So now, T.O., you know what you missed in Canton … and it was as powerful as it was memorable. Not because of who or what was absent but because of who and what were there.
Passion defined Saturday night’s Hall-of-Fame induction ceremony, with Class of 2018 inductees Brian Dawkins, Randy Moss and Ray Lewis making emotional addresses and the normally stoic Brian Urlacher choking up to recall his late mother.
There was Dawkins fitting his “Hall-of-Fame bride” with a gold veil for “being my rock and the glue to our family.” And Jerry Kramer, who waited 45 years for this moment, reaching out to thank a kicker for helping him through training camp over five decades ago. And let’s not forget Moss, inviting everyone in his hometown of Rand, W. Va., to the state’s biggest party Sunday in Rand’s town center – time: 4:30 p.m. — where they can meet him in his new gold jacket.
“Because this is ours,” he said to cheers.
Then there was Bobby Beathard on stage with his presenter, Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs, embracing as they had so many times over three decades ago in Washington. And Moss again, reaching out to thank New England coach Bill Belichick, in Canton with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, for “being a friend when it wasn’t always about football.” And the inductees, starting with the night’s opening speaker, Robert Brazile, who recognized the Hall and its voters — honest, T.O. — for their roles in making the night possible.
In short, it was an evening as much about appreciation as it was celebration. Seven individuals weren’t the stars of Saturday’s three-and-a-half-hour ceremony as much as faith, hope, perseverance and gratitude were.
“Everyone I have spoken tonight is family,” said Urlacher. “The men I played with are my brothers. The men I coached with are my fathers. Trust me when I tell you: It is family.”
And then, of course, there was Ray Lewis being … well, Ray Lewis. He concluded the evening with an impassioned address that had him step away from the podium to prowl the stage back and forth, addressing the crowd through a wireless mic and expending so much energy that he sweat through his gold blazer.
It was vintage Ray, a combination of inspiration and perspiration, with the former Baltimore linebacker preaching from the pulpit. But, in the end, it was Lewis doing what he does best — reaching deep down to explain to a large Baltimore contingent what he discovered this weekend sitting among Hall of Famers.
“I was introduced to something yesterday that will forever change my life,” said Lewis of a luncheon Friday with fellow Gold Jackets. “I saw egos set aside. I saw men talk as men. I saw men close the door from all aspects of life … from all races of life … and we came to a solution.
“It wasn’t no judgment. It was just conversation. That’s what makes this family so great. That’s why I’m so happy to be a part of this family.”
RIGHT ON TIME
The night’s big winner: Hall-of-Fame timekeepers.
For the first time in recent memory, all but one inductee kept his acceptance speech from becoming a filibuster — with the lone exception: Keynote speaker Ray Lewis. OK, so he wasn’t really an exception. The Hall reserved him for last because it believed (rightly) he would go long and probably sermonize.
Lewis checked in with the night’s only 30-minute speech, going 32:57. But the rest of the crowd? All but Dawkins kept it under 2o minutes, with the former safety just under 22 … and, yes, that’s a big leap forward.
A year ago, three recipients went over 30 minutes each, with Dallas owner Jerry Jones leading the pack at 36:46. The Hall responded by reiterating to inductees that time was important and encouraging them to keep messages at 15 minutes apiece — knowing full well that it couldn’t demand it.
But this time it was heard, and to quote Dawkins’ opening remarks Saturday … hallelujah!
ON THE CLOCK
The length of speeches by the Class of 2018, in descending order … longest to shortest:
32:57 — Ray Lewis
21: 37 — Brian Dawkins
19:10 — Brian Urlacher
18:17 — Jerry Kramer
16:46 — Randy Moss
8:24 — Robert Brazile
2:16 — Bobby Beathard (videotaped)
Brian Dawkins talking about how he suffered from a depression so deep that he had “suicidal thoughts” and “was planning how I was going to kill myself so my wife could get the money. But what that pain did for me (was) it increased my faith exponentially.” And so, as Dawkins said, he overcame one of the darkest moments of his life — passing on a lesson for others to follow. “Don’t settle,” he said. “There is hope on the other side.”
Ray Lewis failing to top Jones’ near 37-minute performance of a year ago … and he wasn’t even close.
Senior inductee Robert Brazile thanked Hall-of-Fame voter and Houston Chronicle columnist John McClain for a “draft campaign that will never be forgotten by me or my family” hours after Owens — who declined to attend his own induction in Canton — criticized the board in general and sportswriters specifically after waiting three years to reach Canton. Brazile waited 29.
BIGGEST CAMPAIGN PUSH
Every year at least one inductee promotes an individual for Hall-of-Fame induction, and Saturday was no exception — with Urlacher pushing Hall-of-Fame former Dallas safety Darren Woodson, who was in Canton as an ESPN commentator.
“He should be in the Hall of Fame and sitting up here with us, I believe, today,” said Urlacher. “I loved the way he smashed people … the way he played … the way he handles himself on and off the field. I wanted to be just like him.”
THE NIGHT’S KICKER
A year after Morten Andersen was inducted, another kicker made it on stage in Canton … though not in a gold jacket. Don Chandler was remembered by Jerry Kramer for his help in getting Kramer — who had undergone nine surgeries the year before — through the 1966 training camp in Green Bay when the guard was unable to complete some of the drills. In essence, Chandler told him whatever calisthenics or running drills Kramer couldn’t complete, he would. “Don Chandler sat beside me for 35 days, and he helped me every step of the way,” said Kramer. “A great part of my life follows that probably would not have been without Don Chandler.”
THEY SAID IT
“I want to thank your for ignoring the noise and welcoming me with open arms. It was God’s will for us to cross paths. I want to thank you personally for finding out if I was real or not.” — Randy Moss to Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick.
“The bottom line is: You get Bobby Beathard, you get Super Bowls.”– Joe Gibbs, Beathard’s presenter.
“‘Mother, thank you. If it wasn’t for you I definitely wouldn’t be here today.” — Brian Urlacher.
“I think he’s the greatest Philadelphia Eagle to wear a uniform.” — former teammate Troy Vincent on Brian Dawkins.
“My haters became my elevators.” — Brian Dawkins.
“Our gravestones have a date — a date when you were born and a date when you die. And they got a dash in between. And that dash defines what your legacy is.” — Ray Lewis.