The journey has been long and filled with many memorable moments for Warren native Paul Warfield.
Tonight at 6, approximately 54 years after Warfield began his senior season as a halfback at Warren G. Harding High School, the NFL Hall of Famer will return home for an event to memorialize his career and life for generations to come.
"The Paul Warfield Project: A Hometown Tribute for a Hometown Icon" will begin at 6 p.m. with a dedication ceremony that will be highlighted by the unveiling of a life-sized statue that will sit behind the home stands at Mollenkopf Stadium. Warfield, who was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, admits that the moment of the unveiling will be emotional.
"This is a great, great honor," Warfield said. "I'm looking forward to it, and I certainly want to share it with the people in the area that were so important to me in terms of establishing a future for me."
Warfield had two stints with the Cleveland Browns (1964-69 and 1976-77), playing receiver on the 1964 team that won the NFL Championship. He spent five seasons with the Miami Dolphins (1970-74), participating on back-to-back Super Bowl winning teams in 1972 and '73.
Warfield was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Thirty years later he's receiving an honor that will have a special place in his heart.
"It is significant," he said. "I use the term monumental. It certainly ranks with that (the Hall of Fame). I got my start in Warren. There were so many people that supported me and inspired me and provided the opportunity for me.
"I didn't know what was ahead and if all these things were going to happen. First of all, it was people that were willing to spend the time with me, to nurture me to support and encourage me. I don't think one can ever look away from that."
In addition to the bronze statue that was sculpted by Peter Pakalski of Nashotah, Wis., the display will include double-sided granite panels chronicling Warfield's career. It began at Turner Junior High School and started to take form at Harding. He then attended the Ohio State University, where his skills as a halfback attracted the interest of the NFL. He was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Browns, who immediately converted him to receiver.
Warfield, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, finished his NFL career with 427 receptions for 8,565 and 85 touchdowns. He averaged an incredible 20.1 yards per reception.
It's hard to imagine that Warfield wasn't certain he wanted to play football when attending Harry B. Turner Junior High School.
"I don't know why, but (my coach) used to call me his ace," Warfield said.
Many friends and family members will join Warfield for the occasion. He wants to make sure each person receives proper recognition.
"A lot of emotions that I suspect I will feel at that time," he said. "It's hard for me to separate the fact that there are so many people, and I want to identify all of those. Many of them will be there. Some of them are no longer with us.
"It's important that those names be mentioned because I don't believe that all this would have happened if not for those people being in the right place at the right time."