A 32-year journey, from Kansas City, to Buffalo, to the NFL offices, then stops in Carolina and Indianapolis. Bill Polian was a pro football lifer. And now he's a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
The former Bills General Manager, the architect of the AFC Championship teams of the early 1990s, was enshrined in the Hall on a picture perfect summer night in Canton, Ohio, the birthplace of the National Football League.
"I'm being inducted as a contributor," Polian told the crowd at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton. "In truth, this game, and the NFL, has given me far more than I've given it."
Polian spent much of his 16-minute speech thanking the countless people who've played an important part in his decades long career. And he saved his highest praise for the players who took the field for his teams, the Chiefs, the Panthers, the Colts, and the Buffalo Bills.
"Buffalo's boys of autumn," he said of the Bills of the late eighties and early nineties. "They brought a team, a town, and a dream together like few others in NFL history."
"My honor is your honor. I stand here on your shoulders, I am here because of you and I am forever grateful."
Polian was welcomed into the Hall by six former Bills from his era, Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, Andre Reed, and Head Coach Marv Levy. They were all on stage as the former GM who brought them and signed them to Bills contracts delivered his remarks.
"Bill wasn't an executive to us, he was more of a family member," Kelly said, "I know sometimes that becomes a cliché when people talk about relationships between players and head coaches but Bill was always there for us. He was Irish. I knew his feistiness. His stubbornness. What he said, we took to heart and he meant it and we knew he did. I love the guy to death. I'm so proud to say I'm part of Bill Polian's life."
Polian's players and associates from the Colts were strongly represented in Canton. Former Colts coaches Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell were on hand, along with Polian's former quarterback in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning.
"Pretty neat reunion," Manning said, "being here, seeing people who've been a part of Bill's life. I've been honored to be a part of it, he's part of mine. It was really a special evening."
Manning wrote the foreward to Polian's autobiography, "The Game Plan," published last year. And Manning wrote that the defining characteristic of Polian's life is loyalty.
"No doubt. One hundred percent," Jim Kelly agreed. "Loyalty even stretches back to the first times I met with him, when we were negotiating my contract from the USFL to the NFL. Bill got down into a three point stance and he was ready to take on my agents. When he did that, I knew Bill Polian was for real."
"Bill was very loyal to people who work hard, who are dedicated," Marv Levy said. "Tremendously loyal. And that's where he used to erupt sometimes with members of the media, when some guy was criticized, Bill came to his defense."
It was Levy, who was enshrined in the Hall of Fame himself 14-years ago, who was singled out for the most accolades in Polian's enshrinement speech.
"But for Marv, I would not have a career in pro football, let alone be standing here," Polian said. "He is my mentor, my role model, my friend. I have very often failed to live up to his example, but I never failed to continue to try. Because for me, he represents all I ever aspired to be when I was a young man dreaming impossible dreams. "
"I am thrilled, that on this great day, I can take another walk, side by side, into these hallowed halls, with the man who did so much to put me here. Thank you Marv."
"I don't know if you noticed, it brought a tear to my eyes, honestly," Levy admitted after Polian's speech. "It was quite a tribute. I'm tremendously honored. But beyond that, I'm thrilled to see him go into the Hall."
Polian becomes the 11th member of the Bills organization to be enshinred in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Besides the Super Bowl era Bills, owner Ralph Wilson, Guard Joe DeLamielleure, Guard Billy Shaw and RB O.J. Simpson were also enshrined.
Polian will receive his Hall of Fame ring at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 20th, when the Bills host New England.