Seven more players were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton on Saturday. The night at Fawcett Stadium included the unveiling of new head busts and speeches. Hours and hours of speeches.
Here’s a summary of each new member’s speech:
Former New York Giants defensive end turned television personality Michael Strahan was the night’s main event. As the co-host of Live With Kelly and Michael and a Fox commentator, Strahan was a natural on the stage. No player in attendance was immune from Strahan’s jokes. He said former teammate Lawrence Taylor still scares him. But he thanked Taylor for showing him it was OK to sleep in meetings. He called former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jon Runyan “6-foot-9, 350 pounds of twisted steel and non-sex appeal.” He poked fun at Giants quarterback Eli Manning for his constant serious demeanor, which Manning played into in the audience.
The theme of Strahan’s speech was improbability. He particularly made note of his Giants beating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
“My life is improbable,” Strahan said early in his speech. “I am an absolutely improbable Hall of Famer. I am an improbable football player because I didn't grow up saying, ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Strahan pushed overcoming the improbable on his four children who were in attendance.
“Now I want you -- and I hope, and this has always been my hope for my kids because I love them more than anything, is that I showed you and that you learned the improbability means nothing, because anything is absolutely possible. Anything is possible.
“Of all the titles that I have from everything. You could name it. The most important title I'm most proud of is Michael Strahan, your father, plain and simple.”
No fan base was better represented Saturday night than the Buffalo Bills. The constant cheering helped make Reed’s speech the most memorable of the night. Whenever Reed called out a former teammate, the crowd went wild. Reed’s speech was about being tough and appreciative. When he vowed that the for sale Bills will stay in Buffalo, Reed had to stop for a couple minutes while the crowd died down.
“As I look back on my career, again, I see a small town kid with a dream of someday being great, making a difference in his community, and most of all, making his parents the proudest people on the planet.
“Well, I'm here to say tonight I've done all three of those things, no more routes to run, no more passes to catch, no more DBs to beat. The journey is complete.
If there was one player who made history at this year’s Hall of Fame induction, it is Ray Guy. The former Oakland Raider became the first full-time punter inducted, and he proudly stated the HOF now “has a complete team.”
“Punters are a very important part of the team, regardless of how many times they step on the field. So punters, keep the faith. You are an important part of every game. I’ve been lucky to do what so many others dream of — to play professional football.
“There are no more games to play. No more records to set, or break. One thing reminds me – the memories. They will always be forever. To know my legacy will forever be a part of pro football history … it leaves this old punter speechless. It was for the love of the game that I am here tonight.”
Former Arizona Cardinals defensive back Aeneas Williams had perhaps the most entertaining HOF speech Saturday night. He thanked New York Giants fans for saying he was No. 1 in the form of a middle finger. He proclaimed his play against the Dallas Cowboys in 1998 forced owner Jerry Jones to build a new stadium. On how he covered Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, Williams said “if he went to the restroom, I had to flush it!” He even got half the crowd to chant “begin with the end in mind” and the other to chant “die empty,” Williams’ two mottos.
During his speech, Williams also thanked Rob Ryan, one of his former coaches. Ryan’s dad, Buddy Ryan, was Williams’ head coach in Arizona at the time. He forced Williams to change his coverage style.
“I was afraid because Buddy Ryan put his cornerbacks on an island. Cornerbacks by themselves,” Williams said. “See, much love to Revis Island, but it started with Aeneas Island.
“And Rob Ryan, the first time I went back and he got the job as the defensive back coach he put his arms around me and said Aeneas you could lead this league in interceptions because I saw you do it in college. Thank you, Coach Rob. That was the first year I made All Pro and Pro Bowl.”
As should have been expected, former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones had one of the more soft-spoken speeches of the night. Jones was quick to thanks his offensive tackle brethren, including HOF players like Anthony Munoz, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace and more. He thanked the 12th man, the name of Seattle’s fan base.
“Football has been a blessing,” Jones said. “It has changed my life and those around me. It is a bond that keeps a family together, and provided opportunities where there was just inspiration and determination. The thing I've learned along this incredible journey, I'm not only cheering for the rest of my life, but pass it on to anyone that loves the game. Thank you, go Seahawks, and I love Seattle.”
At 70, defensive end Claude Humphrey was the elder statesman of the seven-member HOF class this year. So when directors asked him to only speak for 10 minutes, the former Atlanta Falcon and Philadelphia Eagle paid it no mind.
"They told me that I only had 10 minutes up here," Humphrey said, "But let me start off by telling you I've waited almost 30 years to get to this podium. So don't rush me guys. I'm gonna be here for a minute."
The best part of Humphrey’s speech was about former coach Jerry Glanville. In Atlanta, the Falcons had the “Grits Blitz” defense, and in 1977 it set the record for least points allowed in a season.
“The best thing that ever happened to the Atlanta Falcons was we got a coach named Jerry Glanville. Some of you might know Jerry. Jerry's a hell of a guy. Jerry came in and he put in a lot of different defenses. And most of them were for everybody up on the line of scrimmage and go after the quarterback. That's what the defense was.
“As he was putting it in, I was saying to myself, am I supposed to believe this guy? Here's a guy that's leaving tickets for Elvis Presley and Elvis is dead!”
The first speech of the night came from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks. After thanking nearly every person in attendance, Brooks vowed to make “the Pro Football Hall of Fame a better team.” He also somewhat knocked Strahan by saying former teammate Simeon Rice was the best pass rusher of his generation. Brooks’ best line was one of his last.
“I just want to do the best I can to make something better than it is when I come in touch with it."