Canton, OH — The stands at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium were packed for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio. There where seven new members inducted in front of 22,205 football fans.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame now has 318 members and this year’s class — which includes Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, and Brian Dawkins — is one of the strongest classes to date.
The stadium was visibly filled with mainly seas of Ravens and Eagles jerseys.
Former Houston Oilers’ linebacker Robert Brazile was the first player to be honored on the evening of Aug. 4 on a humid night in Ohio.
Brazile played for the Oilers from 1975 to 1984 and is a seven-time Pro Bowler, the 1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, along with many other impressive accolades. In his nine years in the league, he racked up 1,281 tackles, 48 sacks, and 13 interceptions.
His speech was mostly used to thank his family and teammates (especially those who are already in the Hall of Fame for paving the way for him, saying “…all of my dreams came true and after all these years, I’m at home.”
The second inductee was four-time Super Bowl winning executive Bobby Beathard, and despite being present at the event for the statue unveiling, he presented a pre-recorded speech after being recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He thanked his family, as well as the coaches and players that he’s worked with since he entered the league’s offices in 1963.
You’d think at 81-years-old Beathard would be the oldest inductee this year – but you’d be wrong.
Third on the docket was the former Green Bay Packer, Jerry Kramer, who is 82-years-old. It’s been 50 years since his last season playing in the NFL and his 18-minute speech was full of entertaining football stories for the ages.
He spoke about his Green Bay Packers team — famously coached by Vince Lombardi — and losing a game 56-0 against what was then the Baltimore Colts.
“They had a white colt that ran around the field every time they scored, and we damn near killed it,” said Kramer during his speech. Another highlight of Kramer’s speech? Admitting he had no idea where Green Bay was when he was first drafted.
But there’s no way he will ever forget now, as he’s the 13th member of Lombardi’s Packers team to enter the Hall of Fame.
Next up was Brian Urlacher, the 13-year Chicago Bears linebacker, and he didn’t leave a dry eye in the stadium (oh- and he’s also got hair now, but his bust didn’t). Although he was a tough guy on the field, ending his career with the most tackles in Bears’ history, he showed his softer side during his time on stage.
Emotional from the start, he broke down in tears when he talked about the support and love he has from his mother and his stepfather. He also shouted out his Bears teammates individually in the crowd, and fans wearing blue and orange were cheering loudly for each player.
“I have to thank the fans, I never got a chance to say goodbye,” said Urlacher of his hasty retirement, and how now he feels like he’s gotten closure. “The best fans in the world. Even when we stunk, they sat in their seats freezing their butts off… I loved going to work everyday for 13 years.”
And to end his speech and really get the Bears fans cheering, he was proud to say that he was joining Bears linebacker greats Connor, George, Butkus, Singletary and now, he was right there with them.
A mere seconds after Urlacher’s speech concluded, the Philadelphia fans — who made up approximately 40% of the crowd — began cheering loudly in anticipation of who was on stage next.
Although Brian Dawkins stands at just 6’0” in height, his presence is so much bigger.
“This wasn’t supposed to be me, this was not supposed to happen to Brian Dawkins,” he said. “I was called little this, little that and I got tired of that crap. I grew a chip on my shoulder.”
And it was that chip, he said, that helped him stay motivated and work harder every day. His passion for football and for life was felt in the stadium as he disclosed some personal stories.
“I had suicidal thoughts, I was actually planning the way I would kill myself so my wife would get the money,” he said with tears welling up in his eyes. “I have grown leaps and bounds because of the things I went through. And when I say went through, it means I made it to the other side. So for those who are going through things, know there is another side … Keep moving, keep pushing through.”
He also took time to shout out all the Eagles fans in attendance who had driven from Philadelphia and thanked them. And when he was done, they thanked him right back with an act of loyalty: 90% of the Eagles fans filed out of the stadium. They heard Dawkins, they didn’t need to hear anyone else and a ton of seats were left empty for the final two inductees.
Randy Moss took to the podium after unveiling his gold bust (which came with his famous cornrowed hair which no longer exists).
Although he focuses mainly on “faith, family, and football” in his speech, it was his tie that had people talking. His black tie had ten names engraved on it. Ten victims of police brutality, inlcuding Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Sandra Bland. All 10 individuals died during or because of police altercations.
Moss said this action was to show the families that have been affected by police violence that they’re not alone.
Ending with a simple but noble notion, “football is not who I am, football is what I do.”
Last but not least, was a 33-minute speech (yes, three minutes short of Brett Favre’s record) by former Baltimore Raven linebacker Ray Lewis. And at this point in the show, it was really just purple jerseys in the crowd sprinkled with a few leftover Eagles fans who didn’t leave already.
Unlike everyone before him, Lewis didn’t stand behind the podium and deliver his speech. He wore a Britney Spears-esque wireless microphone (he was the first person in the history of the Hall of Fame to do so) and moved around the stage in his purple tie and pants, wiping sweat from his forehead with a towel every few minutes.
Highlights of the long speech: him and Jonathan Ogden performing a choreographed “Squirrel Dance” on stage, the reactions of his kids when he stated that he still kisses them all on the mouth and when he shouted out Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps (who had tears in his eyes) for helping him represent Baltimore in the best way possible.
“Baltimore. Baltimore. Baltimore!” he chanted to get the crowd pumped up before addressing Phelps. “I call you one of my greatest friends, I appreciate you and what we’ve been doing for our city.”
Lewis ended his unscripted speech by asking this question to all the hall of famers on stage: “how do we turn our legend into legacy?” “How can [we] come together? The answer is simple. The answer is love,” Lewis said.
Terrell Owens was also inducted in the Hall of Fame but decided to skip the ceremony and instead delivered a speech at his alma mater, the University of Chattanooga.