SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Aug. 6, 2016 — Time comes and goes, but immortality is forever. People come and go, but the bronze busts are as everlasting as Earth itself. Six months ago the National Football League celebrated the 50th Super Bowl. The day before the game, the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrines were announced. Six months before Super Bowl 51, eight men now enter the home of the very best to ever play or contribute to professional football. While others are focused on some games taking place in Rio, the football world is focused on the holy city of Canton, Ohio.
Men like Jim Thorpe, Pudge Heffelfinger and Red “Galloping Ghost” played this game. Vince Lombardi and George Halas roamed the sidelines. Thanks to them and others, the Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of football excellence.
This football excellence was delivered with broadcasting excellence. ESPN uber-announcer Chris Berman was the emcee. His longtime “NFL Primetime” partner Tom Jackson is retiring this weekend after 29 years as an announcer. Jackson was a member of the 1977 Denver Broncos “Orange Crush” defense along with the late Lyle Alzado.
Football is about the past, present and future. Quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will soon play their very first NFL game. Peyton Manning just played his last one. Cam Newton is the reigning league MVP. A new football star may have just been born in a delivery room somewhere in the world. Meanwhile, Dennis Green and Buddy Ryan are in heaven watching football with Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Sid Gillman and Al Davis.
Yet on this day, real heaven itself can wait. We honor those who enter the hallowed halls of what has been described as Football Heaven.
Here are the very best moments from the eight men who now wear the gold jackets of football glory.
Brett Favre — The Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings quarterback was introduced by his wife Deanna. He spoke lovingly of her toughness in athletics and battling breast cancer. Favre also offered plenty of humor at his own expense regarding his frequent retirements and comebacks.
“I’m going to ask Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson if I can play the first series tomorrow night.”
He said he was inspired to play football by watching a scruffy guy named Ken Stabler.
He called Deanna “the best looking grandmother I’ve ever seen.”
He remarked, “My mother had her hip replaced, and by no means was she going to be put on waivers for this.”
He singled out Oakland Raiders fans for their warm treatment of him the day after his dad died.
Of his Hall of Fame speech, Favre said, “This is tougher than any third and 15, I can assure you.” His tears flowed as he spoke of his hero and high school football coach, his late father.
He praised his fellow Southern Mississippi alum, Raiders punter Ray Guy.
He thanked Packers coach Mike Holmgren for not pulling him out of games even when he should have been pulled. He also thanked his assistant coaches Steve Mariucci and Andy Reid for creating a buffer between him and Holmgren.
Favre finished with humor and poignancy. “I loved slapping Marco (offensive lineman Rivera) on the ass. I loved it, and he loved it too.”
“I don’t regret anything.”
Favre’s 36-minute speech was the longest in Pro Football Hall of Fame history. After 20 years and 321 straight games, he earned it.
Kevin Greene — The linebacker and defensive end for the Rams, Steelers, Panthers and 49ers began by joking that his bust was right next to Brett Favre’s. He thanked his former coach and legendary defensive coordinator Dom Capers and many others, including fellow inductee Edward DeBartolo Jr.
He thanked his military father and brother for instilling military values in him, including honor and respect.
Of running back Bo Jackson, “He ran my ass over.” However, “He ran a lot of asses over.”
Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater “carried a Bible in one hand and a switchblade in the other.”
He ended by saluting firefighters, law enforcement and military personnel everywhere as the crowd stood up and roared their agreement. “My family and I rest at night under the canopy of freedom that you deploy.”
Tony Dungy — The head coach of the Tampa Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts said, “I’m so honored to be in the same Hall of Fame class as Marvin Harrison.” He mentioned that when he entered the NFL in 1977, there were only 10 black assistant coaches. Dungy named all of them, from the late Bob Ledbetter with the Jets to Raiders great Willie Brown. Today there are 200 black NFL assistants. Dungy reminded the audience that he was the second black head coach in the Hall of Fame. Fritz Pollard came first.
Marvin Harrison — The Indianapolis Colts wide receiver spoke for 11 minutes, presented by owner Jim Irsay. He praised Tony Dungy for teaching him the importance of fatherhood. He joked that in Philadelphia, “If you get the coin toss wrong, they want to trade you Monday morning.”
Orlando Pace — The stalwart left tackle on the St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame at age 13, and joined it 27 years later. He lavished the bulk of his praise on his family. His cousin Keith Pace was the first family member to go to college, inspiring Orlando to attend college as well. He offered hope that his teammates Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt would join him in the Hall of Fame soon.
Eddie Debartolo Jr. — The San Francisco 49ers owner joked about not making his high school football team. Humor continued. “I don’t know about Joe Montana, but we could probably talk Brett Favre out of retirement.”
He spoke about perspective and how Dwight Clark got DeBartolo’s daughters to safety on the day the San Francisco earthquake collapsed the Bay Bridge. He called that Clark’s greatest catch, a nod to “The Catch” in 1981 that began the 49ers dynasty.
He stated that the 49ers of the 1980s and 1990s is “a story about family,” since family is what his life has been about. He thanked the equipment managers, the groundskeepers, the scouts, the bus drivers and the interns. To him, they were just as essential to building a winning team as the players and coaches. For obvious reasons, the late Bill Walsh received special praise. DeBartolo joked that Walsh trying to explain the West Coast Offense to him was like trying to “teach physics to a 2-year-old.”
DeBartolo said the greatest pain in his life was losing his players to injury, and implored the NFL to have more of a sense of family in dealing with its players.
As for the Catch, DeBartolo’s vision was obstructed. “At our moment of glory I was literally blocked by a horse’s ass.”
Ken Stabler — The late Oakland Raiders, Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints quarterback died less than one year ago. Raiders greats Art Shell and Fred Biletnikoff took part in revealing his Hall of Fame bust. Their leader John Madden was recovering from surgery and could not attend, so his two grandsons filled in for him to unveil Stabler’s bronze statue. Chris Berman mentioned Stabler’s taking the Raiders to five straight AFC title games and a regular season record during that time of 56-13-1. The greatest finishes in NFL history all involved Stabler, from the “The Sea of Hands,” “Ghost to the Post” and “Holy Roller” to the less fortunate “Immaculate Reception.”
Dick Stanfel — The late offensive guard played seven season with the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins in the 1950s. Stanfel won two championships with the Lions and was presented to the Hall of Fame by 91-year-young coaching great Marv Levy. Stanfel died one year ago just shy of his 88th birthday.
Sunday kicks off the 2016 NFL preseason with the Hall of Fame Game. The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts kick off at 8 p.m. Eastern time. That is football present and future. On Saturday, leatherheads everywhere honored the past. We love football because these men played and contributed to football.