Two years after former Bills general manager Bill Polian saw his name go up on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame, he will see his bronze bust added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Polian was chosen for enshrinement as a member of the 2015 induction class Saturday by the 46-member panel of Hall of Fame Selectors.
Polian was one of two finalists in the newly added Contributor category along with former Green Bay GM Ron Wolf. He obtained the required 80 percent of the vote to gain induction.
"It's an incredible honor that I never envisioned happening," said Polian.
"The biggest thrill tonight," he added via the Indy Star, "is to be able to share it with my family — and to have Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning (in attendance) here too because they're the reason I'm here."
A six-time NFL Executive of the Year (1988, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2009) by the Sporting News, an award bestowed upon him by his peers, Polian led three different franchises to conference title games.
He was the architect of the Buffalo Bills four consecutive AFC title teams (1990-93). Polian also quickly built the expansion Carolina Panthers into a contending team in the NFC as they advanced to the NFC title game in just their second year of existence.
The front office executive enjoyed his most consistent success in Indianapolis after he made Peyton Manning the number one overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft. Building a roster around the franchise quarterback, Polian led the Colts to eight division titles, three conference title games, two AFC titles and a Super Bowl championship.
"Fantastic general manager," said former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who won Super Bowl XLI with Polian. "I wouldn't have had nearly the success I had without Bill being there. One of the best listeners I've ever been around. A great talent evaluator. I certainly thought Bill should go in. You look at four Super Bowls in Buffalo, a conference title appearance in Carolina and two Super Bowls in Indianapolis. What more can you say? He is kind of a common denominator of all of that."
Polian cut his teeth as a scout on the personnel side of the business in the CFL, NFL and USFL before being hired by the Bills as Director of Pro Personnel in 1984. He was promoted to general manager in 1986 with one of his first major accomplishments was signing QB Jim Kelly from the USFL.
Over the next few years Polian, who hired Marv Levy as head coach would build the team from a two-win club to a perennial Super Bowl contender with shrewd drafting, key waiver wire pickups and a blockbuster trade that landed the Bills LB Cornelius Bennett.
What made Polian so beloved by his players in Buffalo was his undying loyalty to the men who played for him and his head coach.
"I went to the Pro Bowl for the first time on my rookie contract, the third year of a three-year deal," said Steve Tasker, a waiver wire pick up of Polian's. "And my contract did not include a Pro Bowl bonus. Bill gave me a Pro Bowl bonus just because. I remember my agent said, 'That was the greatest 10 grand Bill ever spent.' It was loyalty by Bill. I played well for him and he picked me up off waivers and he rewarded me for it. Because of that I'm still Bill Polian's guy."
Bills Assistant GM under Polian, Bill Munson, saw Polian's loyalty to his players first hand on several occasions, with most of his defenses involving the media.
"He would always take a hit or a bullet for his ball players," said Munson. "They knew he would, which is why in my opinion their loyalty to him ran very, very deep as well as their loyalty to the team."
Most, who work with him or for him believed that if the former Bills GM could've dug a moat around One Bills Drive he would have done so.
"Bill has a temper. The thing that set his temper off quicker than anything was somebody infringing on his players' ability to be ready to play, or something taking away from the Bills competitive advantage," said Tasker. "The guys in our locker room really had the feeling that he was in it with us. That he loved the guys he picked.
"I think that's the thing that really set him apart from other guys that we had seen and had experiences with. Bill felt like he was on the team with us. He was personally involved in it and wanted us to play well. He was going to bat for us and getting into arguments for us and telling local radio personalities to get out of town, the whole nine yards. He had a passion for it and we all appreciated that a lot."
The Bills enjoyed their most consistent success under Polian's stewardship as GM. Though he was already relieved of his general manager duties before the team won its fourth consecutive AFC title, Polian was an integral part of the team's appearance in five AFC Championship games in six years (1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993).
"He's universally respected. There's no question about it," said Tasker. "He took two teams and made them absolute powerhouses of their generation. First were the Bills who were a dropped pass away from appearing in six out of seven AFC championship games. As it was they were in five out of six championship games in the AFC and won four. Then Indianapolis, which was a perennial division champion and a Super Bowl champion.
"So to do that in two different eras and with two different franchises, the guy knows how to put together a 53-man roster and a coaching staff and run the program. That's difficult to do and I can't think of anybody that's done that since."
And now Polian's mentors are carrying on his legacy as general managers in the NFL themselves. David Caldwell, who served as a scout under Polian in Carolina and Indianapolis, is now the GM of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tom Telesco, who also served under Polian in Carolina and Indianapolis rose through the scouting ranks to serve as Polian's Director of Pro and College Scouting with the Colts before becoming the GM of the San Diego Chargers in 2013.
Having worked under Polian for more than 15 years, Telesco believes Polian's leadership and keen eye for talent would've transcended more than just the ranks of professional football.
"I think Bill's managerial style would work in any industry," Telesco said. "He could have been a CEO of a major corporation and been just as successful. He was never swayed by conventional wisdom or public opinion. He always had confidence in every decision he made due to his detailed preparation and tireless work ethic. When you combine those traits with his rare football acumen, it's the recipe for the Hall of Fame."
Polian, 72, will be enshrined in Canton with his fellow class of 2015 inductees in a weekend ceremony set for Saturday, Aug. 8th. He will be the 11th Pro Football Hall of Famer with ties to the Buffalo Bills, and the seventh from the famous early 90's era.
Polian was a six-time Executive of the Year and led three different NFL franchises to conference title games (Buffalo, Carolina, Indianapolis) winning five conference championships and one Super Bowl.