HOF 2016: Wait finally over for Stanfel's elated supporters

DETROIT (AP) An offensive lineman who played back in the 1950s, Dick Stanfel didn't have a lot of stats floating around to help his Hall of Fame case.

What he had was people like Marv Levy who were willing to stand up on his behalf.

''I realize he played so long ago that a lot of the people that are voting now don't even remember the time, but this guy is so deserving,'' said Levy, the Hall of Fame former coach of the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. ''I remember going back to Hall of Fame meetings where guys like Gino Marchetti and Artie Donovan would tell me he was the best offensive lineman that ever played.''

Nearly six decades after the end of his playing career, Stanfel is being enshrined posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this week. In a class of inductees headlined by more recent luminaries Brett Favre and Tony Dungy, Stanfel offers a history lesson - a chance for fans to learn about and appreciate one of the game's standouts from the pre-Super Bowl era.

Stanfel played seven seasons with Detroit and Washington, leading the Lions to NFL championships in 1952 and 1953. He earned All-Pro honors five times in his relatively short playing career.

''You hate to use the word technician, but he was,'' Hall of Famer Mike Ditka said. ''Dick was a hell of a football player.''

Stanfel would eventually work for Ditka, serving on his staff with the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints as part of a coaching career that spanned 40 years.

Stanfel died last year at age 87. He'd come close to making the hall in 1993 and 2012, falling short as a finalist.

''After dad's death, we pretty much had resigned ourselves that he would just be forgotten,'' Stanfel's son Rich said.

Instead, Stanfel was selected as a finalist again last August by the seniors committee, a couple of months after his death. He was voted in last February and will be enshrined Saturday in Canton, Ohio, with the rest of his class.

Rich Stanfel said the family has been ''ecstatic'' that Dick finally made it in.

''We're really happy to be a part of this,'' he said. ''It's been pretty much an amazing ride for us right now.''

After being drafted by the Lions in 1951, Stanfel missed that season with a knee injury. He recovered from that setback and played the next four years with Detroit.

After three seasons with Washington, he ended his playing career at age 31; Redskins coach Joe Kuharich left to go to Notre Dame, and Stanfel went with him as an assistant coach.

That type of move would be unusual nowadays - and the early retirement might have hurt Stanfel's Hall of Fame chances - but Rich Stanfel said the financial ramifications of going from playing to coaching were different then.

''I'm glad dad took that opportunity,'' Rich Stanfel said. ''He might not have gotten another opportunity to coach, and he made an entire career of it.''

Levy, who was the coach at California from 1960-63, hired Stanfel as a line coach. Stanfel had played at the University of San Francisco and was born in the area.

''He blew me away with how well he taught,'' said Levy, who will be Stanfel's presenter for his enshrinement. ''I recall one instance when he wasn't happy with how a guard was pulling and trapping an outside linebacker, so he stepped in - no pads, no helmet - to demonstrate, and I've never seen anybody do it better than he did.''

By the mid-1980s, Stanfel was with the Bears, coaching their offensive line. He was part of Ditka's staff in 1985 when Chicago dominated the league en route to a Super Bowl title.

''He was the most consummate line coach I've ever been around,'' Ditka said. ''He was a great teacher, and he related to the guys.''

Stanfel was on Ditka's staff in New Orleans before retiring from coaching after the 1998 season. He could have easily dropped off the radar as a Hall of Fame candidate after that, but Levy in particular wouldn't let it happen.

''Marv Levy would always come back to that committee when they asked him, `Who do you think should be in?''' Rich Stanfel said. ''And he'd always, you know: `First and foremost, Dick Stanfel.'''

Levy insists he wasn't alone in the push to help Stanfel reach the Hall of Fame, an effort that at long last has succeeded.

''I and so many other current Hall of Famers are really elated that this so-well-deserved honor is finally taking place,'' Levy said. ''I've been among many who've campaigned for him.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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