(Photos courtesy of the Talk of Fame)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
CANTON, Ohio – They saved the best for last.
On a night when the Pro Football Hall of Fame was not so much a celebration of the Class of 2016 as it was a celebration of first-ballot choice Brett Favre, the former quarterback did not disappoint – giving a memorable, emotional, comical, poignant and unforgettable speech that had the normally unflappable Favre break down several times as he paid tribute to his family and his late father, Irv.
It was the last … and perhaps best … finish of Favre’s illustrious career.
Yes, he spoke for 36:17, by far the longest speech of the night. And, yes, he pushed the ceremony past 11 p.m. But so what? He was compelling, his audience was enthusiastic and supportive and his stories were riveting. In fact, if anything, it was like Favre’s career in microcosm.
You wanted more.
It was Favre speaking from the heart, never better than when he thought back to playing in Oakland in a Monday Night Football game shortly after his father’s death in December, 2003 – pausing several times as he choked back tears talking about the flight home with his wife, Deanna.
“As you can imagine, there were a lot of emotions as we had just won the game, and it was probably the best game that I ever played in,” he said. “But that didn’t really matter at that point. We laughed, and we cried, and we tried to sleep. And one time in particular, Deanna says to me … you’d have had to know my father. My father was short on praise and long on tough love. If he was ever to praise me, I was not to hear it. It was always, ‘You can do better.’ He was always pushing me to be better. And that was OK. Never did I hear him say, ‘Son, you’ve arrived. You’re the best. That was awesome. Great game.’ It was always, ‘Yeah, but …’
“So Deanna says to me on the plane, ‘You know, your Dad had said to me that he had hoped or could not wait for the day that you were inducted into the Hall of Fame so he could introduce you.’ And up until that moment I had never thought about the Hall of Fame, and I mean no disrespect to the Hall of Fame … So a new goal had entered into my mind then and there, and I said to myself: I will make it to the Hall of Fame; that I would make it to the Hall of Fame so I could acknowledge the fact of how important he was.”
He stopped, and his voice cracked.
“This is tougher than any third-and-15,” he said.
But he pushed on, as he always did in his career, determined to show the depth of his love and passion he had for his Dad.
“I would not be here before you today without my father,” he said. “There is no doubt whatsoever.
“One more thing about my father, and this is something I’ve never told anyone, including Deanna. My Dad was my high-school football coach. He was the head football coach, and he coached me and my two brothers. But I never had a car growing up. I always rode to and from school with my father in his truck, so he was always the last to leave the building because he had to turn the lights off, lock up and then we made our way home.
“So it was the last high-school football game of my high-school career, and although I don’t remember how I had played before, and I don’t’ remember how I played in the last game, what I do remember is sitting outside the coach’s office, say, on a Wednesday, waiting for my father to come out so we could leave. It was dark. And I overhead my father talking to the three other coaches, and I heard him (say) … ‘I can assure you one thing about my son: He will play better,. He will redeem himself. I know my son. He has it in him.’
“And I never let him know that I heard that. I never said that to anyone else. But I thought to myself: that’s a pretty good compliment, you know? My chest kind of swelled up. And, again, I never told anyone. But I never forgot that statement and that comment that he made to those other coaches, And I want you to know, Dad, I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself.”
Again, he stopped to compose himself.
“I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself,” he said, “and make him proud. And I hope I succeeded .. So never discount being a father and the statements that you make. You are very important to your children. The lesson is we come and go very quickly. So love them each and every day.”
JUST NOT ENOUGH FAVRE
It wasn’t just thousands of fans in green No. 4 jerseys who came here to celebrate Favre; it was fellow inductees, too, with Kevin Greene and Eddie DeBartolo each mentioning him. In fact, when DeBartolo began his speech, he said, “I don’t know about Joe Montana, but I think we could probably talk Brett Favre out of retirement.”
That got a laugh. So did Favre when he poked fun at himself by opening his evening-ending address with this: ““I’m going to ask Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson if I can play the first series tomorrow night.”
As I said, the guy didn’t disappoint. Brett Favre, always the entertainer.
(Talk of Fame Network Photo)
There are few coaches … no, few people … classier than Tony Dungy, so it should come as no surprise that he went out of his way to thank 10 predecessors – Willie Brown, Buck Buchanan, Earnel Durden, Bob Ledbetter, Elijah Pitts, Jimmy Raye, Johnny Roland, Al Tabor, Lionel Taylor and Alan Webb — for their help in making the Hall of Fame happen. “Now,” Dungy said, “those names might not be familiar to you, but those were the African-American assistant coaches in the NFL in 1977, my first year in the league … Many of them never got the chance to move up the coaching ladder like I did, but they were so important to the progress of this league.”
When DeBartolo spoke of “the longest day of my life,” it had nothing to do with a 49ers’ game or a Super Bowl. It had to do with his daughters, Lisa ( who presented him for induction) and Tiffanie and their journey to the World Series game at Candlestick Park on Oct. 17, 1989. It was the night the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Bay Area and damaged the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. “We turned on the television in Youngstown,” said DeBartolo, “to see that the bridge had collapsed. We couldn’t reach them. None of the phones worked. All my dad and my wife and I could do was pray. About an hour later, we got a call from Dwight saying, ‘All is well. We have the girls with us. They’re safe. Thank God. They had already crossed the bridge.’ To me that was the greatest catch of Dwight Clark’s career.”
