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Gold Jacket Spotlight: Joe DeLamielleure’s journey from blue collar to Bronzed Bust

“Joe, can you please get Table 5 more salt?”

Joe DeLamielleure, a 13-year NFL veteran who carries six Pro Bowl selections, six All-Pro selections and a seat at the immaculate roundtable of the Pro Football Hall of Fame among many other accolades, grew up hearing this question daily from his father. 

When most people hear the name Joe DeLamielleure, they think of the rugged performer who bulldozed defensive lines on his road to Canton. He prefers telling people stories from his days before becoming a polished Hall of Famer.

Born and raised in Detroit, DeLamielleure and his family define “blue collar.”

Alphonse DeLamielleure, Joe’s father, owned and worked a restaurant seven days a week. Joe, who forwent attending kindergarten under his father’s advisement, frequently helped at the restaurant in his early years, mainly refilling salt and pepper shakers. 

“I wanted to go to kindergarten like every other kid in the neighborhood,” Joe said in a recent visit to Canton. “My father said, ‘What are you going to kindergarten for? To color books when you’re 20? Get the hell out here and work at the bar with me.’”

On his high school football team, Joe played both offense and defense due to a shortage of players. He eventually would earn the title “60-Minute Performer” not only because of his relentless play, but also because he played every minute of his games. 

Joe credits his ruggedness to his blue-collar upbringing. 

“My mother taught me teamwork and how to pray – two very important things,” Joe proclaimed in his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech. As the youngest son of 10 kids in his family, Joe also thanked his older brothers for “roughing him up” and into a tough football player.

“I slept with two of my brothers, and I was a bed-wetter. They beat the hell out of me,” he said with a laugh in an interview. 

Joe took his “brotherly love” and blue-collar mentality to Michigan State, earning a starting spot on the Spartans’ offensive line from 1970 to 1972. He capped his impressive college career by being selected in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. 

Nowadays, people often label the Bills as a blue-collar, high-grit, down-to-earth team. No doubt, Joe contributed to that association. Despite facing many hardships, such as failing his initial rookie physical with the Bills, he kept his head high.

A team physician mistakenly diagnosed Joe with a heart condition.

“The only thing different about Joe’s heart,” proclaimed his Hall of Fame presenter, Larry Felser, “is that it came in size ‘huge.’”

In addition to keeping his head high, Joe also kept his hands high on his blocks, which contributed to the Bills leading the league in rushing offense from 1973 to 1977. With Joe, the Bills’ offensive line earned their iconic nickname “The Electric Company,” which reflected their ability to “turn The Juice loose” in Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson. 

Joe played 13 seasons in the NFL – eight with Buffalo and five with Cleveland following a trade – a number that repeatedly turns up on his resume and one he embraced in true blue-collar fashion.

He signed his rookie contract on a Friday the 13th, despite the Bills wanting to date the contract for another day. He had 13 players on his high school varsity football team. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 13 years after he retired and was the 13th lineman to accomplish that feat. To make matters more intriguing, the news release announcing his election to the Hall was released at 3:13 p.m.

In 2013, he waked 213 miles from Orchard Park, N.Y., to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, to raise awareness for a children’s charity. 

Joe initial reason for not worrying about a No. 13 jinx: “I said I have 13 letters in my last name.”

“I hope it’s not the year 2013 that I die,” chuckled the wry DeLamielleure while fielding a question regarding the number 13 more than a decade ago. That year came and went,, and Joe still roams Planet Earth.

Although he won’t live forever, his Bronzed Bust will last in Canton, telling his blue-collar story for generations to come.

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