LOS ANGELES, August 5, 2017 — The nightmare known as the National Football League offseason has finally come to an end. Once again, Canton, Ohio takes it place in the sun as the holy city, the birth of professional football.
On Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys played the 2017 Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Field. The Cardinals stormed to a 15-0 lead before the Cowboys came back and won 20-18.
Thursday was the future. Saturday celebrated the glorious past as the greatest received the sacred gold jackets.
The 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony got off to a very poignant start with the appearance of emcee Chris Berman. As always, Berman was a model of grace and class. The legendary ESPN stalwart tragically lost his wife of 34 years in a car accident only a few weeks earlier. The consummate professional held it together and delivered another Hall of Fame worthy performance.
Kenny Easley — His high school coach Tommy Rhodes introduced the hard-hitting Seattle Seahawks safety.
Easley began by quoting the bible. He then turned to others who he felt deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, including players who were on rival teams. He mentioned Steve Atwater, Cliff Branch and Jack Tatum, all among his fiercest opponents.
He cited former Seahawks defensive standout Jacob Green for special praise.
Easley vowed to “uphold the dignity and the pride who wore the gold jacket” before him.
He even singled out an elderly lady who started the stadium ritual “the wave” in the 1970s. He asked her to do the wave when he attends the October 1st Seahawks game against the Colts.
He declared Ronnie Lott the best safety of the last 30 years, not himself.
He did very briefly get political, saying, “Black lives do matter, but all lives matter too.”
He said that he runs a flag football league in Chesapeake, Virginia, specifically to keep young kids out of trouble. “You occupy the mind, the body will follow.”
In a light moment at the end, he said, “blah blah blah, blah blah blah, my teleprompter just went off. So thank you very much and have a good evening.”
Jayson Taylor — Former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson introduced the longtime Miami Dolphins defensive end and outside linebacker.
Taylor wished for Jimmy Johnson to return to Canton as an enshrinee rather than a presenter.
The man raised in nearby Akron pointed out how it took 20 years to travel 20 miles. He also pointed out that “Nobody gets here on their own.” He extensively praised his mother, who raised him without the father he has never met. He says that football “rescued” him, since he was “not cut out for the military.”
Taylor cried recalling his agent Gary Wichard, calling him, “The Father I never had.” Richard died from “that evil, awful disease known as cancer.”
After five days of brutal Jimmy Johnson practices, Taylor was ready to quit football before his first professional game. His mother told him he could come home and join the military, or “get your butt back to practice.”
He offered high praise for former Dolphins teammates, center Richmond Webb, fellow defensive lineman Zach Thomas, and quarterback Dan Marino.
In a surprise, Taylor singled out former basketball player Alonzo Mourning, who works extensively with children in his post Miami Heat days.
In a very classy move, he thanked Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick for making him better. They ruined many Sundays for Taylor.
He thanked the nine Dolphins legends already in the Hall of Fame.
He was proud to be a football hero but called military personnel past and present “the real heroes of our country.”
He cried when recalling growing up fatherless and saying how the greatest blessing in life is being a father to his own children. On his tombstone he wants it to say, “He was a Hall of Fame dad.”
His one regret in life is being so focused on the destination that he did not appreciate the journey. He challenged everyone in life to “Enjoy your journey, appreciate those around you, and express that appreciation.”
He ended very wistfully. “Wonderful experiences become distant memories so fast, too fast.”
Morton Andersen — Sebastian Andersen introduced his father, the former New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons field goal kicker.
The Scandinavian kicker of 25 seasons began with “Good evening, Canton, Ohio, and good morning Denmark!”
At his first high school football practice, he thought, “Let’s get this over with so I can go find a soccer field.” He had no idea what American football was and could not understand why people would try to block him from kicking. His coach told him, “Kick the (bleep) out of it or I’m sending you back on the boat.”
Morton intoned that “Quality of life is all about purposeful living with people you love and respect.” He learned this from football.
He gave the late Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips “a huge tip of the ten gallon hat.” Phillips taught him football and philanthropy, leading to Andersen’s “Kicks for kids” foundation.
