- Rich Wilheim
2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Recap
The 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony started strong with a parade of legends taking their seats on the stage. Behind them were the busts that would be revealed as the night went on. Every gold jacket on the stage was earned with blood, sweat and tears and the brotherhood these men shared was evident. Chris Berman took the stage and despite his year filled with tragedy he delivered an opening speech as only he could. "Where would you rather be than right here... right now" Berman stated. This years Hall of Fame class took the stage and paid homage to Cortez Kennedy, Yale Lary and Dan Rooney.
Highlights of Kenny Easley played to show how he became “The Enforcer” of the Seattle Seahawks, being selected to the Pro Bowl five times and also the NFL All-Decade team. Easley took the stage, presented by his coach Tommy Rhodes. Easley started his speech by quoting the Bible and said, “Be anxious for nothing”. With Easley first being nominated for the Hall of Fame in 1997 he said he was anxious for nothing. Easley showed his selfless demeanor by using part of his speech to let the crowd know all of his fellow players who should be in the Hall of Fame in the upcoming years. According to Easley the athletes inducted this year could make a pretty good team, Jerry Jones agreed. Easley continued to show respect for his fellow Hall of Fame class by stating “Gentlemen, Gold Jackets I make this promise to each of you, I will forever uphold the dignity and pride of the men that wear and have worn this gold jacket before me”.
Easley quoted his mother when talking about his college days. She told him to “never look back”. Based on his playing style it is safe to say he followed those words. Easley wanted to settle the debate, who was better Kenny Easley or Ronnie Lott? Kenny Easley gave the crown to Ronnie Lott, there it’s settled, because Kenny said so. Easley had a very strong message, “Black lives matter and all lives matter too, but the carnage against young black men in this country has to stop. Easley ended his speech in comedic fashion by saying, “Blah blah blah blah blah blah” as his teleprompter cut out. Easley took his seat next to the former Hall of Fame inductees as the crowd applauded.
During commercial break, Ronnie Lott was interviewed and said that the debate with he and Kenny Easley is not settled. “His soul for football is much deeper than mine….He is the one guy I wanted to be” Lott said. The respect shown between these men is a sight to see.
Highlights of Jason Taylor were aired throughout the stadium. Jason Taylor took the stage with the help of Jimmy Johnson. Taylor started by pumping up the local crowd. Taylor greeted his new teammates and referred to the Hall of Fame as a “Team you can't be cut from, can't be traded from, team you can't even die from”. “Played fifteen seasons and the toughest person is right there” referring to his mother. Taylor described how he never met his father and stated that his mother played every role in his life.
“Football found me, football rescued me”. Taylor said he went from a lanky sixteen year old kid all the way to the University of Akron. “Football opened a whole world for me”. Taylor started paying respects to all the individuals who paved his way to the Hall of Fame. Taylor became choked up when talking about his agent and dear friend, Gary Wichard who passed away.
Taylor told the audience about his experience of draft day and being called by coach Jimmy Johnson. Taylor stated” After about the fifth day of rookie mini camp….I called my mom and said I don't know if this NFL this is for me”. Taylor’s mom responded by saying, “You can get a job or go into the military or you can get your butt to bed and get to practice”.
Taylor spoke about being a Pittsburgh kid and traveling to Miami. “Walking into the Miami locker-room and seeing Dan Marino it was like the Hall of Fame and a Hollywood movie premiere. Dan Marino is Miami”.
In his comedic message to Dan Snyder Taylor stated “I know I didn't provide much, two and a half sacks. Stole a lot of money from you but I appreciate it". In regard to Bill Belichick Taylor stated “Bill you put a target on my back, my front, my sides and I felt respected for that”.
Taylor continued his speech by letting everyone know about his expanded support system and when mentioning his children he showed his love by being emotional. “I have never had a father but there is no greater job, no greater blessing in this world than being a father". He continued by saying, ”I made it to the Hall of Fame but when I die I want my kids to say “he was a Hall of Fame Dad, thats the most important thing to me".
