The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony is for the true diehards; those who really love the game. For that reason, it’s one of the most underrated football nights of the year.
Here are 13 moments I’ll remember from this year’s festivities, in chronological order.
1. The entire Steelers team showed up to watch defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau get inducted. “That’s about the highest compliment I’ve ever had paid to me in my life,” LeBeau said.
2. LeBeau, at 72, is a complex guy. That came across during a warm, laid-back speech. But he ended it with a message that will ring true to my parents, about to hit their seventies.
“Life is for living folks,” LeBeau said. “Don’t let a number be anything other than a number. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too old to this or too old to do that. Stay in life. Life is a gift. It’s a joy. Don’t drop out of it. Don’t let someone else tell you, don’t let your mind tell you.”
Since LeBeau turned 65, he’s won two Super Bowls, which helped push him into the Hall of Fame.
3. Vikings defensive tackle John Randle was known for his big mouth on the field, but he had the shortest acceptance speech in memory. It was heartfelt, effective, and four minutes long.
That’s only 24 minutes less than Chris Berman’s speech on Friday when Berman accepted the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award on Friday night.
4. The original hog Russ Grimm talked about he was convinced to play on the offensive line. “There’s no greater feeling than moving a man from point A to point B against his will.
5. Some of the Steelers offensive lineman in attendance hung around after LeBeau’s speech to put on Grimm’s jersey. Grimm was their offensive line coach before he moved with Ken Whisenhunt to Arizona.
6. Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson got inspiration from a surprising source.
“What enticed me to really try to play football was you come to Pahokee,
they have on the sign, Welcome to the home of Mel Tillis. He was a
country singer. . . . I wanted my name on that sign. I tell
you what, I wasn’t going to do nothing to try to mess my career up to
keep my name off of that sign.”
7. Jackson also had a timely warning to NFL owners and players.
“We need to keep football going. Can’t let football get away. I mean
you can get where the product can be so good, you can lose sight and let
it get away.”
8. Jerry Rice struggled with some of his speech, but he was the most revealing of any speaker. He said the fear of failure fueled his career. That fear, insecurity, and not wanting to disappoint his coaches pushed him. He said he always focused on the one pass he didn’t catch. He was obsessed with perfection.
9. Rice said: “If I have a single regret, I never
took the time to enjoy it.”
To end his speech, with no touchdowns left to catch, he took a moment to inhale and take it all in. In typical fashion, the moment was brief.
10. Vice President Joe Biden, of all people, helped to introduce Broncos running back Floyd Little. They both went to Syracuse and Biden has always been a big supporter.
11. Little was sandwiched between Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, but his speech was the most passionate of the night.
12. Amazingly, Smith topped Little’s performance. The author of “Debacled” and “Blowed up” delivered a stirring speech. It was 24 minutes long, easily the longest of the night, but didn’t drag on at all.
13. Emmitt was the only player to cry, starting when he talked to his former fullback to Daryl “Moose” Johnston.
“You took care of me — like you were taking care of your little
brother. Without you, I know today would not have been possible,” Smith said.
Smith had Johnston stand, like his other teammates. It was an affecting gesture, as was Smith’s long list of offensive lineman. (Although he didn’t mention the Arizona Cardinals once.)
The 2011 class has a tough act to follow.