TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was a momentous occasion for Joe Gibbs, as the soft-spoken Southern gentleman was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday for his coaching deeds with the Washington Redskins -- including the unprecedented feat of winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.
Gibbs led the way in the election to the sport's highest honor. Four former players will join him in the class of 1996: tackle Dan Dierdorf of the St. Louis Cardinals; wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who played with the Houston Oilers, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers; defensive back Mel Renfro of the Dallas Cowboys; and offensive tackle Lou Creekmur of the Detroit Lions of the 1950s.
The five will be inducted into the Hall on July 27 in Canton, Ohio.
Upon being informed of the selection, Gibbs was typically gracious and unemotional. "I do cherish what has happened, but I had the chance to be with some great players and general
managers Bobby Beathard and Charley Casserly," he said.
Gibbs, whose winning percentage of .683 is surpassed by only Vince Lombardi and John Madden, had a bumpy debut with the Redskins in 1981, when his team lost its first five games. He said the rough start made him realize for the first time how much responsibility went with the position.
"I figured Bobby Beathard had his general manager's job on the line, that 12 assistant coaches had moved their families," he said.
Beathard and owner Jack Kent Cooke showed encouragement and patience, and it paid off when Gibbs settled in and, ultimately, took the Redskins to four Super Bowls, winning three with quarterbacks Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien.
Gibbs, who retired after the 1992 season, is involved with ownership of stock car and drag racing teams, plus analyzing football for NBC-TV. He said he doesn't expect to coach again.
"I can't picture myself getting back in, but I try not to say never," he said.
Dierdorf and Joiner were on teams in St. Louis and San Diego where Gibbs was an assistant coach before advancing to the Redskins.
"It'll be neat for me to go in with the same class as Dan and Charlie," Gibbs said.
Dierdorf, who played 13 seasons with the Cardinals, was the most effusive of the incoming Hall of Famers. In his eighth year of eligibility, Dierdorf is the second native of Canton to make it (the other is Alan Page).
"My mother still lives less than a mile away from the Hall of Fame," said Dierdorf, now a broadcaster for ABC's "Monday Night Football."
fTC "My dad took me there for the ground-breaking of the Hall of Fame, and I was in the crowd that saw commissioner Pete Rozelle turn the first spade of dirt. I don't want to sound presumptuous, but I doubt if any member of the Hall of Fame spent more time on those grounds."
Joiner played 18 seasons, a record for a wide receiver, finishing his career with 750 catches for 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns. attributed his longevity to strenuous off-season workouts that he began every February, five months before training camp.
A Grambling product and now the receivers coach for the Buffalo Bills, Joiner quickly named his presenter at the Hall of Fame -- his college coach, Eddie Robinson, the all-time leader in victories.
The lone senior nominee, Creekmur, 69, played from 1950 to 1959 and is the oldest of this year's lineup. He played 165 straight games and was a member of three NFL championship teams.
"I thought I'd make it if I lived to be 103," he said. "It's just the epitome, needless to say."
In 1957, when the Lions won the NFL title, Creekmur remembered making close to $15,000, including the regular schedule, a postseason playoff, a championship game and the Pro Bowl.
"But I was the happiest man in the world," said Creekmur, a pick of the veterans committee. "I put a down payment on a house and bought a luxury Buick car for $2,500."
Renfro was elected in his 14th year of eligibility. Had he gone 15 years without election, his chances then would have been determined by the veterans committee.
Renfro spent 14 seasons in the league as a cornerback and safety for Dallas. He was picked for the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons and had 52 interceptions in his career.
When it got down to final voting for a group that originally included 60 possibilities, the numbers were reduced to 15, then 10 and finally seven -- where Mike Haynes of the Oakland Raiders and Dwight Stephenson of the Miami Dolphins came up short.
Next year, Haynes and Stephenson will automatically be included among the finalists and won't have to go through any preliminary voting.
Among the other candidates who didn't make it were L. C. Greenwood, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Mike Webster, standouts on Pittsburgh Steelers teams that overwhelmed the NFL in the 1970s. Webster was the only first-year candidate on the 15-man ballot.
Besides Greenwood, two powerful and effective defensive ends, Jack Youngblood of the Los Angeles Rams and Carl Eller of the Minnesota Vikings, were passed over.
The Hall of Fame Board of Selectors includes 36 members of the media, one from each league team and five at-large members, plus the president of the Pro Football Writers' Association.