Commentary

Zimmerman: 'I feel more humbled and blessed than ever before in my life'

Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos left tackle Gary Zimmerman was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's the text of his speech from the Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

Originally Published: August 2, 2008
By ESPN.com

Gary ZimmermanLuc Leclerc/US PresswireGary Zimmerman wanted to play middle linebacker in college, but Oregon had other plans for the future left tackle.

Former Denver Broncos tackle Gary Zimmerman was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's the text of Zimmerman and presenter Pat Bowlen's speeches from the Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

Presenter Pat Bowlen

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. There's one thing that struck me as I was listening to the presenters tonight and that was that Jared Green and Derek Thomas did a remarkable job for their fathers. And I hope I can do half that well. I'm very inspired by how they handled a huge responsibility.

Gary Zimmerman represents the second guy, second player, rather, to go into the Hall of Fame as a Bronco. John [in 2004] was the first. And that will tell you something about what the selectors think of his ability. Because I said at the time that I felt the next guy is going to have a very high bar to reach if they were going to compare with John.

And I have to agree with the selectors that Gary Zimmerman was the John Elway of the offensive line and the second best player to play for me.

When Gary asked me to represent him to be his presenter, I, of course, was very honored. But I have to admit to all of you out there in the audience that I am very nervous fellow up here. This is a job I've never had before and so please bear with me a little bit.

When Gary asked me to be his presenter, my first concern, I guess, was that I was going to have a difficult time explaining how good he really was. An offensive linemen doesn't usually get very much attention. Gary wanted very little of it. But there's no doubt in my mind that for five years he was the mainstay of our offensive line and the major reason that we were able to go and win our first Super Bowl in 1997.

I think one of the things that Gary was very good at was inspiring his teammates. And when he arrived in Colorado, in Denver, he sat his other four offensive linemen down and he said: This is what we're going to do. We're going to work our tails off. We're never going to talk to the press, and we're going to have our own corner of the locker room. And from that moment on our offensive line, in my humble opinion, became one of the better offensive lines in football. And they were really under the tutelage of Zimmerman, better known as Zim.

One of the problems that Gary suffered with was he had a very bad left shoulder, which is something you don't want if you're playing left tackle. And I'd watch him every game, and I would watch him go through the motions of a lot of pain, but I don't think he ever gave up a sack. And it was unbelievable that he could play at that level with an arm that he could only lift this high (raising his arm).

And when it came time for him to retire, in his mind, it was right after the Super Bowl in San Diego, Super Bowl XXXII, and I remember vividly we were all partying and having a great time, and I looked in the back of the room and there were the five offensive linemen standing in the back with a beer in their hands and just watching this party go on.

So I said I've got to approach these guys. I've got to get them involved in the fun. And I went back and I said: Gary, why don't you guys come on out and sit down at a table and drink your beer there and maybe get into some dancing and stuff. And, oh, by the way, Gary, I can't wait until next year. And that's when he dropped it on me at the Super Bowl party. Mr. B, I'm done. That was the end of my evening (prompting laughter from the crowd).

I have a lot of things written down up here, but as I say, I'm new to this job. I guess the last thing I'd like to say is something that really comes from my heart, and I will try not to cry. Zim, the Broncos love you. We love you for the way you conducted yourself, for the kind of guy you were and for the great player that you were for us and for the entire game. I mean that from my heart. I can't talk up here anymore. I'm about ready to start crying.


Gary Zimmerman

Thank you. Ten years ago, after Super Bowl XXXII, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my career by accomplishing a dream that had eluded me for so many years. Making it here today with some of the best who played the game in the gallery I feel more humbled and blessed than ever before in my life.

I would like to congratulate all the current Hall of Famers, as well as my fellow enshrines on their great careers. I am truly honored to be presented by a man who has made such a huge impact on my life. Mr. Bowlen's number one goal is to win and he does what is necessary to achieve the goal.

It is a dream come true for a player to play for an owner who is so committed to winning. His high aspirations made me not want to let him down. But that's not the most amazing quality of Mr. B. It's in the way he treats all people with respect and dignity. Thank you, Mr. Bowlen.

I stand before you today a proud and gracious man, who knows more than anything I could not have done it alone. It takes an incredible supporting cast to become a Hall of Famer. I have been coached by and teammates with so many amazing individuals, and I wish I had the time to list you all by name. But you know who you are and I want you to know how much I value the time I spent with you.

I would like to sincerely thank the coaches and teammates from Walnut High School, University of Oregon, the L.A. Express, the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos.

In 1980 I signed my letter of intent with the University of Oregon. I chose Oregon over other schools because it was the only college that would sign me as a middle linebacker. While dressing down for the first practice, I thought how strange it was that I was No. 75. After practice the coaches pulled me aside and explained that my future might be on the offensive line. The Dalai Lama once said that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. The point I'm trying to make here is that nobody starts out wanting to play the offensive line position; it's just where we end up.

