Forgotten No More: What Tom Flores To HOF Means To The NFL’s Hispanic Fans

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(SportsRadio 610) -- In life -- and especially sports -- fans want to see reflections of themselves.

They always have.

From Jackie Robinson to Yao Ming, Brandi Chastain to Simone Biles, whenever someone dares to break a barrier it can resonate for generations.

Except, notably, when it came to the expansive Hispanic presence in the NFL.

Sure, Hispanic players who undeniably were the best at their craft have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame – Anthony Munoz, Tony Gonzalez, Ted Hendricks and Steve Van Buren among them.

But Hispanic barrier-breakers, contributors who also had on-field Hall Of Fame resumes? When it came to acknowledgement and acclaim, the NFL has done more dragging of feet than placing on pedestals.

It’s been more pandering than sincere acknowledgement; more marketing gestures than connections.

The league certainly has given its enormous Hispanic fan base a few games in Mexico City and self-aggrandizing Hispanic Heritage Days across the league.

But compared to the feting and sincerity for barrier-breakers in other cultures, the league largely has fallen short.

That changed Tuesday afternoon.

The ultimate barrier-breaker, Tom Flores, in essence earned induction into the NFL Hall Of Fame. And not even the most enlightened NFL executive probably realizes what it really meant to millions of Hispanic fans.

It was long-overdue and as important a gesture by the league’s caretakers as any contrived Tejano halftime show or tailgating Fiesta.

For years, the league has gone to great lengths celebrating diversity, as well they should have. Just this week, in fact, headlines raved across the country when Jason Wright became the first African-American team president in NFL history. Names like Doug Williams, Tony Dungy and Ozzie Newsome roll off the tongue when NFL fans and writers think of NFL firsts: The first quarterback and head coach to win Super Bowls, and the league’s first black general manager.

Similarly etched in NFL history are names like Marlin Briscoe (first African-American NFL starting quarterback) and Fritz Pollard (first African-American NFL head coach).

But accolades and recognition were all but forgotten when it came to barrier-breaking Hispanics.

·      The first Hispanic team president in NFL history happened in 1989.

·      The first Hispanic general manager also happened in 1989.

·      The first Hispanic starting quarterback in pro football happened in 1960.

·      The first Hispanic Pro Bowl quarterback happened in 1966.

·      The first Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl happened in 1980.

In many instances, each of those barrier-breaking feats by themselves would be celebrated.

The difference here? Those barriers all were broken by the same man.

Tom Flores.

Flores also was the first Hispanic to win a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach – something only the legendary Mike Ditka has matched in league history.

And if it were only about on-field football accomplishments, Flores’ record stood shoulder-to-shoulder with giants as well.

He finished his career with a second Super Bowl championship, as well as more NFL wins than Bill Walsh and Jimmy Johnson and as many Super Bowl titles as Vince Lombardi.

When Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl in 1988, the publicity and acclaim it generated was beyond comprehension.

A few years back, when asked what questions he fielded when he became the first Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl, Flores said: “None.
Not one question that I can remember. I was aware of it and in the (Hispanic) communities I would visit and places I went, it was a big deal. It did not go unnoticed. Hispanics were aware of it. But that’s where it ended.”

Now, it will end in Canton, Ohio, after his nomination gets rubber-stamped and Flores, 83, dons the yellow blazer.

“There’s a sense of pride for what I did for Hispanics,” Flores told me a few years ago. “I became more aware of what it meant to Hispanic people as the years went by.

“But I don’t wear it on my lapel. I’m proud of it. But I’d rather be remembered as the first to get to the Super Bowl and win it. Al Davis knew he was hiring a minority, but he didn’t hire me because of that. He hired me because he thought I could win football games, and that’s why it means more.”

Finally, when Hispanic fans visit the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, they’ll see a barrier-breaker. They’ll see a reflection of themselves. And not a minute too soon.