The place, the player and the person all formed the personality of the evening with Paul Warfield, the Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver whose 13 NFL years included seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.
While Packard Music Hall provided the framework, Warren’s native son provided the blueprint for success rooted in humble beginnings in his talk on Thursday as part of the “It All Started Here” Bicentennial Celebration Lecture Series.
It started with the Hall of Famer’s brief re-acquaintance session in a hallway with former players from Warren Harding High School.
“You look good this evening,” one said, to which Warfield responded, “I’m trying to stay that way.”
He told the group of about 10 men that, “Hopefully, some of these stories don’t sound too far-fetched because they’re real.”
Another remarked: “You’ve always done us proud,” which seemed to be the consensus of those present and later, when the 69-year-old Warfield — a 1960 Harding graduate — got on stage.
His hometown return was warmly received by an audience that absorbed the vivid recollections of childhood and adolescence.
Arriving in Warren a few days ago, Warfield drove around town, looking for familiar streets and landmarks.
In a soft voice, Warfield articulated the building blocks of personal peace.
“Coming back has special meaning because I grew spiritually and morally,” he said. “I flashed back to 1947 when I was strolling across the Mahoning Avenue Bridge on my first day of school with my older sister holding my hand. She protected her brother and fought a number of battles for me.”
He said that the First Street Elementary School where he learned his ABCs no longer exists, nor does the Turner Junior High building.
He reminisced about riding his bike in Perkins Park, where he also played little league, making the team as a 10-year-old at shortstop.
“After that, we played in Warren’s version of the World Series.”
He enumerated the names and nicknames of friends and stressed the importance of stability in his upbringing in a two-parent home with a Baptist church deacon as a father.
“We weren’t rich, but we had all the traditions of family,” he said.
Warfield said his high school coach, Gene Slaughter, didn’t tolerate dissent and misbehavior and teammates were shocked when a key player was dismissed from the team that eventually went 9-1 that season.
Warfield, who had a nickname of his own in pro circles: “Poetry in Motion” because of his graceful style, was a two-way player that included halfback on offense in high school before moving on to Ohio State where he was an outstanding receiver as well as a sprinter, jumper and hurdler in track.
Warfield said he had a tough decision to make when choosing his sport after high school.
“Baseball was a love through high school and I still had that option, but I didn’t want to go through the minor league system and all the levels. Plus, I felt I needed more discipline as a person and Woody Hayes made sure his players benefitted from every facet of the university.”
One of pro football’s 100 best players of all time and a two-time Super Bowl champion with Miami in 1972 and 1973, Warfield said that team sports uphold a tenet.
“The whole will succeed if everyone makes a contribution,” he said.