CANTON, Ohio — The Pro Football Hall of Fame was smart to save Dallas owner Jerry Jones and former quarterback Kurt Warner for its last acceptance speeches at Saturday’s induction — essentially saving the best for last. Both were compelling, entertaining and absorbing, and both recited stories and parables that resonated with their audience.
But both were long, too, and that was more than a theme for Saturday’s induction. It was a warning, too, for future ceremonies. And the message goes something like this: This just can’t go on.
No matter how riveting the stories, no more matter how charismatic the speakers, the Hall of Fame cannot continue to allow addresses to run in excess of 25 and 30 minutes — and five of the seven Saturday did, with no speech running less than 19:33.
That’s not good for anyone … the audience here, the TV audience at home or the other Hall of Famers on stage.
But it’s especially not good for the last speaker, who happened to be Warner Saturday. He might well be, as host Chris Berman said, “the story almost too good to be believed.” But he didn’t go on until after 11 p.m. … on a night that began at 7 p.m. and ended at 11:45 … and that must change.
I’m not sure how the Hall of Fame does it (its attempt by turning off TelePrompters Saturday didn’t really work), but it must find a way to keep acceptance speeches from turning into filibusters. The Hall-of-Fame induction is an unforgettable ceremony that should be viewed and heard … especially in person … but not when it lasts nearly five hours.
— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) August 6, 2017
WHAT I LIKED …
Jerry Jones’ anecdotes. Yes, he went long. But Jones was like Brett Favre a year ago: captivating.
Host Chris Berman referring to the Chargers as “the San Diego Chargers.”
LaDainian Tomlinson’s tears of joys when he put on the gold jacket for the first time Friday.
Kenny Easley calling for the end to the killings of black youths in the United States: “It has to stop.”
Jason Taylor’s shout-out to his Mom, who raised her family alone: “She taught me what it was to work hard and to never give up.”
Kurt Warner expressing love for his father’s willingness to spend time with him when Warner was a kid, with Dad never telling him no.
Former baseball great … and Michigan State alum … Kirk Gibson here for Morten Andersen’s induction.
Jason Taylor getting a standing ovation for congratulating his sister, Grace, who flew here from South Korea where she serves in the military and for acknowledging soldiers, including his uncle, as “real heroes.”
The faces made by Terrell Davis’ boys while their Dad saluted them.
WHAT I DIDN’T …
The occasional light rain. It kept the crowd down, especially as the evening wore on, with the crowd announced as 13,400.
The Chargers starting a shared practice with the Rams at their Costa Mesa facility at 7:30 p.m, or midway through Kenny Easley’s Hall-of-Fame speech.
The Hall of Fame somehow screwing up the video of Morten Andersen when he was introduced at Friday’s Gold Jacket dinner. The video, as it turns out, wasn’t of Andersen … nor of his high school … nor of Denmark, Andersen’s home. It was a Norwegian team. You gotta be kidding.
Length of speeches. Far too long.
ON THE CLOCK
The length of Saturday’s speeches, in descending order:
36:46 –Jerry Jones.
32:40 — Kurt Warner.
31:42 — Jason Taylor.
26:57 –Terrell Davis.
25:59 — LaDainian Tomlinson
21:50 — Kenny Easley, cut off because, as he said. “My TelePrompter just went off.”
19:33 — Morten Andersen.
L.T. WITH A STANDING O
LaDainian Tomlinson delivered the evening’s most powerful speech, tracing his roots to a slave brought over from Africa and imploring Americans to embrace change in their country and in their countrymen.
“I firmly believe that God chose me to help bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson,” he said. “I’m of mixed race, and I represent American. My story is America’s story. All our ancestors, unless they’re American Indians, came from another country, another culture. Football is a microcosm of America — all races, religions and creeds living, playing, competing, sidce-by-side. When you’re part of a team, you understand your teammates — their strengths and weaknesses and work together toward the same goal to win a championship.
“In sports, we’re evaluated on our desire, ability and given a chance to compete. America is a land of opportunity. Let’s not slam the door on those who may sound different from us. I’m being inducted into the Hall of Fame because my athletic ability created an opportunity when we open the door for others to compete we fulfill the nation of one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
He drew a standing ovation before sitting down.
“We’re on America’s team,” he said. “Let’s not choose to be against one another. Let’s choose to be for one another. My great, great, great grandfather had no choice. We have one. I pray we dedicate ourselves to being the best team we can be, working and living together, representing the highest ideals of mankind — leading the way for all nations to follow.”
Every year, someone makes a pitch to put a player, coach, GM or owner in the Pro Football Hall of Fame … and Saturday was no different. Only this time we had a multitude of candidates who were proposed, so let the roll call begin:
Former coach Jimmy Johnson — By Jason Taylor, whom Johnson presented Saturday.
Former tackle Richmond Webb — By former teammate Jason Taylor: “You should be on this stage in a gold jacket.”
Denver owner Pat Bowlen — By running back Terrell Davis, squeezing the Hall-of-Fame selection committee to choose him when it meets Aug. 25. “Let’s make sure this champion is enshrined in 2018,” he said of Bowlen.
Dallas tight end Jason Witten — By Jerry Jones. “Jason will be here,” he said. “He’ll have one of these jackets.”
