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October 9, 2012

Local man, MSU, NFL star honored in his hometown

By Jason Carmel Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Local man, MSU, NFL star honored in his hometown
Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure address a packed gym during a “Hometown Hall of Famers” ceremony Sept. 27 at the Michigan Math & Science Academy in Center Line, DeLamielleure’s hometown. The Hall of Fame and Allstate sponsored the event, which took place in what was formerly St. Clement High School, where DeLamielleure played prep football.

CENTER LINE — Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Joe DeLamielleure believes he owes everything he’s ever accomplished to his family.

“I didn’t come up the way some of the guys in the Hall of Fame did — with just one parent,” the Center Line native said. “I had 10 brothers and sisters, parents and other family members to support me and help me grow as a person.”

DeLamielleure, a Michigan State University star who went on to have a strong NFL career playing with the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns, was honored Sept. 27 at the Michigan Math & Science Academy — formerly Center St. Clement High School, where DeLamielleure played prep football.

The ceremony was a part of a “Hometown Hall of Famers” series being spearheaded by the Pro Football Hall and Allstate.

“You see the Allstate logo and you hear their phrase, ‘In good hands’,” DeLamielleure said as he addressed a crowded gym Sept. 28.

“I’ve always been in good hands. I’m the ninth of 10 kids. I’ve been blessed. Everything I’ve accomplished I owe to my family and my teachers.”

Fond memories
During the ceremony, which brought out several of De-Lamielleure’s family members and friends, the 2003 Hall enshrinee was presented with a plaque by officials from the Hall of Fame and Allstate that will be permanently displayed at the school.

The site of the Michigan Math & Science Academy has a special place in DeLamielleure’s heart, as both of his parents and his mother-in-law are buried on the land east of the school.

“I feel like they kind of watch over the place,” he said.

Center Line Mayor David Hanselman presented DeLamielleure with a proclamation on behalf of the city. A sign honoring DeLamielleure will be displayed at the Center Line administrative offices.

“I grew up in Center Line with the DeLamielleure family, and I have fond memories of them going back to my youth,” Hanselman said.

DeLamielleure, an All-American at MSU, earned first-team NFL All-Pro honors six times. The Center Line native, who was a first-round pick of Buffalo in 1973, was also a six-time Pro Bowl selection and anchored the “Electric Company” during much of his first seven years in Buffalo.  The group opened lanes for O.J. Simpson in 1973, when he became the first running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season.

DeLamielleure played two stints with the Bills — 1973-79 and 1985, his final year in the NFL. The offensive lineman also spent five seasons (1980-84) with the Browns.

Al Baumgart, DeLamielleure’s coach at St. Clement, praised the Hall of Famer’s work ethic. He said DeLamielleure had all the ingredients needed to succeed, and he maximized them.

“Joe never gave up at anything,” said Baumgart, who coached at St. Clement for 12 years. “He always gave his best. An East Detroit coach once even called him an animal — but in a good way.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame Program Director Brock Richards said about 30 of these ceremonies would take place this fall. Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was recently honored in a ceremony in his hometown of Wichita, Kan.

“We’re pleased to honor (DeLamielleure) and his stellar career,” Richards said. “He didn’t get to the Hall of Fame on how he played football. He got there on how he played life.”

Reflecting on life
DeLamielleure vividly remembers some of the most important moments of his career.

He easily recalled what happened the night he was drafted in 1973, when the NFL draft took place in January and was nowhere near the spectacle it is today.

“I was with my wife (Gerri), and I called my dad’s bar and just told him that I’d been drafted,” said DeLamielleure, the 26th pick in the 1973 draft.

“He was thrilled. That was a special moment. I even remember (Buffalo Bills owner and Grosse Pointe Shores resident Ralph) Wilson calling me that night. To this day, I’m pretty sure I’m the only draft pick he’s ever called.”

DeLamielleure, who once played in 185 straight games, admitted the Sept. 27 ceremony was more intimate than his Hall of Fame induction.

The 2003 event recognized DeLamielleure and 11 other players and coaches.

“(The NFL ceremony) was like a blur,” he said. “You didn’t have as many of your family and friends there. Being here at St. Clement and doing things with family and friends is great.”

Looking out for his fellow players
DeLamielleure is spending his retirement looking out for those less fortunate, and not just former football players.

He was involved in a lawsuit against the NFL regarding football retirees’ pension money, and he and other players have fought to get more long-term pensions for retired players. Players who retired prior to 1993 had less than five years of health insurance coverage after leaving the game.

The league and the NFL Players Association union reached an agreement last November on how to distribute a $620 million Legacy Fund, designed to help retired players from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

“Things are much better now than they were three or four years ago,” said DeLamielleure, who was at the forefront of the pension fight.

The thing DeLamielleure cherishes the most about his journey is the relationships he’s cultivated.

DeLamielleure and two former MSU teammates will embark on a 2,000-mile bicycle ride from East Lansing to the site of the “City of the Children” orphanage in Matamoros, Mexico.

The bike ride is an attempt to raise funds needed to complete construction of a 12-building, 33,000- square-foot facility and provide the necessary resources to support the abandoned, abused and neglected children of that region, according to DeLamielleure.

“Life is all about the friends you make and the times you have together,” DeLamielleure said. “You work and you play hard, but life is all about the people you share things with. I’m blessed to have shared my life with a lot of special people.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Jason Carmel Davis at jdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1107. Twitter Follow Jason on Twitter.