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Saturday, August 2, 2003
Hall's call worth the wait for DeLamielleure

Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The happy ending was a long time coming for Joe DeLamielleure.

Eighteen years after he retired from the NFL, and 11 years after he was conned out of $240,000 in life savings, the Pro Football Hall of Fame finally came calling for the offensive lineman.

On Sunday, he'll be inducted in Canton, Ohio, in a draft class that includes Marcus Allen and Hank Stram. DeLamielleure insists no one will enjoy the moment more than he will.

It makes it all the more worth it. I think you have to go through some really tough times to understand what it means. You've just got to suck it up. It's true. I'm telling you. There's no way in heck 10 years ago that you would've ever thought we would've got to this point. Because it was rough. It was tough.
Joe DeLamielleure on being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

"It makes it all the more worth it. I think you have to go through some really tough times to understand what it means," DeLamielleure said. "You've just got to suck it up. It's true. I'm telling you. There's no way in heck 10 years ago that you would've ever thought we would've got to this point.

"Because it was rough. It was tough."

A man who came to be known as "Joe D" was born the ninth of 10 children in a family that lived in the shadow of a car factory.

He got his start in football when his mother suggested that he could shower at school by joining a sports team -- thereby avoiding the long lines for the family bathroom.

DeLamielleure earned a scholarship to play at Michigan State, then went on to a stellar NFL career. In 13 seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns from 1973-85, he established himself as one of the most celebrated and versatile linemen of his era.

In Buffalo, the 6-foot-3 DeLamielleure was a member of the "Electric Company," opening holes for O.J. Simpson. In DeLamielleure's rookie year, Simpson became the first NFL back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.

Traded to Cleveland in 1980, DeLamielleure excelled as a pass-blocker, helping the Brian Sipe-led Browns become one of the league's most prolific throwing teams of the early 1980s.

DeLamielleure rejoined the Bills for one more season before retiring, ending a career in which he earned six Pro Bowl selections and was named to the NFL's all-1970s team.

Still, it took Hall voters quite some time to take notice.

The recognition didn't come until football researcher John Turney released a list ranking DeLamielleure as the NFL's third-most accomplished offensive lineman in terms of awards received, behind John Hannah and Anthony Munoz.

It's the same list that played a role in Ron Yary's 2001 induction, leaving DeLamielleure as the only member of Turney's list not in the Hall.

"A wrong has been righted," said Sam Rutigliano, DeLamielleure's coach at Cleveland.

Rutigliano was particularly impressed by DeLamielleure's work ethic and drive.

"He is the old school," Rutigliano said. "He was a 1950s guy playing in the '80s, with that kind of dirt-tough attitude. (Vince) Lombardi would've loved him."

And DeLamielleure loved playing football so much, he might have played for free -- which pretty much is how things turned out.

In the early 1990s, DeLamielleure says, his accountant snatched up every penny of the player's life savings -- leaving him without money to raise eight children.

Scrambling to make ends meet, DeLamielleure played a season in the Arena Football League at age 42. Rutigliano then helped out by hiring him as an assistant coach at Liberty University.

DeLamielleure later was an assistant at Duke from 1996-00.

"I did everything to make up money, and I never claimed bankruptcy," DeLamielleure said. "I'm proud to say that."

Now living in Charlotte, N.C., DeLamielleure sells athletic socks that he is marketing to NFL teams. And the Hall induction also brought him new work, including a job broadcasting pre- and postgame shows for the Carolina Panthers.

"I lucked out," DeLamielleure said. "I think it's a good story to tell for people who get depressed."

And, at age 52 and 254 pounds -- close to his playing weight -- he'd be the first to sign up to play football again.

"I would, and I'd play for nothing," DeLamielleure said. "The game itself is fantastic."