He spoke about his determination to come back at age 46 after being out of the game for the 2005 season. His final two years after the hiatus allowed him to become the NFL’s all-time leading scorer with 2,544 points. He retired at age 47, the second oldest NFL player ever behind quarterback and kicker George Blanda.
He praised the only other field goal kicker already in the Hall of Fame, Jan Stenerud. All kickers stand on Stenerud’s shoulders.
He praised the military and people who serve charitable causes as well. “What you give will grow and what you keep will perish.”
He ended it with the same fun, “Goodnight Canton, and Goodnight Denmark!”
Terrell Davis — Agent Neil Schwartz introduced his former client, the Denver Broncos running back.
Davis offered his traditional Mile High Salute to start. It had never rained on Enshrinement Saturday, but rain started to come down before Davis spoke. The sunny mood of the event remained. Davis never thought he would reach the Hall of Fame because he only played six seasons. However, like the legendary Gale Sayers, Davis packed a ton of heart and yards into his injury-shortened career.
He was determined to succeed in football to gain his tough father’s approval. He described his first setback, being a nine-year old child with migraine headaches. At age 12, his father died. At 14, he was “staring down the barrel of a shotgun.” He thanked God that the triggerman did not pull the trigger. Davis vowed to immediately turn his life around, and he did.
Davis was ready to quit football before his first preseason game in Tokyo, Japan. He called the hotel front desk for a flight home, but due to a language barrier that flight never happened. Despite being on the bottom of the running back depth chart, he made a devastating hit on a special teams play in the game that allowed him to make the team.
Davis passionately advocated for the enshrinement of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Davis admitted that his teleprompter went out, shuffling through his notes for the rest of his remarks. He thanked his teammates and gave another Mile High Salute. He even thanked the Broncos medical staff, lamenting, “I spent more time with you than I wanted you, but you took good care of me.”
After thanking the fans with another salute, he recalled how he told a woman on their first date that he would marry her. They have been married 19 years and their three children hammed it up for the cameras and the Canton crowd. Davis called his mom, “my hero.” He hopes his late father would be proud of him.
He concluded with a tough question and an inspirational answer.
“Everything in life has a price. What price are you willing to pay?”
“Never quit, and know God’s hand is always on the small of our back.”
LaDanian Tomlinson — His teammate and fullback introduced the San Diego Chargers running back.
The buildup was awkward moment for the fans as Chris Berman mentioned with emphasis the San Diego Chargers and their song San Diego Super Chargers. After over 55 years in San Diego, the Chargers begin the 2017 in Los Angeles. For angry and bitter San Diego football fans, Tomlinson was their only proud link in a shameful situation.
The always dignified Tomlinson started with civic responsibility.
“Our responsibility extends beyond the football.”
“To play in the NFL is an honor and a privilege, not simply a right.”
He had wanted to play in the NFL since he was six years old, thanking his mother for paying for him to attend a football camp that was not cheap. Cowboys legend Jay Novacek ran the camp, and Hall of Fame Emmett Smith literally helped Tomlinson up.
He spoke powerfully about being a direct descendant from slaves, and how he was a free man. He wanted to be a unifying figure for people everywhere.
“God chose me to bring two races together under one name: Tomlinson.”
“Football is a microcosm of America,” where people of all stripes are given a chance to succeed.
He advocated that “We become Team America!”
He cited President Obama’s farewell address in ending his own speech, exhorting all people to “Try harder, show up, dive in, and stay at it.”
Jerry Jones — Gene Jones introduced her husband of 54 years, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
“Jerrah” does things his way. The real life J.R. Ewing walked on stage with gold sneakers to match his new gold jacket.
In pure J.R. mode, Jones got down to brass tacks. He talked business with some football thrown in. “When you strike out more times than you succeed, you find out it’s real embarrassing to bust your ass.”
Everyone wondered how he would handle mentioning Jimmy Johnson, given their acrimonious relationship that ended the 1990s Cowboys dynasty. Jones mentioned Johnson first, calling him his “lifelong friend.” Johnson smiled and nodded in approval.
