[Editor’s note: This column was submitted to us by Adam Schefter, long-time friend of the site and editor of The Class of Football, available today in bookstores and online.]
For all the points he scored during his illustrious career, Michael Irvin never scored as many as he did Aug. 4, 2007, the night he delivered his Hall-of-Fame induction speech.
Irvin’s speech turned out to be a sermon, with the former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver using the podium as his pulpit.
He pleaded for redemption. He implored husbands to be better to their wives, fathers to be better to their sons, people to be better to their fellow man.
The speech was moving and memorable, inspirational and motivational. Nobody — not Joel Osteen, not Billy Graham, not any preacher — had delivered a speech that resonated any more with his particular congregation.
Later, Irvin would receive telephone calls or text messages from, amongst others, NBA legend Charles Barkley, actress Vivica A. Fox, comedian Chris Rock and NBA standout Kenyon Martin.
A business acquaintance of Irvin’s even texted him that he had been contemplating suicide but, after hearing the speech, drove to church instead. Irvin saved that man and inspired others.
His words also triggered other thoughts.
In the hours after Irvin’s speech, I was jolted awake at 4:00 a.m., as if an alarm suddenly had gone off in my mind.
It struck me that Irvin’s speech, in the heart of Canton, in the city in which football was founded, was only one of many.
Since the Pro Football Hall of Fame was created in 1963, the greatest 250 or so figures in football history, in the most popular sport in our country, each had been asked to deliver a speech at the penultimate moment of his career. Some talked about football, others family, many faith. The messages were alternately inspirational and motivational, historical and philosophical.
Each reflected on what it took to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Each thanked the people that helped him get there. Some provided a breath of philosophy while others provided a sense of history. Some delivered a motivational message while others delivered an inspirational plea. The passion came from the Hall of Famers’ soul and often leaked out of their eyes, the strongest men in sports reduced to wiping away their tears the way Irvin did that night.
Each had produced words for winning.
The finest football players in history — men ranging from Packers quarterback Bart Starr to Rams defensive end Deacon Jones to Jets quarterback Joe Namath to Bears running back Gale Sayers to Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor to 49ers quarterback Joe Montana to Broncos quarterback John Elway to Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman all the way to Irvin — each had left fans with one final memory.
Broken down, it was each one’s final performance in a football-stadium, a carefully-planned, well-thought-out, heartfelt speech that helped express what made each successful.
Problem was, once the words were spoken, they seemed to vanish, forgotten for time. But Irvin’s speech sparked a thought in one person that led to a telephone call to another person to see if there were transcripts of the Hall-of-Fame speeches.
Sure enough — improbably, impossibly, incredibly – there were. The fine folks that work at the Hall had been transcribing every word ever uttered at each induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame. Had it not been for them, and their efforts, many of the words from many of the speeches would have been forgotten.
Not only were did they record the enshrines’ speeches, but they also recorded the presenter’s — men such as former Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes, former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson and Penn State coach Joe Paterno, and a woman named Marie Lombardi, the widow of the most famous football coach ever to patrol the sideline.
Someone at the Hall of Fame photocopied 381 double-sided sheets and 105 more single-sided sheets of speeches from every Hall of Famer and every one of his presenters. They mailed them out to me, in a Federal Express box. Opening the box and pulling out its contents was like uncovering old family photos.
Those words were read through, edited down, and compiled in the new book, The Class of Football — Words of Hard-Earned Wisdom From Legends of the Gridiron.
To me, every young player and coach should read it. Every old player and coach should read it. Everyone who follows football and those who don’t would find something in it.
It’s little of my writing. It’s the words from the most famous figures in football history.
They’re The Class of Football.