When young Dan Dierdorf witnessed NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle spearhead the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1962, he had no idea he would also earn a gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH some thirty-four years later.
Dierdorf’s outstanding play at right tackle helped changed the fortunes of the woebegone St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-1970s.
Dierdorf, Roger Finney, Bob Young, Tom Banks, and Conrad Dobler comprised the formidable Cardinals offensive line known as “The Great Wall of St. Louis.”
Under the leadership of head coach Don Coryell, the Cardinals’ staunch offensive line and vaunted passing attack overwhelmed the opposition and propelled them to two division titles in the mid-1970s.
Dierdorf eventually became a well-respected sports broadcaster after he retired from pro football following the 1983 NFL season.
Truly, Dan Dierdorf made his mark on America’s Game for more than five decades.
Daniel Lee “Dan” Dierdorf was born to parents John and Evelyn in Canton, OH on June 29, 1949.
To make ends meet, John Dierdorf worked at the Hoover Vacuum Co., per the Los Angeles Times’ Larry Stewart.
According to Dierdorf’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 1996, his dad John accompanied him to the Hall of Fame’s groundbreaking ceremonies as a 13-year-old growing up in Canton, OH. Dan witnessed NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle turn over some soil with a shovel to commence the Hall’s construction.
Dierdorf’s trips to the Hall became a regular occurrence. He made the 15-minute walk from his house to watch every Hall of Fame Game and enshrinement ceremony until he entered the pro football ranks in 1971.
When Dierdorf was 14 years old, he saw his football idols up close and personal. Gridiron warriors such as Philadelphia Eagles tackle Bob Brown used to change into their football uniforms at the old Fieldhouse section of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 6’6″, 300-lb. Brown burst out of the locker room. His shoes had spikes that were sharp enough to ignite sparks on the asphalt as he walked by.
“Bob Brown walked by me and I thought it was an eclipse,” Dierdorf mentioned in his enshrinement speech some thirty-three years later. “The sun was blotted from my vision and I thought to myself, ‘These men, these men are God.'”
Little did Dierdorf know he would earn his rightful place in Canton, OH someday.
Dan Dierdorf, born and raised in Canton, watched as a boy as the Hall of Fame was built and opened in 1963.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) May 30, 2022
Dan Dierdorf attended Glenwood High School (now known as GlenOak High School) in Plain Township, OH.
Dierdorf, who suited up for Glenwood Golden Eagles head football coach Jim Richenbaugh, excelled in football, the discus throw, and the shot put during his high school days.
Richenbaugh struck fear into the hearts of his players. Whenever he stared them down, they would come to attention. Dierdorf gave Richenbaugh credit for teaching him how to win, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Dierdorf visited the Miami of Ohio campus as a senior. The Miami RedHawks had him on their radar. Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t mutual. Dierdorf balked when he found out the RedHawks’ head football coach was a guy named Bo Schembechler.
The RedHawks’ offensive line coach, Jerry Hanlin, visited Dierdorf and made a final attempt to recruit him in his senior year. Dierdorf, who didn’t want to attend Miami of Ohio, fled through the back door and promptly stood Hanlin up.
The Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans both spurned Dierdorf. According to SI.com’s Michael Spath, both programs felt Dierdorf didn’t have what it took to thrive in big-time Big Ten football.
Fortunately, Dierdorf was good enough in the Michigan Wolverines’ eyes.
Wolverines head football coach Bump Elliott recruited Dierdorf and eventually convinced him to suit up in Michigan maize and blue.
To Dierdorf’s astonishment, he would cross paths with Schembechler and Hanlin – the two men he eluded – in Ann Arbor, MI in 1969.
College Days with the Michigan Wolverines
Dan Dierdorf attended the University of Michigan from 1967 to 1970. Dierdorf, an unheralded recruit from Ohio, evolved into one of the best offensive linemen in college football in the mid-to-late 1960s.
Dierdorf had come a long way. He became the Wolverines’ starting right tackle beginning in the 1968 NCAA season.