“I have one regret, I didn't enjoy the ride enough". Taylor urged everyone to enjoy the ride in life although it may not be easy. “Ease is a greater threat to growth than heart-ship so keep moving, keep growing, learning, loving”. Taylor ended his speech much like how it began, emotional and raw by saying, "My football career, forever ends right here tonight. My gratitude is eternal”.
The all time NFL leading scorer, Morten Andersen took the stage next presented by his son Sebastian Andersen. Naturally Andersen started his speech by giving a shout out to his homeland of Denmark. Morten talked about his journey landing in Indianapolis with his American family the Bakers’. His seventeenth birthday with the Bakers’ included an important question, “Do you want to watch a football game?” Andersen was told that his local high school needed a kicker and that person was him. His coach, Coach Wilbur gave Andersen quality advice by saying, “Just kick the s*** out of it and if you don't I‘m sending you back on the boat!” Andersen said that the message was received. Andersen used humor about having eighty new friends and said, “Welcome to America”.
Andersen said he will always be a Saint and thanked the Falcons, Giants, Chiefs and Vikings for letting him continue his American journey. “In early October 2006 I was watching the Falcons and their kicker was not doing well….The phone is going to ring soon. Soon after the game the phone did ring… and there I was forty-six years old”. Andersen used his journey to tell the crowd, “The lesson is simple, bring your will and perseverance to everything worth doing”. Andersen said he wanted to go out on his own terms and that is exactly what he did.
Terrell Davis walked on the stage with his good friend Neil Schwartz. Terrell talked about his determination and his goal to impress one person, his father. “My dad was tough on my brother, but tougher on me because I was the baby".
Davis talked about the start of his migraine headaches which started at nine years old. Continuing to seek approval from his father, Davis continued to play football. The biggest pain of Davis’s life occurred when he was twelve when his father died. Davis went on a downward spiral and came close to death at fourteen “literally looking down the barrel of a shotgun”. Davis stated that this was a wakeup call and reconnected him with football at Lincoln High School.
Although football saved Davis from a troubled path, there were some ups and downs. ”During my senior year after suffering a torn hamstring and having to sit-out the majority of the season, it felt like another rock-bottom period in my life; however, this moment also served as a time of real introspection". Terrell Davis talked about how his college program was completely dissolved which led him to the University of Georgia, “How bout them Dawgs?” Davis shouted.
Davis remembered back to his early days of playing in the NFL. “Now despite having a belly full of hotdogs...I ran out on kickoff coverage and made a huge hit on the returner. That was my first NFL Play” Davis continued to talk about his NFL career which ironically enough started exactly twenty-two years ago from his speech. “Twenty-two years to the day I am standing here with these Hall of Famers, it is so surreal”.
On Broncos owner Pat Bowlen "lets make sure this man is enshrined in the HOF in 2018”. Davis thanked his family and talked more about his father. “More than once he had been shot or stabbed”. Davis talked about his father’s death from Lupus at forty-one. “I think about him and I wonder, did I gain his respect?”
Davis showed how his faith in God carried him through everything. “As I close in my mind’s eye, I return to that frightening moment as a young teenager confronting the most severe crisis of my life. It was that moment when I discovered my ability to hear God’s voice. That knowledge has provided me with the confidence to do whatever it takes and the awareness that on our life’s journey, we are never alone. At the same time, I have learned that everything in life has a price. The real question is, what price are we willing to pay? The price to quit on our dreams? Or the price to do whatever it takes to fulfill our vision”. Davis ended his speech in true Denver Broncos fashion, giving his trademark salute to the audience and viewers at home.
Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal presented Ladainian Tomlinson and started his highlight video narrative by saying, “Blocking for one of the greatest is hard to do”. The highlight video for Tomlinson showed much more than just football, it showed the family man and friend he truly is. The “LT” chants began as Tomlinson walked on the field with Neal. Tomlinson thanked all of his fanned and showed respect to the game of football and everyone who played before him.