THE NIGHT’S BEST LINES
- It goes to someone not known for speaking – wide receiver Marvin Harrison. After talking of how appreciative he was of fans in Indianapolis, he said he knew the difference between fans who were kind to you and fans who were … well, weren’t … because he’s from Philadelphia. “If you get the coin toss wrong in Philadelphia,” he said, “they want to trade you first thing Monday morning.”
- Orlando Pace on his legacy: “I’ve accomplished great things in my career but nothing as great as my children.”
- Kevin Greene on practicing against Bo Jackson at the Auburn University: “Bo ran my ass over. But I’ve got a peace about it. Because he ran a lot of asses over.”
- Kendra Moyes, daughter of Ken Stabler, on her father finally making it to Canton: “There’s a snake in the Hall.”
- Eddie DeBartolo on Charles Haley after he was ejected in a game in Chicago: “I knew he’d be along, so I went to the locker room to be with him. He saw me and said, ‘Hey, Mr.D., they ejected you, too?’ “
Leave it to DeBartolo. Talking about the 1981 NFC championship game, he said when people ask him what he remembers about The Catch, he tells them this story: “There was about a minute left, and we were driving. I wanted to be on the field with the guys,so I went through the tunnel and out of the dugout. I was trying to see what was happening, but I was behind the biggest horse that you could ever imagine, with the police officer on him about 12 feet above me. Then I heard the screams of the crowd and looked up to the officer. He put his thumb up and winked and said, ‘Clark, touchdown!’ That’s how I found out. At our moment of glory, I was literally blocked by a horse’s ass.”
(Talk of Fame Network Photo)
Kudos to Dungy and Favre for asking teammates and former players to stand up and be recognized. One of those players was former quarterback Peyton Manning, a certain first-ballot choice for the Class of 2021 and the quarterback who won Super Bowl XLI for Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts. And that was good seeing Manning in something other than “Sunday Morning with Peyton” commercials. But what was odd was that Dungy never mentioned him by name … and that’s not like him.
TALK ABOUT COURAGE
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is suffering from throat cancer, but that didn’t prevent him from appearing to receive the McCann Award for his contributions as a journalist. A frail Mortensen received a standing ovation from the audience and extensive praise from those on stage and those who appeared on videos that played on big screens.
STANDING UP FOR NON-FOOTBALL STARS
The son of a career military officer, Kevin Greene gained a standing O when he closed by thanking “all those brave people that have served and continue to serve our country, from the firefighters to the paramedics to the men and women in law enforcement, those that lay t on the line every day for all of us.” But Greene didn’t stop there. With applause growing louder, he said “I rest easy at night underneath the canopy of freedom that you deploy. I am eternally grateful, and I salute you. Thank you.”
THE NIGHT’S LOUDEST SHOUTOUTS
- Kevin Greene played with four teams but left no doubt where he left his heart – calling Pittsburgh, where he played three years, “the right place in the right time.” It was there that then-defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who presented Greene, positioned Greene at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, a spot where he excelled. “It was awesome to be a part of that,” said Greene. “I was in football heaven. It was the pinnacle of my football life.”
- Brett Favre to former GM Ron Wolf, now in the Hall of Fame: “Ron Wolf is the single most important person to the Packers’ rebirth than any other person out there – player, coach, GM … Ron Wolf made it cool to come to Green Bay.”
- Tony Dungy on former teammate Donnie Shell, who presented him Saturday: “I’m thrilled to have my Steeler roommate and should-be Hall of Famer, Donnie Shell, present me.”
- Eddie DeBartolo to the NFL: “I think we could use a little bit more of that sense of duty to one another and that sense of responsibility for one another. I know that’s what my good friend, the commissioner, and the players’ union desperately want and are trying to do today.”
- Brett Favre to millennials everywhere: “I’ve said this to my daughters, and I’ll say it to any young person out there who is playing sports: Don’t ever look back and regret not doing your best. Don’t ever look back because there are no second chances. When you’re 25, and you wish you would have done something in high school it’s too late. Don’t cheat yourself… I don’t regret anything. It’s not to say I was perfect. I don’t regret anything, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
When Orlando Pace was talking, someone raised a large, hand-drawn banner that read “75 … Pancackes, anyone?” Oh, yeah, it included a stack of … what else? … pancakes.
(Talk of Fame Network photo)
TARA, TARA, TARA
Kevin Greene’s wife, Tara, sang the National Anthem prior to Saturday’s ceremony, and she nailed it. On the evening when Kevin Greene was inducted into Canton, there were two members of the Greene family on the Hall-of-Fame radar.
ON THE CLOCK
Here’s the length of Saturday night’s acceptance speeches:
Marvin Harrison – 11:01
Orlando Pace – 16:22
Kevin Greene – 18:58
Eddie DeBartolo – 26:27
Tony Dungy – 16:58
Brett Favre – 36:17
NUMBERS THAT MATTER
9-1 – Record of Kevin Greene’s teams when his wife, Tara, sang the National Anthem
10 – Number of Steelers from the 1978 team in the Hall
11 – Widows of Hall of Famers who attended
18-2-1 – Ken Stabler’s record at Alabama
130 – Hall of Famers who attended
321 – Consecutive career starts by Favre
CLASS OF 2017
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson and pass rusher Jason Taylor head the Class of 2017, with Tomlinson considered a leading candidate for first-ballot induction. Safety Brian Dawkins, wide receiver Hines Ward, linebacker Joey Porter, safety Bob Sanders and quarterback Donovan McNabb join a queue that already includes luminaries like Kurt Warner, Joe Jacoby, Terrell Davis, Terrell Owens, John Lynch, Don Coryell, Alan Faneca, Edgerrin James and Morten Andersen.