Mike Ditka remembered his late boss George Halas when the Chicago Bears coach became the first true tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.
"The Bears drafted me and told me I'd play tight end," said Ditka. "I only caught 14 passes my senior year in college. They knew I could block, so we worked on catching the ball. My first game I didn't catch a pass. But Mr. Halas devised a way of getting me open."All the credit (for revolutionizing the tight end position) goes to him."
Ditka, Jack Ham, Fred Biletnikoff and Alan Page were inducted in a ceremony on the front steps of the Hall.
Their induction was followed by an NFL exhibition game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, the league's preseason opener.
Each inductee noted the role fate played in his career.
Ditka was scouted by several NFL teams while at the University of Pittsburgh, and all but one projected him as a linebacker. Only the Bears, for whom he played for six seasons and for whom he now coaches, envisioned him as a tight end.
Ditka, with 427 receptions and 43 touchdowns in a 12-year playing career with the Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, was presented at the cermonies by former Bear teammate Ed O'Bradovich.
Ham said had he not won the last scholarship available to Penn State after graduating from high school, he might not have developed into an all-pro linebacker.
"So many things fell into place for me," said Ham, who was presented at the induction ceremonies by Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
"Football is a team game. It's not like golf or tennis. I had great football players around me," Ham said. "If I was with a team with a lousy front four or a bad secondary, I wouldn't be here right now. It's a team game and that's why I'm here."
Ham was a cornerstone during the Pittsburgh Steelers' four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s.
Biletnikoff got off to a slow start in the pros. He said he owed his induction to the faith that Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis showed in him, and in the wide receiver's extraordinary work habits.
"At the beginning of my career, I had a difficult time making the step from college football to pro football," said Biletnikoff. "Then I was injured my second year. I'd been there two years and hadn't done anything. But (Davis) stuck with me."
Davis presented Biletnikoff at the induction ceremonies.
Biletnikoff was relatively slow of foot and at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, wasn't able to run over anyone. But he eventually thrived, in part because of his ability to catch.
Asked how he became such a sure-handed receiver - with 589 catches and 76 touchdowns in 14 seasons - Biletnikoff said he did it the simplest way possible.
"I caught a lot of footballs," he said. "All these gimmicks about strengthening your fingers and doing this and doing that, kids get led in the wrong direction. If you're going to go out and squeeze putting with you hands 1,500 times, you're better off catching 1,500 passes."
Page starred as a fearsome 278-pound tackle for more than a decade with the Minnesota Viking "Purple People Eaters" defense.
Despite his success - in 1971 he was the first defensive player ever named the NFL's Most Valuable Player - he shed 60 pounds and lengthened his career.
Page, now an assistant state attorney general in Minnesota, said he ran seven miles prior to the induction ceremony.
Page, the first native of Canton in the Hall, 25 years ago had a summer job working on the building's construction.
Page was presented by Minneapolis high school principal Willarene Beasley.