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Former NFL great fires up Cats with pep talk



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NFL Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf gave an inspiring talk to the Oxford Wildcats varsity football team on the even of their big game against archrival Lake Orion. Listenly intently is Oxford player Anthony Cappuccilli. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
August 31, 2011 - "It was a long drive up here, but I didn't know we made it all the way to Boise, Idaho."

Even Dan Dierdorf, who played pro football for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1971-83, couldn't resist making a little joke about the Oxford football stadium's new blue turf – a color it shares with Boise State University's field.

"I went to a school where the traditional thing that we say to one another is 'Go Blue.' I don't know if that's your motto here or not, but it is now, I guess . . . What a fantastic-looking field," said Dierdorf, who played offensive tackle for the University of Michigan Wolverines from 1968-70.

Dierdorf visited Oxford Thursday, Aug. 25 – on the eve of the big game against archrival Lake Orion – to deliver a spirited pep talk to the Wildcats varsity football team.

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"Every game comes down to just a couple plays," he told the team. "Tomorrow night, a couple of you are going to do something exemplary and you know what? Just try to be that person."

Dierdorf, who's a color commentator for CBS, dropped by during Oxford's practice along with CBS sportscasters Greg Gumbel and Lesley Visser.

"I'm thrilled to be in your presence," he told the Wildcats. "I just love being around guys who play the game because we're all brothers, we're all the same. We all got pushed, we've all sweated, we've all bled."

Some footage from Dierdorf's visit was aired on CBS Saturday night (Aug. 27) during the 8 p.m. national telecast of the Detroit Lions/New England Patriots preseason game.

The crux of Dierdorf's inspiring speech was the importance of the team and being a good teammate.

"You're playing on a team," he said. "That's one of the things that I was always really proud of that I played a team sport . . . It will go with you the rest of your life – that you're a part of something greater than yourself."

Dierdorf noted that although the rings he wears signifying his membership in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame are "nice honors," the greatest compliment he ever received was years later, when former teammates told him "you made me a better player."

They would cite the example he set through his work ethic, commitment and approach to the game, professionalism, attitude and integrity.

"You should live for the day when somebody comes up to you and says you know what? You made me a better player," Dierdorf said. "That's the ultimate compliment anyone can receive regardless of the sport they play."

He urged the Wildcats to "strive to be that person."

"Whatever you can do to make the people around you better, that will define you as a teammate," he said. "The old rule is one person affects the five people around him, either in a positive or a negative way."

"Adopting a selfish attitude is the straight path to losing," Dierdorf noted. "Being unselfish (and) team-oriented is the only way to win."

Dierdorf explained to the Wildcat football team how they're very special people playing a very special game.

"You're playing a game that's pretty near and dear to my heart. I think football's the greatest game that has ever been," he said. "You've got to be special to play this game because it's hard . . . Practice is even harder if you really practice the right way. I'm sure your coach pushes you.

"This game isn't for anyone who wants to cut corners. This game isn't for anybody that likes to round off their edges . . . This game is tough and this game doesn't take prisoners. If you're a little soft, the tennis coach will be glad to talk to you."

Dierdorf reminded the Wildcats how fortunate they are to have such supportive parents, fans, and community members.

"I hope you all realize how lucky you are to . . . have a group of people behind you – parents, the boosters, whatever, that care enough about you to spend the kind of money to give you a facility like this in which to play," he said. "This is really what's great about high school football. I hope you guys take a moment to be appreciative and realize that a chance to play on something like this makes you luckier than most."

He ended his talk urging the Wildcats to "savor this fantastic complex you have here" and win one for all the people who made it possible.

"You've got people that love you. You've got people that care about you. Tomorrow night, why don't you deliver for them. Good luck guys, I hope you do well."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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