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Dierdorf's One-Mile Trip Takes Him to Hall of Fame

July 26, 1996|LARRY STEWART

When Dan Dierdorf was 13 years old in 1962, he and his father, John, watched as Pete Rozelle, then the NFL commissioner, broke ground for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

It was located only a mile from their home on 36th Street, and young Dan used to walk over to watch the structure being built.

Every year, before he went away to college at Michigan, he attended the enshrinement ceremonies. The only pro football games Dierdorf saw when he was growing up were the annual Hall of Fame exhibitions. "I would hang around to get a glimpse of the players," Dierdorf said from his home in St. Louis earlier this week. "They seemed so god-like."

Dierdorf, a big kid, dreamed of someday being an NFL player, but never in his wildest imagination did he think he would ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"Some things are just too big to dream about," Dierdorf said.

Something else Dierdorf never thought possible was someday occupying the same chair in ABC's "Monday Night Football" booth as Howard Cosell.

But both are realities.

On Saturday, Dierdorf begins his 10th season in the "Monday Night" booth, working the Hall of Fame game with Al Michaels and Frank Gifford shortly after he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

ESPN2 will televise the induction ceremonies live at 8 a.m., with ESPN providing delayed coverage at 5:30 p.m. ABC will carry the game between Indianapolis and New Orleans at 11:30 a.m.

ABC offered Dierdorf the day off, but he chose to work, believing it would add to the experience.

"The highlight of my life?" Dierdorf said, repeating a question. "No question about that.

"Think about it. I'm being inducted into the Hall of Fame in my hometown. My mother will be there, my childhood friends will be there, my former teammates, my friends and colleagues at ABC. This is perfect."

Well, not totally.

"It would have been great had my dad been alive to see this," Dierdorf said.

John Dierdorf, retired after working most of his life for the Canton-based Hoover Vacuum Co., died 15 years ago at 68. Suffering from circulatory problems, the elder Dierdorf went in for routine tests, had an allergic reaction to dye that was injected into his system and died three hours later.

Dierdorf's mother, Evelyn, 77, still lives in the house where Dan was born June 29, 1949.

Dierdorf has four children: Dan, 25, and Kristen, 23, from a previous marriage, and he and wife Debbie have two daughters, Dana, 15, and Katie, 10. Another daughter, Kelly, died of crib death at the age of 2 months in January 1985.

Dierdorf, an offensive tackle with the St. Louis Cardinals for 13 seasons (1971-83), has selected his former coach, Jim Hanifan, who grew up on a chicken ranch in West Covina, to present him.

"Jim was my coach for 10 years, six as my line coach, four as my head coach," Dierdorf said. "Jim is limited to three minutes, I'm limited to seven or eight. I think Jim could go for an hour, and I could go forever.

"You know, I didn't play for a glamour team, my teams lost more games than they won, I played in only three playoffs games and lost all three, yet despite all that I'm still being recognized for what I did on the football field. It is unbelievably flattering."

*

Also being inducted into the Hall on Saturday, into the broadcasting wing, will be Jack Buck.

"Jack and I used to work for the same radio station in St. Louis [KMOX] and he did a lot to help me when I was just getting started in broadcasting," Dierdorf said.

Another former KMOX colleague is Bob Costas, a close friend and longtime neighbor of the Dierdorfs in St. Louis. Dierdorf said he's sure Costas would normally be there for his induction. But Costas is a little busy these days.

Besides his father not being present, there is another pall to Dierdorf's weekend. He will miss a memorial service today in Irvington, N.Y., for his ABC boss, executive producer Jack O'Hara, 39, who along with his wife Janet, 39, and daughter Caitlin, 13, were killed in the TWA Flight 800 disaster. O'Hara's 12-year-old twins, Brian and Matthew, stayed home with grandparents to attend a summer basketball camp.

"ABC has chartered a jet to take some of the crew members directly from the memorial to Canton," Dierdorf said. "It bothers me a lot I won't be able to attend. This tragedy ripped at all our hearts."

The day before he left for Paris, O'Hara, a five-time Emmy Award winner who had been at ABC since 1983, got the news he was being let go as part of a reorganization of ABC Sports. He was going to Paris for the end of the Tour de France, an ABC event.

O'Hara was afraid of flying. ABC gave him two free tickets so he could ease his anxieties by taking his wife and daughter along on his final assignment for the network.

TV-Radio Notes

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