When Dierdorf entered his junior year at Ann Arbor, MI in 1969, he never thought he’d run into new Wolverines head football coach Bo Schembechler – the same man he tried to avoid when he was coaching the Miami RedHawks two years earlier.
“Two years later, that was the lesson,” Dierdorf told The Detroit News‘ Angelique S. Chengelis in the fall of 2016. “The world was a smaller place than I knew.”
— Maize & Blue Nation (@MaizeBlueNation) June 23, 2016
Schembechler, who Dierdorf initially thought was a lunatic, became an important father figure to the Wolverines’ junior offensive lineman in the ensuing years.
Under Schembechler’s guidance, Dierdorf blossomed into a Second-Team All-American as a junior and a Consensus All-American as a senior.
The two men eventually became golf buddies for many years. Dierdorf told Chengelis that Schembechler “was the worst golfer in the world.”
When Dan Dierdorf became a prominent figure in the sports broadcasting industry for four decades, he hung two pictures of Schembechler on his office walls.
One of those framed photos showed Schembechler and Dierdorf holding a cleat. The former scrawled a dedication on the picture which read, “Dan, to the best I ever coached, and also the ugliest. – Bo Schembechler.”
The Wolverines had a combined 29-10 win-loss record in Dan Dierdorf’s four years at Ann Arbor, MI from 1967 to 1970. Michigan won the Big Ten title and made a Rose Bowl appearance in his junior year in 1969.
When Dan Dierdorf entered the National Football League in 1971, he became an integral part of a St. Louis Cardinals team under the leadership of legendary head coach Don Coryell.
Pro Football Career
The St. Louis Cardinals (now known as the Arizona Cardinals) made Dan Dierdorf the 43rd overall selection of the 1971 NFL Draft.
According to Dierdorf’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 1996, his first NFL game was against the Chicago Bears in the summer of 1971.
Dierdorf had just finished playing in the College All-Star Game. He suited up for the scrimmage game against Chicago in Rencalere, IN on just two hours of sleep.
In the game’s first play, Cardinals free safety Larry Wilson pulverized one of the Bears’ receivers. When St. Louis took over on offense, Chicago middle linebacker Dick Butkus promptly returned the favor.
Butkus knocked one of the Cardinals’ running backs unconscious. When Butkus yelled and warned not to encroach on his territory, Dierdorf thought he was yelling at the running back. It turned out Butkus was yelling at him, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Right tackle Dierdorf became firmly entrenched in a St. Louis offensive line featuring left tackle Roger Finney, left guard Bob Young, center Tom Banks, and right guard Conrad Dobler. The group became known collectively as “The Great Wall of St. Louis.”
“We were one of the great offensive lines that ever walked on the field in the National Football League and we are very, very proud of it,” Dierdorf said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in 1996.
Dierdorf saw time at guard and tackle from 1971 until 1972. He settled in at right tackle in 1973 and wreaked havoc on edge rushers for the next nine seasons.
Dierdorf’s position switch coincided with Don Coryell’s first season as the St. Louis Cardinals’ head coach. His predecessor, Bob Hollway, averaged just four wins per season as Cardinals head coach from 1971 to 1972.
Worse, the Cardinals had not made the postseason in twenty-four of the past twenty-five seasons. Since winning the NFL Championship as the Chicago Cardinals in 1947, the team fell on hard times for almost three decades.
Coryell, whose “Air Coryell” passing offense revolutionized pro football in the mid-1970s, changed all that. The Cardinals’ staunch offensive line protected quarterback Jim Hart, who averaged roughly 2,600 passing yards from 1974 to 1976.
Dierdorf’s claim that St. Louis’ offensive line was one of the best in pro football history was legitimate. That group allowed the fewest number of sacks in the NFC for five consecutive years in the 1970s, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Dierdorf and Co. were at their best in the 1975 NFL season. They allowed just 8.0 sacks in fourteen games – a league record at the time.
The Cardinals enjoyed their best stretch in franchise history since moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960. They averaged ten wins per season and won two division titles from 1974 to 1976.
Regrettably, St. Louis could not advance past the NFC Divisional Round during those memorable two years.