Jones played football, but did not go into coaching because there was not enough money in it in the 1960s. Had he known that he would be paying coaches millions of dollars today, he would have gone into coaching.
He was drunk when he made a phone call to the Cowboys insisting he would buy the team. The Cowboys were losing more than one million dollars per month when he purchased the team in 1989. Now they are the highest valued NFL team, ranked by Forbes at over 4.2 billion dollars.
Jones said of the late Tom Landry, “He is the Dallas Cowboys.” Jones firing Landry was a move that made him lifelong enemies, and he was prepared for that. Jones praised Cowboys legend Landry, Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm. He kept heaping praise on Johnson, saying how well together the two men worked.
He spoke of how lucky the Cowboys were to be as bad as they were when he bought the team. Going 1-15 in 1989 allowed the Cowboys to draft the top pick in the 1990 draft. That pick was Troy Aikman, who is also in the Hall of Fame. After the expected praise of Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, Jones surprised everyone by thanking Herschel Walker. It was trading Walker away that built the dynasty, but Walker could have rejected the trade.
After thanking Barry Switzer, Jones even thanked members of the media.
He spoke lovingly of Hall of Fame John Madden, the great Oakland Raiders coach. “There’s no man I respect more for his love of this sport.” He spoke of how Madden mentioned in 2006 that the Half of Fame busts talk to each other. Jones was looking forward to his bust talking to Madden’s bust.
Jones praised one man who receives a ton of scorn, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell takes the slings and arrows to spare the owners.
While saying he could not mention every Cowboys coach and player, Jones certainly tried. He gave special recognition to tight end Jason Witten, a hero on the field and off for standing shoulder to shoulder with Dallas police officers.
He thanked his 40-year assistant Marilyn Love, saying, “she runs the Cowboys.”
Jones said, “My dad could out-sell me ten to one.”
Of his youngest son Jerry Jones Jr., the father said he “wants to grab him by the throat every other day.” The shows how alike they are. His wife Gene has never missed a football game since they bought the team.
To raucous laughter, Jones said, “After Jimmy (Johnson) screwed up and we parted ways…” Johnson laughed, and Gene Jones blamed her husband for Johnson leaving.
Jones cited Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch as an example of a man who saw a business need and filled it.
Always the entertainer, Jerry Jones quoted country music star Garth Brooks.
Jones loves football, loves Cowboys fans, and even loves fans of the teams who hate the Cowboys.
One person Jones left out was the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. Jones has publicly praised Davis many times over the years for helping teach him how to be a successful owner.
Kurt Warner — Brenda Warner introduced her husband, the quarterback of the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals.
The ceremony came only months after the Rams left St. Louis to return to Los Angeles. Yet nothing could cast a pall on one of the all-time feel-good NFL stories, the former grocery store clerk who became a Super Bowl champion.
Warner spoke about the great quarterbacks he idolized as a kid and the football games he played on his street as so many kids do every day.
He spoke of the “Kill Kurt drill” that forced him to overcome his fear of getting belted to the ground and stay in the pocket.
Warner found inspiration while stocking grocery shelves by seeing Dan Marino on a cereal box. He joked about getting cut by Steve Mariucci from the Packers.
Warner made a very important distinction, reminding the audience that this was the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not just the NFL. Arena Football reignited Warner’s passion for the game, and his quarterbacking the Iowa Barnstormers led him back to the NFL. 12 NFL teams rejected warner, but the 13th team, the Rams, gave him a tryout. Despite a bad workout, Warner was given a minimal contract.
In a very surprising and meaningful turn, Warner thanked Trent Green. If not for an injury to Green in the 1999 preseason, Warner most likely never takes the field. He did not mention the Greatest Show on Turf or his 1999 Super Bowl teammates by name, choosing to thank them all collectively.
Warner told the world, “Don’t miss your moments.”
We do not always get to choose our moments, but we do choose what we get to do with those moments. Warner certainly did not want to throw the longest interception return in Super Bowl history.
A deeply religious man, Warner ended by thanking Jesus Christ.
After seven speeches and five hours, Chris Berman closed the event by welcoming football fans everywhere to the 2017 National Football League season.