Tomlinson said due to his relationship with God he had visions of things before they happened. “At six I told my mother I was going to play in the NFL. At seven I asked my mother for a weight set to get bigger to play in the NFL". Continuing on his timeline Tomlinson talk about his cousin playing high school football why made him want to play football at the age of eight. Tomlinson said he is asked about how he formed his work ethic. “Where do you get your work ethic from? It was my mom” Tomlinson talked about how selfless his mother was and how she pushed him to be his best. ”When I was twelve and lacking confidence in myself as an athlete, I saw a flyer at the boys and girls club for a football camp…A couple of months later my mom called me into the room and said remember that camp you wanted to go to? I saved the money and you can go".
Tomlinson talked about his time at TCU and how it made him grow. “At TCU, I began as an 18 year old teenager and left a young man. What made it so special was Academic rigor with christian and family value". Even though Tomlinson left a young man he still had some doubts and continued to need guidance from his mother. "I thought I should transfer, I shared this with my mother and she said be part of the solution, be part of the change...another life lesson".
Tomlinson talked about his time with San Diego and named Marty Schottenheimer as the best coach he had ever had. "I spent 9 years with the San Diego Chargers... We won 5 division titles". When moving onto the New York Jets Tomlinson stated “They were two of the most meaningful years of my career". Tomlinson had everyone he played with stand up so they could be recognized. Tomlinson continued to show how much he cares for his family by naming many members and how much they mean to him especially his wife. "I had two commitments... to be the best football player I could be. and the to be the best Husband I can be... she is my queen".
Tomlinson took a stand on his history and his future. "How did he reclaim his identity? His dignity? I grew up on the land of a former slave plantation, it is where my great great great grandfather worked the soil... this same land is now named Tomlinson Hill". Tomlinson continued his journey on uniting everyone by saying, “I firmly believe that god chose me to bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson". Tomlinson advocated for the people in the United States to become “Team America” and open wide for people who believe in themselves and take risks to succeed. "I am of mixed race and I am America... football is a microcosm of America. All races competing side by side. The crowd erupted and a standing ovation followed. Tomlinson in a sense united everyone this night.
Owner, President and General Manager, Jerry Jones was the next Hall of Fame inductee to take the stage presented by his wife Eugenia Jones. Jones told the audience how much the Hall of Fame meant to him. “Canton brings together the greatest men who have ever played”. Jones gave the audience inside information about his start with the Dallas Cowboys. “I remember my first owner’s meeting. I felt like a freshman walk on in a room of all Americans". His mantra when he first started and until this day is, “Don’t let anyone know you are scared and keep on, keeping on…When you strike out more times than you succeed you learn it's real embarrassing to bust your ass”.
Jones told the story about how he bought the Cowboys which all started with a fishing trip. Jones saw that the team was for sale and made a bold phone call. ”I said you don't know me from Adam, my name is Jerry Jones, but if i live to make it back to the states I’m buying the Dallas Cowboys, hangover be damned". Jones stuck to his word and bought the Cowboys even though they were losing one million dollars a month.
When Jones started he had his sights on one coach and one coach only. " I wanted someone I knew, I wanted someone I knew well, I wanted Jimmy Johnson... Jimmy was a great decision”. Jones inherited the worst team in the NFL. “”We were so lucky to be so bad... That first choice was a no brainer. Troy Aikman!”. Jones talked about the early struggles and said it was a process only winning one game in 1989.
All the pieces came together and Jones team won back to back champions in 1993 and 1994. In his words, “A dynasty was born”. Jones looked back on the accomplishments of his team and stated, “Prior to 1995, no team has won 3 super bowls in 4 seasons... that changed when we did it”. Jones showed respect to the players who helped him along the way. "Michael, Emmitt, Larry, you introduced me to Canton. It was an honor to be your presenter for the Hall of Fame. thank you guys". Later Jones stated that one special player helped him with fear. “Michael Irvin taught me to smile in the face of adversity".