During the pinnacle of Dierdorf’s legendary pro football career, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) selected him as the league’s best blocker from 1976 to 1978.
Dierdorf was also a durable offensive lineman. He missed a combined four games through his first seasons in the pro football ranks.
Unfortunately, a dislocated left knee forced Dierdorf to sit out all but two of the Cardinals’ sixteen games in 1979.
Sadly, Dan’s father John passed away in 1981 – the former’s eleventh season in the National Football League.
According to the Los Angeles Times, John Dierdorf had circulatory issues and took some laboratory tests in 1981. He developed an allergic response to a dye from an injection. He passed away just three hours later. John Dierdorf was 68 years old.
Due to personnel issues, the Cardinals badly needed a veteran presence at center in the 1982 NFL campaign. Cardinals head coach Jim Hanifan asked Dierdorf if he could pick up the slack. The latter selflessly agreed.
Dierdorf had no issues settling at center for the next two seasons. He held his own against bigger nose tackles in opposing 3-4 defensive schemes.
Dierdorf recalled former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw introducing his center, Mike Webster, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Bradshaw, who was Webster’s presenter, fondly told the crowd it would have been thrilling to place his hands under his center’s buttocks one last time.
For his part, Dierdorf couldn’t fathom doing that to his St. Louis Cardinals quarterback, Jim Hart.
“If Terry wants to keep that to himself, that’s, uh, fine with me,” Dierdorf mentioned in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in 1996.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals regressed in Dierdorf’s last six years in the National Football League. Since Don Coryell left to become the head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 1978, St. Louis averaged just six wins per year until 1983.
The Cardinals made just one postseason appearance during the strike-shortened 1982 NFL campaign. They lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Wild Card Game in blowout fashion, 41-16.
Dan Dierdorf retired following the 1983 NFL season. He earned six Pro Bowl and five First-Team All-Pro selections in his thirteen-year pro football career.
Dan Dierdorf has a son, Dan, and a daughter Kristen, with his first wife. He and his second wife Debbie have two daughters: Dana and Katie. They currently reside in the St. Louis, MO area.
Sadly, Dierdorf’s daughter Kelly passed away in her crib due to sudden infant death syndrome when she was just two months old in early 1985, per the Los Angeles Times.
Dan Dierdorf ventured into a legendary sports broadcasting career after he retired from the National Football League.
Dierdorf and St. Louis Cardinals baseball radio play-by-play man Jack Buck were co-workers at St. Louis radio station KMOX. Dierdorf told Stewart in 1996 that Buck served as his mentor when he broke into the sports media field.
Dierdorf also worked with another iconic sports broadcaster, Bob Costas, during his days at KMOX. The two were neighbors in St. Louis and eventually became close friends.
Aside from working St. Louis Cardinals football games, Dierdorf expanded his repertoire to Missouri Tigers college football and St. Louis Blues hockey from 1984 to 1985.
CBS hired Dierdorf as an NFL play-by-play announcer in the fall of 1985. The network paired Dierdorf with analyst and former Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins tight end Jean Fugett.
1985: Dan Dierdorf doing PLAY-BY-PLAY for CBS (I believe this was his only season in that capacity) alongside another former player, Jean Fugett. pic.twitter.com/CbSD2sP8lP
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) July 23, 2019
Dierdorf defied the odds and earned the position despite not having any prior network television experience.
Dierdorf joined the duo of Frank Gifford and Al Michaels on ABC Monday Night Football in the spring of 1987. Dierdorf remained part of the program for the next twelve years.
Dierdorf continued showing his versatility as a sports commentator during his time with ABC. He worked several title bouts in boxing, the 1988 Winter Olympics, and College Football on ABC games.
As Dan Dierdorf gained more experience in sports media, he never wanted to hog the limelight. He told the Los Angeles Times in 1990 that he and his family would have moved to New York or L.A. had that been the case. They happily settled in smaller St. Louis, MO.
Dan Dierdorf became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1996. Jim Hanifan, his offensive line coach and head coach with the St. Louis Cardinals, presented him.
