CANTON, Ohio — The Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s enshrinement ceremony is one of the most magical and underrated nights in football. It’s a night for the junkies. For the men who shaped the game and all the fans who love it more than they probably should.
Seven men were enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Saturday: Jonathan Ogden, Dave Robinson, Larry Allen, Bill Parcells, Curley Culp, Warren Sapp and Cris Carter. Here were some highlights from all the speeches:
Allen’s speech surprises
Former Dallas Cowboys guard Larry Allen was well known for his taciturn style with the media.
“During my career, I didn’t talk that much, but I didn’t have to. I used my helmet,” Allen started his speech.
What followed was the most hilarious, surprising and memorable speech of a terrific night. It was the most honest. Allen’s message to his wife was an all-time classic.
“On our first date, she cooked for me. She cooked me two chickens, french fries, baked me a cake, and gave me a 40 ounce. I knew then, that was my wife right there,” Allen said.
Allen relayed how getting destroyed by Reggie White motivated him to get stronger:
“I got in that weight room and became the strongest man in the NFL. And I did it naturally,” Allen said, to laughs. “Once I benched 700 pounds, they tested me twice a week for the rest of my career.”
Allen was hoping that his bust would have a dip in it. It doesn’t, but the bust does have a scar. And Allen’s story about that scar says so much about him.
“I was protecting my little brother from the guy who was a little older than me. He ended up stabbing me,” Allen said. “Three months later my mother said, I’m not raising any punks, so she made me fight this guy. She said you will fight him until you win. First day, I lost. Second day, I lost. The third day, I finally won. That was one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my life, never to back down from anybody.”
Ogden begins the night with class
When you think Baltimore Ravens, you think of offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.
The franchise’s first draft pick was introduced by his general manager, Ozzie Newsome.
“I’ve often thought about that day back in 1996 when you drafted me instead of Lawrence Phillips,” Ogden cracked to Newsome. “I think that worked out well for everybody.”
Ogden’s speech was typical of everything we know about him: classy, light-hearted and smart. His support of former Ravens owner Art Modell was greeted with some boos in this Cleveland Browns-heavy area, but even that couldn’t take the huge smile off Ogden’s face. Ogden towered over his Hall of Fame teammates, and stands tall as a historic figure in his franchise’s history.
“I am so very proud to have been the Baltimore Ravens‘ first-ever draft choice, and I am so humbled to be the Baltimore Ravens‘ first-ever Hall of Fame inductee,” Ogden said.
Robinson makes impression to new audience
Green Bay Packers great Dave Robinson isn’t known well enough by today’s fans, but his speech Saturday night should help that.
“I have friends, family, and fans and everybody else that live just about 25 miles from here,” Robinson said. “But it took me 38 years to get here, and I tell you, I enjoyed every step of the way.”
Robinson clearly enjoyed every moment on stage, even if so many of his contemporaries couldn’t be there with him. The linebacker is one of nine siblings, and only one other one was alive to see him inducted.
“I don’t know if you caught it, but there’s been a lot of coaches in my life, and a lot of them have left here, so I don’t think anybody else wants to coach Dave Robinson. They don’t last long,” he said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of people looking down up there, my family and friends. And some of my friends may be looking up at me, but I just hope they’re all proud of me.”
Robinson played in an era under Vince Lombardi that we barely could recognize now. He and his wife moved to Green Bay at a time when there were no other black women in the entire town.
“There were rumors there was one black lady that lived in town, one in the whole city,” Robinson said. “I never met her. But the rumor was she was there. Yeah, I know. You’re thinking what I thought. She’s probably passing.”
Robinson had to wait so long for induction. But there was not a trace of regret on his face about it. He seemed so thankful to be included.
“I’m finally here. I’m here forever,” Robinson said. “I’m here now, they can’t get me out.”
Once a coach, always a coach
Bill Parcells still is coaching. His speech was full of thanks to those we’d expect who helped him along the way. But he just couldn’t help but try to motivate others in the crowd, starting with former assistant coaches like Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin.
“I just want to say I take pride in their individual accomplishments, and I’m looking for a couple more championships out of some of them, so let’s go,” Parcells said.
The Big Tuna knew that each player and assistant required different handling. Some needed to be watched more closely than others.
“The only thing I would ask them to do is when they put my bust in the Hall tomorrow, I’d like to be somewhere near Lawrence Taylor, so I can keep an eye on that sucker.”
Parcells had one of the longest speeches on a quick-moving night, and his most memorable passages were about the special nature of an NFL locker room.
“We’ve got happiness, we’ve got humor, practical jokes, hilarity, success, achievement. Then we’ve got that momentary time of exhilaration where you hoist that championship trophy over your head, and I don’t know what happens, but some mystical blood kinship is formed, and although it’s a fleeting moment, that kinship lasts for the rest of your life. …
“I wish all of American society could have experienced what I experienced in this place, because, ladies and gentlemen, it is a priceless, priceless education.”
Curley gets his due
Curley Culp is considered by some to be one of the greatest nose tackles of all time. He played primarily for the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers, and he finally was honored by the senior’s committee with induction this year.
“You know, this is an occasion that’s long been in my dreams and now lives in reality,” Culp said. “I cannot express how glorious a feeling this is for me and my family who have long hoped with me that this day would come. So to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame gives me joy and inspiration that would last the rest of my life.”
It’s a ‘Cane thing
Warren Sapp is the first Hall of Famer to have a bust with cornrows in it. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend’s speech largely was about where he came from, Plymouth, Fla. As Sapp called it, “the dirt.” Sapp, like so many players, talked about his high school and college coaches with reverence. He thanked Dennis Erickson, who coached him at the University of Miami, just for finding him.
“I want to thank coach (Erickson) for getting on a plane and flying up from Miami to Orlando, Fla., and getting on (U.S. Route 441) going North, and just like I told you, coach, drive until it gets real dark like you’ve gotten lost, then all of a sudden you’ll see the flashing lights and it’s going to say ‘Girls, Girls.’ It was just a little trucker stop, but I lived behind that trucker stop.”
Sapp had the first Rich Eisen mention in a Hall of Fame speech, going out of his way to thank his NFL Network teammates. Sapp’s most emotional moment came in thanks of his ex-wife. But his passion for football stood out more than anything else.
“I love this game. I love the passion of it. I sit here with the greatest among the great. As Michael Irvin said the other day, this is the Bible of football because you can read it, get inspiration, gain strength and look to tomorrow.
“This game is so great, there is nothing else I know and love that’s taken me from a dirt road to heights I’ve never even seen and now to a gold jacket. Oh, my goodness.”
A fitting end
Cris Carter had to go last. No one could follow his energy, his bombast, his love of family, his use of the third person. The former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver went through the people who mattered most in his life and punctuated his remarks to them with, “You’re going to the Hall of Fame with me!”
He thanked former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan for releasing him at a time when his substance abuse problems were going out of control.
Carter said Ryan’s wife told the coach not to cut Carter because he “‘was going to do something special with his life.'”
“So Buddy Ryan and his wife, I thank you,” Carter said, “You’re going into the Hall with me tonight.”
Carter, Ohio-born and Ohio State-bred, capped the night with local flavor.
“Buckeye, Born and Bred, Now HOFer, even after I’m dead.”