Bill Polian took his place in football immortality Saturday night, entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame with so many of his Indianapolis Colts on hand to celebrate his induction in Canton, Ohio.
His enshrinement became the first of likely many Indianapolis Colts reunions in Canton, where Polian’s bronze bust is expected to be joined by quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and perhaps others, kicker Adam Vinatieri, head coach Tony Dungy, running back Edgerrin James and wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Colts owner Jim Irsay was in attendance. So was Manning, Dungy and former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, now Detroit Lions head coach. A picture of former Colts on hand that circulated through social media showed several other retired Colts, center Jeff Saturday, tight end Dallas Clark, offensive tackle Tarik Glenn, offensive guard Adam Meadows, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, tight end Ben Hartsock and linebacker Rob Morris.
Polian expressed his gratitude to them and others by quoting Winston Churchill: “Never has one person owed so much to so many.”
His mention of Manning prompted a loud ovation. Pollen’s selection of the five-time NFL MVP quarterback with the 1998 No. 1 overall pick went a long way to defining the legacy of both men as well as a franchise that at the time resided in a basketball city.
Before Polian’s arrival, the Indianapolis Colts had won only one division title and two playoff games in 14 years. In the next 14 years, his Colts teams won 146 games, eight division titles and qualified for the playoffs 11 times, including a Super Bowl XLI victory in 2007.
Polian wore his Super Bowl XLI ring for his induction.
Although Irsay fired Polian after a 2-14 season in 2011, Polian thanked his former boss: “Jim Irsay had a vision for his Colts and allowed us to help make it a reality. His generosity and loyalty gave us the tools to succeed. Thank, you, Jim.”
The former Colts general manager/vice chairman also thanked Dungy, the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl, and referred to him as “America’s coach.”
He also said of Dungy, “What a joy to work with him. Many of our players felt that because of Tony's faith, the almighty did him a favor from time to time. Like steering storms away from training camp so two-a-day practices can continue uninterrupted. That, or our many miraculous second-half comebacks, was not Tony's greatest feat. He did the unthinkable, the undoable. Because of my immense respect for him, he cleaned up my vocabulary. We never doubted for a minute that through all the heartache and all the heartbreak that we wouldn't win a Lombardi trophy.”
While Polian is credited for building four Buffalo Bills teams that reached the Super Bowl (one after his departure), he’s perhaps most closely tied to Manning, a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer as soon as he retires.
“Of course No. 18, Peyton Manning,” Polian said. “If you keep playing, I may not be around for your introduction. But wherever I am, I'll be thrilled and proud. There's a mural on top of the entrance to Lucas Oil Stadium depicting scenes from our Super Bowl season. It says simply, 'Lucas Oil Stadium,' built by champions. Yes, you are.”
Retired Bills coach Marv Levy presented Polian for enshrinement.
“What I want people to know about is Bill is smart, honest, witty, astute, caring and loves the game,” Levy said. “He had strong opinions, and he respected the opinion of others.”
He is also a man proud of his heritage, the son of Irish immigrants, who loved to play the game of football in New York, admittedly without talent but a lot of heart.
“A journey that began on a boat from Ireland ended in Canton,” Polian said.
His acceptance speech concluded with a quote from New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig: “Today, I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.