationship endures to this day.

Manning told Kleinschmidt when he was getting a knee replacement when he was in his 60s.

"I said, 'Archie, you know, as your athletic trainer for all those years, I feel partially responsible for that, you getting your knee replaced,'" Kleinschmidt said. "And he said, 'Yeah look, I forgot. Were you playing left or right tackle?"

Kleinschmidt got the chance to work with many athletes but the one who stood out for his pure athleticism was Jackson saying he would basically never miss games.

"I mean I don't think Rickey probably ever listened," Kleinschmidt said. "If we had, a nutritionist to talk to the team or a sports scientist or sports psychologist talk to the team, Rickey probably just skipped out on those things. He was a warrior, a gladiator. The first game that he missed was the result of an auto accident."

Other relationships he mentioned as important during his time with the Saints, Dan Simmons, the team's former equipment manager, Kevin Mangum his assistant trainer for many years, and Jay Romig, who he brought on as a trainer and now works as the executive director of administration. But he said there were countless more names of people who played an important role for him.

"I know I get in trouble by singling out one or two or three from each department, because you certainly forget some of the great ones, but I've had such a great time," he said.

Along with his experience with the Saints, Kleinschmidt worked for the Washington Commanders franchise, the Detroit Lions, Indiana University, the Manning Passing Academy, and the Reese's Senior Bowl, retiring from the NFL in 2015.

Kleinschmidt still works with the Manning Passing Academy though Kleinschmidt said his attendance to receive this award will cause him to miss part of the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux this week, Louisiana as well as the 75th anniversary convention of the National Athletic Trainers Association in New Orleans.

"Archie kind of suggested that I go ahead and go to Canton," he said

With all his years building relationships, once everyone found out about Kleinschmidt's award, players were eager to acknowledge him.

"Once the news came out about this Award of Excellence with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I'm just getting bombarded with emails and texts from alumni players," Kleinschmidt said. "Stan Brock was one of the first to hit me back, Archie of course, and then Tommy Myers and just guys from all over the country. It kind of lightens your heart."

Former Head Athletic Trainer Dean Kleinschmidt worked for the New Orleans Saints for 31 years. He will receive an Award of Excellence for 2024 honoring his NFL career from the Pro Football Hall of Fame on June 26 and 27 in Canton, Ohio.

The full list of Awards of Excellence recipients include:

Assistant Coaches: Monte Kiffin, Bill McPherson and Lionel Taylor
Athletic trainers Steve Antonopulos, Dean Kleinschmidt and Bill Tessendorf.
Equipment managers Bill Hampton Sr., Don Hewitt and Richard "Dick" Romanski.
Film/video directors: Tom Atcheson, Bob McCartney and Dave Levy.
Public relations directors: Dan Edwards, Harvey Greene and Frank Ramos

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