Being an offensive lineman requires its own special qualities. And this is why there's such a unique bond among us. We are an inconspicuous group who defend our quarterbacks as if they were our mothers. We open holes for our running backs. Our job is to make the team's stars shine. The O-line position is a cohesive unit, a collection of individuals. If one member of the unit fails, we all fail. We need to be thick skinned because if things are not going well, the blame is often directed at us. And when things aren't going well, it's just another day at the office. There's often 10 ways to block a play. So a lineman needs to be intelligent and able to make split second decisions to changing defenses. We must be physically tough because we play the entire game making contact on every offensive play.

And, finally, offensive linemen conform to the herd principle. It's not good to be singled out for good or bad, and that's why it's difficult for me to stand up here alone getting this incredible honor. There should be a stage full of guys up here standing here receiving this honor with me.

At the University of Oregon, my line coach was Neil Zoumboukos. Zoomer used some unusual training methods. He would shoot you in the rear with a starter's pistol if you didn't get out of your stance fast enough (prompting laughter from the crowd). Another of his drills was the board chutes and hammer. He would stand at the end of the chutes with a hammer in his hand. If you came down the chutes and your head was not up, he would hit you on top of the head with a hammer.

It could be so frustrating because you could drive your man five yards down the field, put him on his back and get a minus on your grade sheet because you stepped with the wrong foot. Every day at the end of practice, or end of our meetings, Zoomer would give us a word of the day. So today, Zoom, it's my turn. And my word for you, Zoom, is beholden. I would also like to thank coach Rich Brooks for proving the Dalai Lama right.

In Minnesota the offensive line I played with had a very tight bond. It was before free agency. So most of the line played together for several years. We called ourselves the Regular Guys, because that best described our personality. John Michaels was a line coach at Minnesota then, and the thing that I remember most about Johnny was he had some awesome speeches.

On the third day of training camp, he pretty much gave the same speech every year, and it went something like this: You guys look like a dog's breakfast out there. The bus is leaving and you're all going to be on it if things don't change quickly (prompting laughter from the crowd). He, too, had an unusual training drill. He would strap one of your arms down to your side with a belt. You would then practice stopping the bull rush with one arm. I think this might have contributed to my elbow surgeries (prompting laughter from the crowd). Thanks so much, Johnny, for the memorable speeches and the invaluable expertise of how to play the offensive line.

When I began playing in Denver, I came to know the curse. The curse happens to tackles that have an amazingly talented quarterback, like John Elway. And you are responsible for protecting his blind side. What happens is the night before the game you get little or no sleep knowing that if you screw up you will forever be known as the guy who lost the franchise (prompting laughter from the crowd). Like clockwork I would wake up between 4:00 and 4:30, flop around for a while and finally get up. Many times I would just go to the stadium with our trainer, Steve Antonapolis, who, by the way, I would like to extend a huge thanks, Greek, for all your friendship and the hundreds of hours you spent getting me ready to play on Sundays. I would also like to thank John. It was worth every sleepless night.

My final line coach was Alex Gibbs. And he taught an old player like myself how to grab a few more years in the league by playing smarter. Alex was hard on us expecting perfection and that made us better. He taught us to read coverage and understand how defenses worked.

It was a lot easier to play when you had a good idea what your opponent might do. He, too, gave some awesome motivation speeches but it would not be appropriate to repeat them here (prompting laughter from the crowd). Thanks, Alex, for making me a smarter player and instilling the proper mind-set to play the offensive line position.

I would be remiss if I did not mention and thank my wingman. First with the Vikings, Randall McDaniel, who I'm sure we will all be listening to next year up on this stage.

With the Broncos, Mark "Stinky" Schlereth.

Who toward the end of my career was my human playbook. One thing about playing for the Broncos is that is where I learned how to win football games. Coach Shanahan assured that no stone was unturned in preparing our team for success. I saw a head coach that feared nothing and always went for the win. Thank you, Mike, for being such a dynamic head coach.

I would like to thank the fans of this great sport, in particular those of the Vikings and the Broncos.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the volunteers and the people of Canton for your hospitality and hard work for this incredible weekend.

I want to especially thank everybody who has traveled here today to celebrate with me and my family and know that you will forever be in our memories. I would like to thank my wife's family, the Nicholsons, who made the trip to Canton. Thanks also to my uncles, Max and Jerry, for being here today.

I would like to thank my brothers, Ken and Todd, for it was at a young age when I got my competitive personality. My mom has always been my biggest fan supporting me and cheering me on growing up. My parents even moved from California to Portland to be in Oregon for my senior season so they could come to every home game and cheer on the Ducks.

Thanks, Mom, for all your support. It has meant the world to me. To my daughters, Lindsay and Kelsey, who have shared their dad on weekends for too long, holidays, weekends and holidays for too long. I just want to thank you and say how proud I am of the two of you and I love you.

One other quality that I forgot to mention about linemen is that they usually marry up. And I'm no exception. Lisa, how do I begin to tell you how lucky I am to have you in my life. You've made countless sacrifices, inspired me and nursed my broken bones. I surely wouldn't be up here without you. I love you and thank you for all your support.

I have one other person I'd like to acknowledge who is watching from a better place. That would be my dad. I knew from a very young age I wanted to play professional football and this would drive my dad crazy. Because he understood the probability of failure and the great odds ahead. Today I'm sure he has a great big smile on his face and I'm extremely honored to be the 247th member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Transcript provided by the Pro Football Hall of Fame