Donnie Shell waited 30 years to be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
But that was not the difficult part for the Steelers’ old security. No, the difficult part was not telling anyone that he was going to be inducted for the day and a half between the time he was informed that he was going to be part of the centennial class of the Professional Football Hall of Fame and when it was announced to the world.
“Playing football is easy,” said Shell Thursday, a day after the Hall of Fame announced the 15-member centennial class of which it was a member.
“When you know you’re in the Hall of Fame and can’t share it at the time, it was a very difficult task. We weathered the storm. We weathered it. I prefer to play soccer. “
Shell says it was told by a Hall of Fame official David Baker via a phone call Monday. He was then flown to New York to be part of the official announcement on the NFL network Wednesday morning.
For a player who had received so much support from his former teammates, it was difficult to keep it secret.
Former Steelers defender and NFL coach Tony Dungy had used his own Professional Football Hall of Fame induction as a platform to deceive Shell into causing his former training camp roommate to present him when he was inducted in 2016. And other former teammates wrote letters of recommendation and have expressed their feelings about Shell’s candidacy over the years.
Not telling them he was entering was difficult.
“Tony was a great defender. Mel Blount, Franco (Harris), Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, all these guys, “said Shell.” When I read their comments, it made my eyes cry. It was as if we were on the ground again. “
But the day has finally arrived. Some 33 years after Shell retired after the 1987 season, he was eventually enshrined, making him the 10th member of the 1970s Steelers to be inducted. He’ll bring the fifth member of the steel curtain defense into the Hall of Fame, matching things up with an offense that also has five members.
“We have to get one more,” said Shell with a laugh. “If two more come in, we’ll be back again. When you play, you don’t see it. It’s a great achievement. As far as the players we did it with, they weren’t only great players, they were great people. “
Shell will also be the fifth member of the 1974 Steelers rookie class to enter the Hall of Fame, a feat that will likely never be equaled. Wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, center Mike Webster and linebacker Jack lambert are already in the Hall of Fame.
But what sets Shell apart from this group is that it was not drafted in 1974, although there are 17 laps in the project.
He attributes this to the fact that he was a 190-pound outside linebacker in the state of South Carolina. But the Steelers had different plans in mind for him. They put him in safety.
And although he only entered the starting lineup a few years later, Shell made a name for himself in the special teams and covering the slot machine receivers in the third tries, allowing the Blount corners and J.T. Thomas to stay outside where they could thrive.
At that time, when the teams threw the ball less than 20 times per game, you had better be able to attack. And that’s where Shell’s ability as a former linebacker came to light.
“It could have been intimidating for me, but I saw it as a challenge,” said Shell, joining an already talented Steelers defense as an undrafted rookie who changed positions.
“I wanted to prove to the Steelers organization what I could do. I could be a little lax in my pass cover, but when we put the pads on and started hitting, I think I got a lot of attention from the coaches. It was a great opportunity for me. Guys like Mel Blount and Mike Wagner became my mentors and helped me develop as a player. “
Shell lasted 14 years in the NFL as a strong security. He has appeared in 201 career games, starting 162 and delivering a number of breathtaking shots, none more memorable than when he broke the ribs of Houston. Earl campbell in a match in 1978, forcing him out of the game.
“I apologized to Earl after that,” said Shell, who said he had known Campbell over the years. “I was glad I removed him from the game, but I apologized to him.”
However, the interceptions were just as important as his big hits. Shell credits playing baseball in his youth for helping him develop hand-eye coordination that allowed him to record 51 career interceptions, a record for high safety. It also allowed him to make five trips to the Pro Bowl and earn All-Pro status three times.
But the Hall of Fame just hadn’t arrived.
“The numbers were there. You have to keep praying and trusting and I never lost confidence,” said Shell about the process.
“Look at my body of work. I produced. The hay was in the barn. I could not do anything. You can pout about it, get sad about it, be disappointed. I was never that. I thought that when the time came, I would be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. “
To continue reading, log into your account: