April 15, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Billy Shaw made memories at Georgia Tech but he never forgot where he came from.
This afternoon, Shaw will be honored by his hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi, receiving a special plaque as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance Company’s “Hometown Hall of FamersTM” program. The event will be held at Vicksburg High School (Carr Central, the high school he attended, has been closed for a few years).
“This is so much fun, to come back to your hometown, to be able to meet some of the people that were instrumental in your life, that molded and fixed your life, getting you ready for college,” said Shaw, 74, who started at left tackle for Georgia Tech during the 1959 and ’60 seasons before playing professionally. “I got the chance to go back to my hometown church, to see some of those people that molded my life when I was a real young person, up through my teenage years, it was breathtaking for me.”
Shaw knows how a Hometown Hero can create breathtaking moments. He recalled one that not only took his breath away, but his entire family’s. It also changed his life. It was the night that his “Hometown Hero,” George Morris, a Yellow Jacket and former Mississippi Mr. Football, paid him an unexpected visit, with a special guest in tow.
“I had no intention of going to Georgia Tech,” Shaw recalled, stating his preference for a Mississippi school, either Ole Miss or Mississippi State. “But one evening, at 6:00, we were sitting down to have dinner and there was a knock on the door. It was George Morris and Coach [Bobby] Dodd. They came in, they had dinner with us. Coach Dodd even said the blessing. After that one hour at the dinner table, my mother was won over and when your mother gets won over, you know you’re going to do whatever she says to do.”
Shaw was on his way to Atlanta to play for Coach Dodd and the Yellow Jackets.
“It’s 500 miles from Vicksburg, Miss., to Atlanta. There are a whole lot more red lights in Atlanta than there are in Vicksburg. So it was quite a shock. It was quite a journey for me to go from Vicksburg to Atlanta,” he said. “Coach Dodd was one of those kinds of people that recognized what was going on in a student-athlete’s life and he paid special attention to that. He was a lot more to us than just our coach.”
Shaw started his final two seasons at left tackle, earning All-SEC Third-Team honors in ’59, and Consensus All-Conference First-Team as a senior in ’60. After graduation he’d also become a consensus draft pick, getting drafted by both the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, who wanted to move the 6-2, 258-pounder to linebacker, and the AFL’s Buffalo Bills, who wanted him to anchor their offensive line.
Shaw recalled Dodd as a great influence on his decision and having tremendous foresight on the upstart league.
“I went to Coach Dodd and I asked, ‘What do I do?'” Shaw said. “In 1961, these were his words. ‘I would go to Buffalo because they want you to play as an offensive lineman and that is where your expertise is. The Cowboys want to play you at linebacker. Although I think you have the credentials to play linebacker, it will be a learning process and you will be better off at offensive line.’
“Secondly, the AFL was only one year old. He said, ‘There is room in the sports world for two leagues and eventually those two leagues will get together and you will have been a part of the history of the AFL,'” he added. “Ten years later that happened. That story alone tells you what kind of man he was.”
Shaw starred on Bills teams that won back-to-back AFL titles and went to the first AFL Championship Game, losing to Kansas City. He’d be First-Team All-AFL five straight years and Second-Team All-AFL three other times.
While he’d retire following the 1969 season, Shaw would not be forgotten. Georgia Tech inducted him into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 1979, joining Morris, who had been inducted in 1956. Two decades later, he’d gain entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making history, by being the first inductee to play his entire career in the AFL.
His induction would become a part of Pro Football Hall of Fame lore, as the “Billy Shaw Rule,” would become a part of all speeches.
“The Billy Shaw Rule is ‘Don’t forget to introduce your wife.’ I did that,” he said, with a laugh. “Patsy and I — we married when I was between my junior and senior year at Georgia Tech, so that was all of 53 years ago — she gets more ink every day than I do because of that.”
He remembers it like yesterday.
“Back when I got inducted, we had nine minutes to give our acceptance speech. On the podium they had a green light and a red light. When the red light came on, you had 30 seconds to end your speech,” he explained. “I was about three-quarters through when the red light came on. Now, in my notes, which I still have, the last part of my speech was to introduce my family, which was all there, three daughters, three sons-in-law, the whole deal. That red light came on and I panicked. I didn’t get to the last part. Boy, did I pay the price. But she was very forgiving.”
Patsy will be on hand today and is sure to be recognized. Shaw won’t forget anyone on this day, as he’ll be introduced by Gene Allen, his high school coach during his final year of high school, who helped direct him to Tech, and who Shaw regards as one of the three most influential people in his life (His father, “who was my best friend,” and Coach Dodd are the other two.
Shaw also recognize the people of Vicksburg, who he has never forgotten and never will.
“Some of them I haven’t seen in 50 years,” he said. “I come back occasionally to reunions and that type of thing. It’s fun to get back and to be with them.”