What a fun, eclectic class the Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomed on Saturday night.
In Canton, Ohio, the seven new inductees were officially enshrined with each giving a speech that mentioned teammates, friends, family, coaches, and their journeys in general. There were some touching moments and some serious ones. Here are the highlights from each of the seven speeches (to read about each new Hall of Famer’s greatest moment, click on the links below):
Easley was first to speak at the ceremony. Easley often mentioned his religious faith, and how grateful he was to to “Hall of Famer No. 306.” The most touching part of his speech came when he talked about his parents: his mother, who fell ill last week and couldn’t attend Saturday’s ceremony, and her support when he left his home in Virginia for UCLA, and his late father. Easley got serious near the end of his speech and said he had a message that was important to him: “Black lives do matter,” Easley said. “And all lives matter, too. But the carnage affecting young black men today, from random violence to police shootings across this nation, has to stop.” A little later he said his teleprompter cut off, so he finished his speech.
Memorable quote: “You see, this joy I have tonight, the world didn’t give it to me, and the world sure can’t take it away.”
Early in his speech Taylor thanked his mother Georgia, who he said was the toughest person he ever met. He continued talking about a tough upbringing and Georgia Taylor’s guidance while she wiped away tears. Taylor broke down crying himself when talking about his agent and friend Gary Wichard, who died in 2011, and said Wichard was the father he never had. He singled out many teammates, and also Alonzo Mourning, the former Miami Heat star who was in Canton. He also joked to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder that he “stole a lot of money” from him after not playing well in his one Washington season. Near the end of his speech he had another emotional moment, telling his kids that he hoped he’d be remembered as “a Hall of Fame dad.”
Memorable quote: “After about the fifth day of training camp my rookie year, between the two-a-days, the heat and humidity, Jimmy [Johnson, his first coach], I went back to my room and called my mom and said, ‘You know what mom? I don’t know if this NFL thing is for me.’ I was that beaten down after five days. She said, ‘Well you can come home and get a job or go to the military. Or you can get your butt to bed and get back to practice.’ So coach, you almost made me quit, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad you kept pushing me and forced me to grow and become the player I am.”
The NFL’s all-time leading scorer began his speech with: “Good evening Canton, Ohio. Good morning, Denmark,” a nod to where he was born. He said he planned to spend less than a year in the United States as a foreign exchange student, but he was asked if he could kick for Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. He told a funny story about his first practice playing American football, and how players “blocked my view of those funny-looking posts sticking up in the air.” And when the ball was snapped back he thought, “Man, the ball is not round.” He said he made his first kick and it changed his life.
Memorable quote: “I’ve learned with age comes wisdom and perspective. I know now that quality life is all about purposeful living with people you love and respect. The focus is on ‘we,’ and not ‘me.’ This I learned from football.”
Davis’ speech focused on his hard road to the NFL. As the youngest of six boys, he said he wanted to prove his toughness to his dad, and that’s part of what drew him to football. Davis talked about how he started getting in trouble after his dad died when he was 12, and he was a “child in crisis.” He said he had a shotgun pointed at him at 14, and was lucky to escape alive. He vowed then to get on a better path. He ended up at Long Beach St., whose football program folded when he was there. He transferred to Georgia (and wondered if he’d ever play again after after a hamstring injury), became a sixth-round pick of the Broncos, and ultimately became a Super Bowl MVP, league MVP and Hall of Famer. During his speech was one of the best moments of the night, when Davis was talking to his young sons, and one wanted to show everyone he got Sour Patch Kids candy, and the other made a face for the camera.
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Memorable quote: “I had one of my worst practices prior to the game [Davis’ first preseason game his rookie year, which was in Tokyo], I thought I had blown my chance of making the team, so I decided to quit. Can you imagine that? I called the front desk at the hotel and arranged for a flight home, but because I couldn’t speak Japanese, we couldn’t communicate, so I couldn’t leave.”
Near the end of Tomlinson’s speech he talked about his great-great-great grandfather, who was a slave, and he made inspiring comments about improving race relations and everyone getting along. Those comments drew two standing ovations. It was a very powerful moment.
Before that, Tomlinson told a touching story about wanting to go former Cowboys Jay Novacek’s football camp when he was 12 years old to meet his idol Emmitt Smith. His mother told him it would be too much money, but weeks later she told him she saved up the money so he could go. Tomlinson spoke of getting a handoff from Smith at the camp, and later Smith ran into him – literally, Tomlinson said Smith almost knocked him over – and he was awestruck. On Saturday, with Smith behind him with the rest of the Hall of Famers, Tomlinson said, “Because of two astonishing moments with my idol, a 12-year-old kid who entered camp lacking in self confidence as an athlete, left on top of the world feeling he could truly fulfill his dream of playing in the National Football League.”
Memorable quote: “In sports, we’re evaluated on our desire, ability and we’re given a chance to compete. America is the land of opportunity. Let’s not slam the door on those who may look or sound different than us. Rather, let’s open it wide for those who believe in themselves, that anything is possible.”
Jones started his (long) speech by recalling his own football days at the University of Arkansas, working up from 13th string to being a starter on a national championship team. Football had a hold of him, and buying the Cowboys was a way for him to have a career in the sport. He said it was risky to buy the Cowboys – he said he had some business failures before then – but “it was time to put up or shut up.” It was unclear how Jones would address Jimmy Johnson in his speech. Johnson happened to be on stage because he presented Jason Taylor earlier in the evening. Jones and Johnson had a messy breakup after winning a couple Super Bowls. Jones singled out Johnson as he talked about hiring him: “Jimmy, it was a great decision. You were a great teammate. You were a great partner. Contrary to popular belief, we worked so well together for five years and restored the Cowboys’ credibility with our fans … I thank you.” Johnson gave a thumbs up, and then cheered. Later, Jones cracked a joke about when he fired Johnson: “After Jimmy screwed up and we parted ways … ” Johnson smiled and raised his hands. Shortly after that, Jones called Johnson a genius. Jones also explained his gold sneakers: They were sent from Nike founder Phil Knight to match his gold jacket.
Memorable quote: “That’s football. Maybe it’s someone who did play football. Someone who was scared every single day of my life, his business life, but football taught you to not show it and go on. Michael Irvin taught me the art of smiling in the face of adversity. The rougher it was, the harder he laughed. He was a football player. Frank Broyles taught me the games were won in the fourth quarter. He was a football coach. I did see things sometimes against the grain and sometimes it rubbed people the wrong way.”
At one point during his speech Warner was talking about being on the bench for four years in college and asked the Hall of Famers on stage if any of them had spent a total of four years on the bench at any level. Nobody raised their hand. That sums up Warner’s crazy story. He talked about his unbelievable ride, from Northern Iowa to famously bagging groceries (he told a story of seeing Dan Marino on a Wheaties box in “aisle 7 at 3 a.m.” and how it motivated him to keep chasing his football dream) and stops in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before eventually authoring one of the greatest tales in sports history. One memorable moment came when Warner singled out Trent Green for his class. Warner talked about how Green helped him after Green suffered a knee injury, which allowed Warner the opportunity to start for the 1999 Rams. The Rams won a Super Bowl that season, with Warner winning NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
Memorable quote: “People say Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better. After this, they don’t have a chance.”
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