Richard Stanfel spoke about his father Dick Stanfel's election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer in Canton, OH. Dick Stanfel was interim head coach and assistant coach for the Saints during his career. Below are highlights from the interview:
I can't tell you how great this conversation that I had with Richard Stanfel yesterday that I'm going to share with you today. His father Dick Stanfel is going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously this summer for his play as an offensive lineman in the 1950's. He won two championships and then had a really long career as primarily an offensive line coach in the NFL, with two different stints here in New Orleans. First in the late 1970's with Hank Stram and then Dick Nolan and did serve as a head coach briefly on an interim basis for the final quarter of the 1980 season, which wasn't a great one for the New Orleans Saints. Stanfel then went on to have a great run with the Chicago Bears and Mike Ditka and then returned to New Orleans with Coach Ditka for a couple years before eventually retiring back in I want to say, 1999. A new Hall of Famer in Dick Stanfel, unfortunately posthumously but we're going to visit with his son today. Learn more about his father's story and what this honor means for his family this summer in Canton, OH.
Richard, good morning. So glad you could join us today.
Good morning Sean. Happy to be with you and to share some wonderful times in the Stanfel family.
No doubt. First of all, as we just spoke moments ago before we started rolling our tape today, in some ways this has to be a bit bittersweet. So sweet this past weekend and certainly such an honor for your father and the family but as he passed away last summer, all of us wish he could be enshrined in person this coming summer.
No question about it. You know, as you said, t's been a bittersweet summer and leading up to the Hall of Fame this year. This was the third time dad was nominated, which is unprecedented for a senior candidate. In 1993 he was nominated and in 2002 again he was nominated and we were extremely hopeful but I think that sadly with dad's passing, this third time ended up being the charm for us. Even though he's not with us, he's smiling on this moment and very happy. Although, dad was man of few words and no ego involved and would never brag about himself but I'm sure that this moment is a smiling moment for him up in Heaven.
Playing for the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins and also winning championships, when you would ask him about his playing days in the 1950's, what story would he tell the most, Richard?
Well, he would talk about the toughness of the players of his era and you know, there was nothing like the guys from back then. They weren't high priced players, many of them played the game because frankly they loved the game and the toughness that came out of those days is hard to relate to the same players of today. They'll continue to play in today's day because the money's extremely good and why wouldn't you play but at that time they weren't making the money and the t.v. deals weren't the deals that they have today so it was a lot of the love of the game. He would talk about stories from his teammates. They celebrated two championships in Detroit in 1952 and 1953 and 1953 was a real magical time for dad. He was, as far as I know, he was the only offensive lineman to ever be named MVP of his team in the year they won the championship and that's special because it had to do with the players that he played with. They had a lot of respect for his game. Just the stories and the comradery from some of the greats like Bobby Lane and Doak Walker and Yale Lary and Joe Schmidt, some of the wonderful names in the 1950's and they became family all together. Just the comradery and the moments are really special in the 1950's.
Let's talk about Dick Stanfel's connection to the New Orleans Saints. It's interesting because it happens on two different occasions here as a coach. You were a younger man the first time around when Hank Stram brought him on in the late 1970's. First of all, just like a good New Orleanian, you should probably share where you went to high school and all that played out. What do you remember from that time in the late 1970's?
Well, you're young but it's pretty indelible in your mind to think back to those days and I was a young man that got to live the dream of being a coach's son and sort of living the experience through my dad. I went to Rummel High School and have a lot of good friends that were good classmates of mine that are probably in that area. It was very special. We got to be in the locker room and you know, be around these great players. You know, many people in that era, I'll bring you back to the 1970's of the New Orleans Saints and it was an up and coming. Hank Stram had gone up and things weren't doing well but dad was still sort of there and Dick Nolan came in and they went 7-9 and then the following year they went 8-8. It's hard to imagine because the Saints have such a wonderful history, at least most recently with winning teams. It's hard to imagine that the town celebrated like it did at 8-8. You know, that was magically time for them and that just shows to the spirit of the people in New Orleans. They love a winner and thought they were on something pretty special. That was a wonderful time in our life. What a great city, what a great experience even though 8-8, even having an even number of wins and losses was still a victory as far as New Orleans was concerned at that time.
Yeah, no doubt. Well, unfortunately 8-8 turned into 0-12 in 1980 and Dick Nolan gets fired. Then your father is asked to become the interim head coach for the final four games of that season. In a dark season, your father delivered the one win of that season as a head coach. That in itself had to be kind of weird. You get this chance to finally be a head coach in a season mired with problems and you get to win a game in the NFL as a head coach. I look at that one game as something probably so significant in his life.
It was special. As you mentioned, went from 8-8 to the wheels falling off and things heading in the other direction. When Dick Nolan was fired, dad was extremely close and the one thing I will say about my father is he was an extremely loyal person and when he was asked by John Mecom to take over the team as an interim head coach for Dick Nolan, my dad didn't want to take the job. He as adamant that he wasn't going to take it because Dick Nolan was his guy, his mentor in many ways. Dick Nolan had to talk him into taking that job to try and pick up the pieces to at least finish the season respectfully. I think that, as far as my memory goes, there was a different air as soon as dad took over. Things changed a little bit. Guys, for whatever reason, found motivation to play and play out for dad and they played hard every game. If you look back, those games I recall being in the game all those four games. They were in the game and they ended up only getting the only win for that year which felt good. Dad was being considered for the head coaching job and if it weren't for Bum Philips who was a sort of highlighted name at that time, I think history might have changed. He might have been the head coach and who knows what could have happened. It was a bittersweet time at that time as well with Dick Nolan being fired and dad deciding to take over. He did his best.
