Willie Pless, the 14th Kansas University football player inducted into the Ring of Honor, earned it largely because he was the leading tackler in school history.
What made Pless, honored at halftime of KU's 52-7 victory over Central Michigan, such a superior tackler?
"First, I think I was just blessed with God-given talent, God-given skills, things I didn't have to think about," Pless said. "I just reacted. I think the thing too I'm really happy to say is I was more determined to make the plays. I was more determined to get good grades. I wasn't a very smart student, but I got some pretty good grades. It's just that determination, and I had that determination and that desire to go do the things that people didn't think I could do. I think that set me apart from everybody else."
What were the God-given skills?
"To be able to see the entire field. Some guys read from the offensive lineman to the running back," said Pless, who retired as the Canadian Football League's leading tackler in 1999. "I could see the whole line, I could see both backs, no matter where they were at. I just had great peripheral vision, and I watched enough game film. I know exactly what's going to happen. If I see a quarterback doing a certain thing a second time, the third time he does it no matter what part of the game it's in, I'm going to call that play out."
Pless' first agent as a professional football player was Jim Fender, a former KU football player who now is an insurance agent in Lawrence. He was among many Pless friends in attendance Saturday.
"They wanted to put me at a strong safety position," Pless said of the NFL's interest in him. "That's way out of my comfort zone. I felt at that time I would have just been there, and my body would have gotten eaten up, and I would have been out there in la-la land. I called Jim Fender, and he said, 'Willie, Canada will give you a shot at linebacker.' There was no more question. There was no more I want to hear about the NFL. I'm going to Canada. I was a linebacker. I was born to play that position. To put me somewhere else it just wouldn't have worked."
Pless has the brains, charisma and work ethic that would come in handy as a football coach, yet he said he never considered that profession.
"I played 14 years in the CFL, and I told my wife when I'm done playing football I'm going to be done with football," Pless said. "No coaching, or anything dealing with football I won't have any part of it. It took so much of my time away from the family as a player. As a coach you're going to spend even more time because now you have to prepare your players to be ready for the game."
Pless was accompanied onto the field by his wife and three daughters. More than 40 family members and friends came in from out of town for the ceremony.
He said it brought a tear to his eye when his name was unveiled on the north end of the bowl, next to that of Gale Sayers.
"I was hoping someone would have broken the (career tackles) record by now," Pless said. "Then again, when you look at it, when I played with the Jayhawks (1982-85), our defense spent a lot of time on the field. I'd like to see someone break the record, but I don't want the defense to spend that much time on the field."