The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 was formally inducted on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. Here are highlights from the speeches each of this year’s eight inductees gave. (This post will be updated.)
Brandt began his career as a part-time scout with the Los Angeles Rams in 1955, and went on to spend nearly 30 years with the Dallas Cowboys, one of the key founding members of the franchise along with general manager Tex Schramm and coach Tom Landry.
Though Jerry Jones fired Brandt not long after he bought the team in 1989, Jones has become one of Brandt’s biggest champions, honoring him with a spot in the team’s Ring of Honor last year.
Brandt said, “My life has been an incredible journey, all inspired by football. I have been fortunate enough to see the growth of this game over the past 60 years.”
He mentioned the growth of the annual scouting combine, which Schramm and Brandt had a hand in creating. The first combine, in 1982, had seven media members present; this year’s had 2,000.
Now 86, Brandt recognized one of the lesser-known groups that make the NFL go: scouts.
“What you do in locating and securing talent is the lifeblood of the sport of football. All that time in random hotels and driving from one place to another...it pays off,” Brandt said. “Seeing that player with something special in his later moves or going to a D-3 campus and finding a diamond in the rough, that’s the magic that keeps us out on the road for half the year and in the film room the other half.
“Scouting isn’t always easy when you get into the nuts and bolts of following 500 new players every season, but it is so rewarding. I want every single one of you to look at my election into the Hall of Fame as a tip of the cap to the entire scouting industry and see yourself in my inclusion.”
Robinson, the stellar Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs safety and this year’s Senior Committee selection, was presented by his stepson, Bob Thompson. Thompson, like Robinson, is a Louisiana native; both men grew up watching the Louisiana State Tigers football team.
“Johnny Robinson was an LSU legend,” Thompson said. “He was my childhood hero. I watched him on TV for the Kansas City Chiefs, and that’s who I wanted to be. I never dreamed that my childhood hero would become my stepdad.”
Robinson said there was a time he thought it just wasn’t meant for him to be in the Hall of Fame.
“It’s been 47 years since I last played professional football. After all this time I thought I had been forgotten,” he said. “I can’t tell you how pleased I was to be notified that I had been selected as a senior finalist after all these years. But then to receive that knock on the door from [Hall of Fame president] David Baker seems surreal to me. ...
“I thought that after college I would join the Air Force and become a fighter pilot. But to my surprise, I was selected the No. 3 overall player in the 1960 draft. When I left for my first training camp I remembered some of my dad’s words of wisdom he shared with me: Be a gentleman when you win, be a man when you lose. If you lose, hurt so bad that you work harder so it won’t happen again. Prepare, sacrifice and give your best. Bring out the best in others. Have faith in the Lord and always respect your mother. “
Mawae, the center who played for three NFL teams, had tears in his eyes even before he began his speech, as he walked toward his presenter, his wife Tracy.
A good deal of Mawae’s speech centered on those who have had the greatest impact on him: from his very first coach, on a flag football team in Germany (his father spent his career in the Army), to high school and college coaches, to teammates he had all along the way, and especially his family.
“I many ways, today is the end of a journey that started 40 years ago, and yet today signals the beginning of a new one that only God knows where this will take me,” Mawae said. “I reached this destination today because of the people in my life who supported me from the beginning and who have been with me throughout my entire career.
“To my mom and dad, David and Linda Mawae: people always ask me who are my greatest role models and who did I look up to growing up. It’s always been easy; the answer was you. My dad was a career solider in the US Army, serving 23 years. Dad, I watched you take pride in putting on your uniform...you never cut corners and you never looked unprepared.
“You’re the greatest lesson I ever had. Dad, the greatest thing you ever taught me was family. You taught me how to love your family. You taught me how to love my wife and love my children. Whether I stood on this stage tonight, know this: I’m proud to be your son. Mom, you’re tough and you demanded the best out of us.... You didn’t let us off the hook and I’m a better man for it.
“On May 5, 1996, our brother was tragically killed in an alcohol-related accident. Shortly after that, news came that my wife was pregnant with our son, Kirkland. Those two moments changed my life forever. My biggest regret is our brother John didn’t get a chance to see my play in the NFL and be with us tonight.
“To my kids, Kirkland and Abigail, being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor. But my two greatest joys are the accomplishments of you two. No football moment has ever equaled the days the two of you were born - the two greatest days of my life. There’s nothing, nothing that you guys can do that would ever take my love away from you. I love you and I’m proud of you.
“To my wife of 26 years, Tracy. There are not enough words that I could share with you or tell this audience how much you have meant to me on the greatest journey that we’ve had together. Every training camp, every free agent visit, injuries, surgery, every win, every loss, every contract negotiation, every home game and road games too...from LSU to Seattle, New York and Tennessee, you have been my horizon. The landscape has shifted and the scenery changed, but you have always been the constant in my life and you have always been my true north. ...You are the epitome of a Hall of Fame wife.”
Bowlen, the longtime Denver Broncos owner, died in June after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
Though he was presented by the Broncos’ head trainer, Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, all of Bowlen’s children were part of his introductory video. Six of the seven were on stage with Antonopulos to unveil the bronze bust, and the group shared a hug around the bust.
Law’s speech was reminiscent of Randy Moss’ last year. Both men are from small Appalachian towns - Moss, Rand. W. Va. and Law, Aliquippa, Pa. - and highlighted those roots.
Aliquippa, a former mill town in western Pennsylvania, hit a peak of 27,000 residents in the 1940 census but has produced three Pro Football Hall of Famers - Law, Law’s uncle, Tony Dorsett, and Mike Ditka. That number will reach four in due time, when Darrelle Revis joins them.