The twists and turns here and forgive me because I'm going to gloss over a glorious time with the Chicago Bears in the 1980's which included of course the 1985 championship. Low and behold, Mike Ditka becomes the head coach of the New Orleans Saints. How in the heck did Coach Ditka coach your father basically out of retirement to come back to New Orleans and be his offensive line coach?
That's a great point. Dad had decided when the era had ended with the Bears that he was going to be in retirement. He was in his 70's and he said I've had a long career, this is good for me, I'm good to go but Coach Ditka had to make a play to have dad come out of retirement. Dad always said if it wasn't a city that he was familiar with and had a wonderful time like New Orleans, it wouldn't have happened. If it was Cleveland or Denver or something completely different, if it wasn't New Orleans and New Orleans particularly, he wouldn't have come out for those two years. I think it speaks to Coach Ditka having a great respect for his ability to coach offensive linemen and thought that it was the right fit to bring someone in that could coach up a team. He enjoyed his two years and said you know that was time for him so he ended up officially retiring a year before Coach Ditka was no longer there. Again, it was because it was New Orleans and how special New Orleans was to him.
He was in his early 70's at that time. Unbelievable. I'm looking at this story about your father and when I see names like Hank Stram and Mike Ditka, how did you as a young man coming up, whether observing as a son or hearing your dad speak, how did you not have the best dinners and stories when you look back at not only your father playing in the era that he did but also to be around these personalities like Ditka, Stram and others?
It's really surreal to think about the people that we got to behind the scenes with. You know, Coach Ditka, Coach Stram and we were blessed. We were with dad all the time. For whatever reason, we were chosen to work training camp in the Stram and Nolan era and even with Coach Ditka in Chicago. My brothers and I, I have two younger brothers, we were pretty special. I mean the stories are nonstop. The dinners we had, I can name one of the places that we would meet in fat city Impastatos. Joe Impastato would have wonderful meals for us and we'd spend time with players and coaches after games. The stories were immense and action packed and kind of the behind the scenes. We're truly blessed to have had an insider look as children behind the coach.
Having never met you or father, unfortunate in both circumstances, but my appetite has been wetted by our conversation to say the least. Richard, when I get ready to wrap up our visit here, what is it that you want Saints fans, football fans listening to our visit today to know about your father that maybe I haven't be able to lead you toward?
Well, I would say that particularly when we talk about dad's pro football Hall of Fame career, I can't tell you how many people come, 'is he going in as a coach,' and I say 'well no, no, no, this is all about his playing days.' Although he only played for eight years in the NFL, I would say that if you talked to players that he played, they respected his coaching and they knew that even though they had not seen him play, he probably took his playing days and his skills and his pact and all the things that wrap up into an NFL player he sort of brought it into his coaching. His coaching probably mirrored his playing so the respect and honor that he's gained throughout his 37 years in the coaching field, along with his eight years as a player in the NFL sort of wraps up as a guy that truly is a man of the NFL and respected by all that it touched. If I sort of had to wrap it up, that would be my father.
Well said. Two questions. I could talk to you for hours, about this, but two questions. Number one, I have to know, how did you find out that your father Dick Stanfel was going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Let's just start with that. How did you learn of the news?
Again, it's pretty much the moment we found out the process is very stressful, we're all segregated and we were in San Francisco, my family and my brothers and their families, segregated in a room. All players that are nominated are sort of segregated to the room at 2:30 in the afternoon while the NFL meetings move forward with the writters trying to decide who belongs and who doesn't belong. Excruiating probably hour and a half wait and then we were told we would get a knock at the door if he was in and a phone call if he wasn't in so you can imagine that it was an excruciating time to be sitting in a room waiting for it. The elation that we celebrated when David Baker, the president of the Hall of Fame, knocked on our door and he's a man of stature, 6'8", 400 pounds, so the knock at the door almost knocked me out of my shoes. It was an unbelievable feeling and like I said, a surreal moment for the Stanfel family.
Again, congratulations. Richard, what kind of a plan are you putting together for you and your brothers and your families for this summer in Canton, OH.?
I can't tell you, it's going to be another whirlwind. We've trying to gather anybody that played for dad, anyone that coached with him, anyone that played with him. It's going to be sort of a gathering of the people most important to my father's life. Along with family, of course. We're going to gather, we're going to try to put together a party in Canton. We've got an opportunity, each inducted, elected Hall of Fame member could put together a party so we're planning to put together a wonderful party and let everybody else sort of join us in this wonderful celebration of dad's life and his legacy forever in the Hall of Fame. It's going to be special in Canton.
Do me a favor, make me a promise will you, that the next time you and your family make your way through New Orleans for some reason, will you let us know? We'd love to meet you in person and maybe celebrate your father's legacy even a little more.
Absolutely. New Orleans is one of my most favorite towns. Great friends, great people, great respect for the franchise there as well. It's been really special to be part of New Orleans and I will absolutely give you guys a call when we're in town.