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‘I will forever be in debt’: Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil expresses gratitude during Hall of Fame acceptance speech

Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with Sam Mills and Art McNally, who also share Philly connections.

Former NFL coach Dick Vermeil with his bust during an induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Former NFL coach Dick Vermeil with his bust during an induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.Read moreDAVID DERMER / AP

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni sported a kelly green hat as a tribute to Dick Vermeil during a training camp practice on Saturday at the NovaCare Complex.

Later in the afternoon, roughly 400 miles away in Canton, Ohio, Vermeil was welcomed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Vermeil’s coaching career spanned 15 seasons with three teams, including the Eagles from 1976-82, when they wore kelly green.

Vermeil, 85, was presented for enshrinement by his close friend Carl Peterson, a former Eagles assistant who went on to serve as general manager of the USFL Philadelphia Stars and Kansas City Chiefs.

» READ MORE: Dick Vermeil and Carl Peterson built the 1980 Eagles and a wine-soaked friendship that persists to this day

“The one thing I knew about Dick was the loyalty to his people around him,” Peterson said. “I consider the induction of Dick Vermeil into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a culmination of a magnificant coaching career. I’ve felt for a long time that Dick was more than deserving of this. There won’t be a better ambassador to the Pro Football Hall of Fame than Dick Vermeil.”

Vermeil took over an Eagles franchise that had not qualified for the postseason since 1960. Despite a dearth of draft picks, it didn’t take long for him to turn the Eagles into a contender: They reached the playoffs in his third season, 1978, and the 1980 Eagles reached the Super Bowl. Vermeil later won a Super Bowl with the 1999 St. Louis Rams in 1999. He left the sideline for the 2000 season but returned for five years with the Chiefs, including a 13-3 season in 2003. He retired for good after the 2005 season.

» READ MORE: Dick Vermeil’s Hall of Fame coaching career was fueled by a fire that nearly burned him

Sporting his newly minted gold Hall of Fame jacket, Vermeil used a majority of his speech to thank the numerous people who helped him throughout his storied career.

“I’ve been fortunate in my career to have the opportunity to coach 10 Hall of Fame football players as a head coach, five Hall of Fame players as an assistant coach, coached and worked with three NFL Hall of Fame coaches,” Vermeil said. “Unbelievable. I’ve had the opportunity to coach against 12 head football coaches that are already in the Hall of Fame. I’m so gracious because they provided me an example to learn from them. ... Many people have said to me, ‘Coach, you impact players.’ It’s the other way around. Players impact me.

“I will forever be in debt to all you people. To be selected as the 28th head coach, to be put in this position to accept a Hall of Fame honor as a football coach, is an expectation I never ever held as high in my life at any time. I never put myself in the same category as those other 27 coaches. So I am deeply in debt to so many contributors to my career.”

Sam Mills honored posthumously

Linebacker Sam Mills, who attended Montclair State University and played for the Philadelphia Stars from 1983-85 before enjoying NFL success with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, was also inducted Saturday. Mills, who was listed as 5-foot-9, 229 pounds, died of cancer in 2005 at 45. He was presented for the Hall by his widow, Melanie Mills.

“There can be no better place for him to rest than in the Hall of Fame,” she said. “Sam Mills’ story is a story of a man told he was not good enough to play college football. ... Then, he wasn’t big enough to play professional football. At the age of 27 [when he joined the Saints from the Stars], he wasn’t young enough for the NFL. Yet, here we are today, celebrating. That’s because Sam worked harder than his peers.

“It took everything he had. He became legendary, but he never forgot he was just a man.”

Art McNally’s historic induction

Art McNally, a Philadelphia native and Temple alumnus, became the first official to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For comparison, baseball has 10 umpires in its Hall of Fame, while the NBA and NHL have 16 each.

» READ MORE: Art McNally’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction was the dream of his late daughter

McNally, 97, spent nearly five decades working for the NFL. His biggest impact on the game might have been the introduction of instant replay, which was first used in 1986, when McNally served as the supervisor of officials. He also is also responsible for hosting the first formal training and evaluation program of football officials in professional sports. He was represented by family members at the induction ceremony.

“For the number of people throughout the country, the millions of our fans whose passion and love of the game has made it so great, I’m extremely fortunate to have been in this position,” McNally said in a prerecorded video. “I’d like to thank the Hall of Fame. This is the greatest thing for an official: Do your job. Hopefully nobody’s even going to know you’re around. Make the calls the proper way they should be with a heavy dose of common sense.”