Part of Dierdorf’s enshrinement speech reads:
“I’m proud to join Marion Motley and and Alan Page and Lenny Dawson and Paul Brown to become the fifth person from Stark County that enters this hallowed Hall.”
When Hanifan introduced Dierdorf, he mentioned the best compliment a coach can ever give a player is using their style of play as a benchmark for the next generation of gridiron warriors.
Hanifan used film of Dierdorf whenever he taught younger offensive linemen how to play the right tackle position in subsequent years. Hanifan marveled at Dierdorf’s ability to throw a pass rusher off the line of scrimmage. His future players shared the same sentiment.
Hanifan also paid Dierdorf the ultimate compliment. He thought he belonged in the same stratosphere as Hall of Famers Forrest Gregg, Mel Hein, Bulldog Turner, Mel Hein, Ray Nitschke, Deacon Jones, and Willie Lanier.
Before Dierdorf’s enshrinement in Canton, he went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an adolescent for ten straight years. When he became a famous broadcaster, that trend continued.
He worked the enshrinement ceremonies in the decade leading up to his induction in 1996. By his estimate, his enshrinement marked the 20th time he had been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dierdorf earned an estimated $1.75 million per year during his tenure with ABC. When the network didn’t dangle a big contract in February 1999, he decided his time was up.
“I wouldn’t make this a financial issue,” Dierdorf told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dan Caesar. “It just reached a stage they wanted to go one direction and I’ll go another.”
Dierdorf re-joined CBS several weeks after he left ABC, returning to the network that hired him to work as an NFL broadcaster in 1985.
CBS assigned Dierdorf to a two-man booth for Sunday football games that also included Verne Lundquist.
Dierdorf told The Associated Press that working football games on Monday required fewer technical aspects. On the other hand, Sunday broadcasts prompted him to discuss more football basics with his television audience.
Dierdorf re-joined CBS on an annual salary of $1 million – a significant pay cut from his earnings at ABC. Despite the huge disparity, CBS officials convinced him signing with them was a good career move on his part.
…also on this day in 2007, Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf called the Colts-Ravens AFC Playoff game. pic.twitter.com/YAaWVjuy9j
— Announcer Database (@SAnnouncer_DB) January 13, 2015
Dierdorf worked with several big-name sports media personalities such as Dick Enberg, Kevin Harlan, Ian Eagle, Todd Blackledge, and Greg Gumbel during his second tour of duty at CBS.
Dierdorf covered NFL football, college football, and U.S. Open tennis on CBS from 1999 to 2013.
“For 43 NFL seasons Dan Dierdorf has been a consummate professional both on the field and in the broadcast booth,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said when Dierdorf announced his plans to step down following the 2013 NFL campaign.
Following back surgery and two hip surgeries, Dan Dierdorf thought he was going to settle happily into retirement. He told Steve Kornacki of the Michigan Wolverines’ official athletics website in the fall of 2014 that travel had become more difficult after 30 years in the business. It was time to set his microphone off to the side – or so he thought.
However, his former Michigan Wolverines teammate and University of Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon rang him up. Dierdorf was a senior when Brandon was a freshman in the 1970 NCAA season.
Brandon asked Dierdorf to become a color analyst for Michigan Wolverines football games beginning in the 2014 NCAA season following Frank Beckmann’s departure.
Thank you to all the great Michigan fans for following me and listening to me and my cohort, Dan Dierdorf for the games this season. You are appreciated!! #goblue #michiganfootball #learfield #citrusbowl pic.twitter.com/iioMLsOf3Q
— Jim Brandstatter (@jimbrandstatter) January 1, 2020
Dierdorf worked with his former college backup Jim Brandstatter in that capacity. The two had forged a lifelong friendship when Dierdorf was a 19-year-old offensive lineman at Michigan, per MGoBlue.com.
Both Dierdorf and Brandstatter retired following the 2021 NCAA season.
Dan Dierdorf is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor, University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor, Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame awarded its Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award to Dierdorf in 2008 for his invaluable contributions to both media platforms.
“I love football,” Dierdorf told The Petoskey News-Review’s James Gensterblum in the summer of 2017. “I owe so much to the game of football and it’s been such a huge part of my life.”