Former pass rusher DeMarcus Ware — By Jerry Jones. “He’ll get to Canton before Witten,” he said. “I’m really proud of his Super Bowl ring. I just wish it was with the Cowboys.”
Saturday marked the 22nd anniversary of the start of Terrell Davis’ career, with the star running back first suiting up on Aug. 5, 1995 in a preseason game vs. the 49ers in Tokyo, Japan. Davis said he had such a poor practice that week he decided to skip the game, quit football and fly home. So he called the front desk at the team hotel to say he was checking out.
“But because I didn’t speak Japanese,” he said, “I couldn’t communicate. So I couldn’t quit.”
Lucky for him. Davis not only suited up for the 49ers, he joined the game in the third quarter — making an immediate impression.
“Despite having a belly-full of hot dogs,” he said, “I ran down on the kickoff and made a huge hit on the return. Now 22 years later to the day, I’m standing here with these legendary Hall of Famers wearing this beautiful gold jacket. It’s so surreal.”
Jason Taylor breaking down when mentioning his former agent, Gary Wichard, who died in 2011: “He was my agent, but he was so much more. He was a dear friend. He was an advisor. He was a mentor. And he was truly the father I never had. No one believed in me the way Gary did. For 14 years not a day went by that I didn’t talk to Gary Wichard or text every day up to the day that the evil disease, cancer, took his life.”
Terrell Davis, talking about how he tried to please his father through football until his Dad died at 12: “To this day I wonder: Did I gain his respect. Dad, I hope you’re looking down, smiling and uttering the words, ‘Son, I’m proud of you.’ ”
Former head coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was in the audience with his wife, tearing up when he was asked to stand up by LaDainian Tomlinson. “Marty Schottenheimer was the best coach I ever had,” L.T. said.
Former head coach Dick Vermeil, also in the audience, when he was singled out by Kurt Warner. No surprise there. Vermeil tears up as often as the sun shines on San Diego.
Jerry Jones pointing out former head coach Jimmy Johnson as one of the key reasons the Dallas Cowboys became a great franchise. Jones and Johnson had a very public divorce after the Cowboys won two Super Bowls. But Jones made sure history got his decision to hire Johnson … and their time together … right.
“Jimmy, it was a great decision,” Jones said, nodding to Johnson, who sat on the stage. “You were a great teammate,. You were a great partner. To the contrary of popular belief, we worked well together and restored the Cowboys’ credibility with our fans. We were back-t0-back. We were driven. We had thick skin. We took all the criticism they could dish out. I thank you. ”
Later he started a story by saying, “After Jimmy screwed up and we parted ways …”
Then he stopped, and he and Johnson started laughing.
MOST UNLIKELY (AND WELCOME) THANK-YOU
Congratulations to Jerry Jones. He not only thanked the media, he cited by name several writers and reporters who have been good to him during his tenure with the Cowboys. But he saved his greatest praise for our own Rick “Goose” Gosselin with what he called “a special mention.” It was Gosselin who presented Jones to the Hall-of-Fame board of selectors and who pushed his candidacy.
“I wouldn’t be here without him,” he said.
RONNIE LOTT OR KENNY EASLEY?
So who’s the greatest safety in NFL history? Former 49ers’ star Ronnie Lott, who gains a lot of votes, has said he thinks it’s Kenny Easley. But Easley wants to settle the argument, once and for all, and he tried with his speech Saturday.
“I’m going to settle it now, publicly and for good,” he said. “In the last 30 years there has been no better thumper, ball-hawking, fiercely-competitive or smarter defensive back in the NFL than Ronnie Lott. He was the best. There. It’s settled, and because I said so.”
Uh, maybe not. When Lott was interviewed on the big screen afterward, he contradicted Easley.
“It’s not settled at all,” he said. “I just know that his soul of football was much deeper than mine, and he set the tone back in UCLA and he set the tone when he came to Seattle. And, to me, he’s someone I wanted to follow and that I wanted to be.”
MOST MEMORABLE LINES
— Jason Taylor, acknowledging Washington owner Dan Snyder. ” I know I didn’t do a lot for you — two-and-a-half sacks. I stole a lot of money from you, but I appreciate it. Just being honest.”
— Jason Taylor on the role that cornerbacks and former teammates Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison played in his career: “Anybody in this stadium could’ve sacked quarterbacks like I did with you as cornerbacks.”
— Morten Andersen recalling his high-school coach’s instructions on his first trial as a kicker in the United States: “Just kick the s**t out of it. Or we’re going to send you back on the boat.”
— Morten Andersen, expressing his love and admiration for his wife: “I know I outkicked the coverage when I met you.”
— Terrell Davis on how his life changed after he dodged a near-death experience: “God had given me a wake-up call. I couldn’t ignore that call and hang up. I had to answer that call.”
— Jerry Jones on his decision to buy the Cowboys after a long night on vacation in Mexico, with Jones calling to make an offer. ” I said, ‘My name is Jerry Jones, and if I live to get back to the United States I want to buy the Dallas Cowboys .. hangover be damned.’ ”
— Jerry Jones on his younger son, Jerry: “Jerry Jr. is the most like me. I can tell that because I want to grab him by the throat every other day.”
— Brenda Warner on husband Kurt’s enshrinement: “I think Kurt Warner is the best story of all time.”