In regard to John Madden, Jones paid high praise. “There is no man I respect more for his love of the sport…Tonight when they turn off the lights in the Hall I can't wait to look over and tell you how much you mean to me". Jones gave praise to past players especially Jason Witten who he referred to as a top five person he has every been around. Jones referred to his as “The Mayor” adding that he will have a gold jacket one day. Jones stated that Demarcus Ware would beat Witten to Canton and congratulated him for his Super Bowl ring, wishing it had a Cowboy attached to it.
Jones talked about what an honor it is to work with his children. In regard to the Dallas Cowboys VP Stephen Jones, Jerry Jones called him his “Devil’s advocate” being his voice of reason with the salary cap. Jones talked about a story in which Stephen physically threw him against a wall due to an expensive deal with Deion Sanders. Jones continued to thank his family and let the audience know a stat that the audience may have not known about his wife Eugenia. According to Jones Eugenia “Never missed a football game since we have been involved with the NFL". Jones also stated that Eugenia was always involved.
Jones ended his speech by thanking the fans and stating that the Dallas Cowboys fans are the greatest on the Earth but he loves all fans that love the game including Giants fans, Eagles fans and Redskins fans.
Slightly before midnight in Canton, Ohio the final Hall of Fame speech was set to begin. Kurt Warner presented by his wife Brenda Warner who referred to Kurt’s story as the best NFL story of all time.
Kurt started his speech agreeing with his wife Brenda by saying "They say that Hollywood couldn't have written it
any better, after tonight, they're right”. Warner talked about his accomplishments such as his Super Bowl win and his Hall of Fame induction. “Those pinnacle accomplishments on the field are just byproducts of the man that it made me become”. Warner would play backyard football and use tape to mark a name on the back of his jersey. ”I spent the greater part of my childhood trying to be these incredible players... “ Warner said the only name he would never put on the jersey is Bradshaw, naturally being a Cowboys fan. Warner said that one of his shining moments is when he could put W-A-R-N-E-R on that jersey.
Warner much like the other inductees took time to thank his family. "I've come to appreciate the greatest gift any parent could give their child is to say yes... Dad thanks for all the times you said yes".
Warner stated that his football dream did not start as many think. "My dream to be in the NFL was not to be the next great QB, but to be the next great NFL WR…the next Steve Largent". In high school Warner was forced to play quarterback which he referred to a life changer. ”That moment freshman year influenced my life as much as any”.
Kurt made no qualms about his ups and down on his journey. The one constant was his wife Brenda. "She told me to be grateful for my opportunity, even if it didn't work like I wanted it to look... She reminded me I wasn't a quitter…"Brenda I chose you because you above all others deserve to share this stage with me”. Warner told an interesting story from his time stocking shelves at the grocery store. Dan Marino was on the cover of Wheaties. According to Kurt the eyes of Dan Marino were following him and he wanted to be on his own cover.
Playing Arena Football made Kurt love the game of football again and he thanked everyone he played with for leading him to where he is now in Canton. It starts with someone taking a chance on you. In regard to the St Louis Rams Kurt said, “I had the worst workout of my life but a few days later I was offered a contract….Some man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. It came down to a split decision to keep Warner on the team. "Coach V looked me in the eye and said I feel there's something special about you...and I couldn't let you go without seeing what it is”. Warner took those words to heart and stated, “I spent my entire career trying to prove you right, and in a business of head decisions, thanks for following your heart”.
There was a heartfelt moment of the speech in which Warner personally thanked Trent Green, the man he took over for. "Your willingness to share with me your football knowledge and secrets was invaluable”.
Kurt had advice for not only football fans but everyone as a whole. "Moments matter, they leave their impression upon us... they also offer us something more valuable, the opportunity to leave a lasting mark…To those listening tonight, don't miss your moments…I stand here tonight because of what I did with what the moments I was given... it is established in the moments, regardless with how many or few you are blessed with”.
Kurt ended his speech and the night paying respect to God “his final moments were for me, mine are for him, thank you Jesus”.
With that the night ended and there were seven new Hall of Fame inductees. The men who played the game they loved had now become immortalized in a bronze bust that will outlast any length of time.