Posted: Jun 16, 2012 2:34 PM
Updated: Jun 16, 2012 2:39 PM
Former University of Kentucky football offensive lineman Dan Neal, who spent 11 seasons in the National Football League with the Baltimore Colts and the Chicago Bears, was inducted into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The official induction ceremony took place at the Palace Theater in Louisville during the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame's 10th Anniversary Celebration weekend.
Originally from Corbin, Ky., Neal played his high school football at Atherton High School in Louisville. Neal got his start as an offensive lineman with the Wildcats, lettering in 1971-72, before being drafted in the 11th round by the Baltimore Colts in 1973. After two seasons with the Colts, Neal's career continued in Chicago with the Bears, where he played center and blocked for Walter Payton from 1975-1983. Following a back injury, Neal began a distinguished coaching career with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Arizona Cardinals, the New Orleans Saints, the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills. He now owns and operates Coach's Fitness Club, with locations in Louisville and Prospect.
Neal was introduced by Brian McCaskey, senior director of business development for the Bears. McCaskey spoke of Neal continuing Chicago's history of outstanding centers, highlighted by his blocking for Payton, who became the leading rusher in NFL history. Then, McCaskey brought Neal to the stage for the acceptance speech.
"I thank the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame for inducting me," Neal began. "If you look up the word 'miracle' in the dictionary, it says 'an effect or extraordinary event that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.' Who would have thought that a boy from Atherton High School would have made it here? That in itself is a miracle. I thank God for what he has bestowed on me."
Neal also discussed what it meant to block for the NFL's all-time rushing leader.
"Have you ever been fortunate enough to reach for that rainbow or catch that shooting star? That's what I had when I blocked for Walter Payton," Neal said.
Neal was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with current Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas, Kansas City Chiefs star Mo Moorman, San Francisco 49ers lineman Bubba Paris and Super Bowl winner Chris Redman.
Along with Neal, UK stars La'Rod King, Ryan Tydlacka, Danny Trevathan, Larry Warford and Winston Guy were honored after being named to the All-Commonwealth Collegiate Team last year.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame grew out of an interest, spearheaded by Minnifield, to bring current and former pro football players from Kentucky together to host football clinics for underprivileged youth. In 1994 and 1995, Minnifield hosted a clinic at the Aspendale Housing Projects and Henry Clay High School, and invited other retired NFL players to join him in leading it.
From there, they created a new chapter of the NFL Player's Association in Kentucky in 1996. Since its founding, the group has raised more than $600,000 for youth organizations. Later, the Hall of Fame was established, and a selection committee chose the first class of athletes to be inducted. In 2012, the Hall of Fame will induct its 10th class of athletes into its ranks.
The purpose of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame is to appropriately honor persons that have brought significant recognition to the state of Kentucky, or have by their unusual successful service achieved significant accomplishment on behalf of their school, or have by a significant act or contribution distinguished themselves as an unusual former National Football League player, coach, referee, owner, management, etc. or have been a significant or unusual supporter of Pro Football. Kentucky is the only state to have its own Pro Football Hall of Fame
"As the only state to have a Pro Football Hall of Fame, the opportunity to recognize these individuals for their contribution further distinguishes Kentucky as we honor them," said Frank Minnifield, Executive Director of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame. "This should serve as a moment of pride for all Kentuckians."