A three-time Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots and five-time Pro Bowl cornerback, Law began, “This isn’t about me; this is about us. This is about we.”
For each person he paid homage to, he punctuated it by saying, “We are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Though he wore sunglasses on stage, Law couldn’t hide his tears. He cried the most as he mentioned his mother, Diane, his late grandparents, and his five children.
But he also highlighted Dorsett, and the impact he had on him.
“I’m a big believer in needing to see something before you can believe it,” Law said. “I remember spending summers, from eighth grade on through college, standing in Uncle Tony’s house, staring at that Heisman Trophy, staring at that Hall of Fame bust.
“I came back after that rookie season [with New England] and was staring at the Heisman. [Dorsett] said, ‘I don’t know why you’re staring at that; that ship done sailed.’ So I slid over to the Hall of Fame bust and stared at that.
“He said, ‘You have to raise hell to get one of these.’ I guess we raised hell. We are now teammates in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You were my inspiration, more than you know.”
Reed, to many the greatest safety to ever play the game, has one of the best busts in the Hall. Blair Buswell, the sculptor who creates the bronze busts, did a wonderful job capturing Reed’s curly, sometimes unruly hair and full beard.
The nine-time Pro Bowler walked onto the stage with an unlit cigar between his teeth, and he wore a gold hat that matched his new gold jacket.
Reed’s speech wasn’t linear. He spoke a great deal about Baltimore, his adopted home, and the team he is so closely aligned with that it’s easy to forget he finished his career with two other teams.
“The NFL changed my life and put me in a place I never thought I would be,” Reed said. “Thanks to the Houston Texans for letting me be there for a couple of months. Thanks to the Jets, where I finished off at, but there’s no place like Baltimore! No place like Baltimore, baby.
“I’d like to thank the organization, [owner] Steve Bisciotti, [general manager] Ozzie Newsome, coach [Brian] Billick and his staff, coach [John] Harbaugh and his staff. That man there, he came in with a plan, and we executed it, coach. Iron sharpens iron.”
He finished with a message for all of us.
“There will be good and bad; right and wrong. Your reaction of choice, good or bad, has consequences, that affect you and those around you,” he said. “No matter what, encourage those around you and yourself. I stayed encouraged. ...
“I tell you, each one of you: stay encouraged. Encourage each other. Help somebody. We should. We’re supposed to. That’s what being a human is about - leaving this place better than we got it. That’s all it’s about, y’all.”
Bailey also had sunglasses on when he walked to the podium, but took them off and tucked them into his jacket “so you can see my joy - and because my wife said so.”
He flashed the confidence it took to be a shutdown cornerback, which he said he got from his mother, Elaine. As he acknowledged Hall voters he said, “thank you for getting it right the very first time.”
The 12-time Pro Bowler called his 2004 trade from Washington to Denver “the best thing for my career,” and said he was quickly sold on the franchise and its owner, Bowlen, who had all the qualities of a good leader: he led by example, he was accountable, he was competitive and he knew how to win.
As he closed his speech, Bailey noted that many of the men on stage with him, the other Hall of Famers, are also Black men. They are all accomplished athletes, but they are Black men first and have that shared experience. When others look at him, Bailey said, the first thing they see isn’t that he’s a father or an All-Pro cornerback - they see the color of his skin.
So he made a plea, his voice catching in his throat.
“When we tell you about our fears, please listen. When we tell you we’re afraid for our kids, please listen. When we tell you there are many challenges we face because of the color of our skin, please listen,” Bailey said. “And please don’t get caught up in how the message is delivered.
“Yes, most of us are athletes, but we are Black men first. Things that make us great on the field, like our size and our aggression, are things that can get us killed off the field. All of us are sons, dads, brothers - your friends.
“If we can’t get our friends to listen, then no one will.”
Gonzalez told three stories, three times when he believed his life changed course. One was from eighth grade and ninth grade, when he let fear drive him, first to quit Pop Warner football and then to run and hide daily from a bully who wanted to fight him - though Gonzalez says he has no idea why.
He ran from the bully, even after setting a date to fight him, but he stopped running from football. One day early in his freshman season he was pulled from the line for Oklahoma drill, and though he was scared, he did it - because he’s made a decision to never be afraid again, regardless of the circumstances.
That story was to underscore that it’s not about where you start; Gonzalez, after his quitting football and being afraid, ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Another story was from his second season with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’d been the 13th pick in 1997, and in 1998, though he was starting, Gonzalez was struggling.
“It was the worst year,” Gonzalez said. “Booed by the home crowd, there was a writeup in the paper that this guy’s on the verge of being a bust. I remember being in my room crying, depressed, in a deep hole, and sometimes the more you get depressed the harder it is to get out.
“Until I get a letter from my brother, Donnie. He said, “I don’t know what that is out there, but it’s not you. He put a book of Vince Lombardi quotes, all his quotes. That stuff spoke to me. So I went out and I did something I hadn’t done since seventh grade: I bought a book. Every other book was required reading. I bought the biography of Vince Lombardi. I devoured this book; I learned what it takes to be great. And I started devouring [other] books - Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, coaches like Phil Jackson, Lou Holtz, Pat Riley.
“I started learning the process, what makes a player great. After that I was ‘that guy’ in practice.... I’d get ready and go out early, catch 100 balls before practice. Catch 15-20 balls when the defense was on the field. Success leaves clues; you have to learn them, you have to open your eyes.
“That season was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
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