No Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony would be complete without a little bravado, some tears and a plethora of thank you’s, but Saturday’s ceremony will go down in history as one of the best.
The 2011 class included Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films, DE Richard Dent, TE Shannon Sharpe, RB Marshall Faulk, Washington Redskins LB Chris Hanburger, CB Deion Sanders, and posthumously, Rams LB Les Richter.
The ceremony was held at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio. ESPN’s Chris Berman served as “MC.” Each inductee was presented by someone special of their choice (for example, Faulk and Sanders were presented by their agents) via pre-taped video segment, then they were met on stage by that person to unveil their busts. Ahem, I’ll come back to the busts later….
First up was Ed Sabol, presented by his son Steve Sabol, co-founder of NFL Films. Within Steve’s presentation video is the last NFL film produced by Ed. The elder Sabol is 94 years old, and wheel chair bound, so he kept his speech short and sweet. He began by saying, “I dreamt the impossible dream.”
The significance of NFL Films on the game of football can never be properly measured, but the impact their work and Ed Sabol’s vision had on the game, its players and fans is without a doubt incredible and lasting.
The next gentleman to be presented was The Sackmaster himself, Richard Dent. Dent was a relentless defensive end, most-notably for the Chicago Bears, and as a member of that franchises 1985 Super Bowl team. His college defensive coordinator, Joe Gilliam presented him. Dent attended Tennessee State University (also the alma mater of Oprah Winfrey) and the university was well represented by administrators and the university’s marching band, the Aristocrat of Bands. Several of Dent’s former teammates made the trip to watch his induction, including Otis Wilson, Emory Morehead, and Mike Richardson. Mr. Dent would have benefited from a speech writer, though.
Chris Hanburger, who played his entire 12-year career with the Washington Redskins was presented by his namesake, Chris. Hanburger kept it light and joked of trying to sell his speech time to his fellow inductees, especially Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe (trust me, they needed it). He spoke of how thrilled he was to be in the Hall and one of the most striking things he said was, “There were so many players that played before I did, they’re men that I played with and against, and there’s guys playing now and unfortunately nominations are not gonna come their way. An election is not gonna come their way, but it’s a system and it is what it is and that’s why I’m just so fortunate.” Hanburger also used the moment to remind his wife and daughters that he wasn’t gonna change so they should stop trying to get him to smile more. It was cute.
Shannon Sharpe was next. That bears repeating because his presentation and speech were the most emotional and touching of the night. Sterling Sharpe, Shannon’s older brother and former NFL wide receiver, presented him and the two shared a strong embrace, as I am sure they have done many times over the years. Shannon’s speech was deliberate and concise. Respectfully, he gave brother Sterling his just due for being a great football player (admittedly better than he) in his own right, while nearly chiding the Hall of Fame selection committee into seeing to it that his brother makes it in. By the time Shannon got to the part about his grandmother it became a story for the ages and the tears began to flow. Mary Porter raised Shannon, Sterling and their sister, Libby, in a 1000 square foot cinder block home. She was their everything. Were it not for her sacrifices and guidance who knows how their lives would have turned out.
I will be honest when I say Marshall Faulk’s speech was the least impressive. Faulk was presented by his agent, Rocky Arceneaux, whom he credited with supporting him no matter what, and never judging him, but also informing him of when he was wrong. He brought Mr. Arceneaux to tears. But, as the speech progressed, it seemed Faulk was self-absorbed and lacking humility. He turned it around a bit when he thanked Jim Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts organization, and when he recalled his time spent in St. Louis with the Rams, giving props to his teammates, most notably Kurt Warner and coaches Mike Martz and Dick Vermeil, and also the team owner at that time, Georgia Frontiere. At times, he sounded like a salesman, and his speech was painfully long, but there is no denying that he belongs in Canton.
Lee Richter, who passed away last summer, was presented by his son, Jon Richter. Lee is the only player in NFL history to have been traded for 11 players. He was an Army man, and joined the Los Angeles Rams (who held his rights) after serving the country for two years. Jon’s sister Ann joined him on stage to unveil their fathers bust, after which they hugged and walked tearfully off stage together.
Lastly, and rightfully so, Prime Time brought the ceremony to a close. Deion Sanders’ long-time agent Eugene Parker presented him and Deion didn’t waste anytime thanking everyone he could think of from a prepared list, including Bishop T.D. Jakes, Coach Bobby Bowden, his DB coach Mickey Andrews, Andre Rison, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, Nelly, former teammates Neil Smith, Nate Newton, and Under Armour who sponsors his Truth Select Sports program (all the children from his program were present at the ceremony), and the Whitey Zimmerman, the Falcons legendary equipment manager, now deceased; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, defensive coordinator and former NFL head coach Ray Rhodes, and fellow Hall of Fame member and Baltimore Ravens GM, Ozzie Newsome. I must stress, that these names are only a few on what was an extensive list of people that Deion credited with his success.
Deion’s children all wore a jersey from each of the five teams he played for. He thanked his aunts, an uncle, his sister, and his wife, Pilar Sanders, but he began to share a testimony when he spoke about his mother, Connie Knight, as she looked on sympathetically. Deion told a story of how he was ashamed of his mother for working in a hospital pushing carts after one of his high school buddies “mocked” him after seeing her toiling at her job. From then, Deion promised himself that he would do everything in his power to ensure his mother would never have to work another day in her life.
Prime also addressed those who criticized him over the years for not tackling. He said, “Since 1989, I’ve tackled every bill my momma has ever given me.”
Deion, always one to entertain, elicited raucous applause and laughter when he placed that bandana on his bust, surely a HOF first. He does it his way, no compromise.
This was one of the most enjoyable enshrinement ceremonies to take place oin a long time. To watch these men pour their hearts out in front of family, friends, and colleagues was a sight to see. I’m not sure how they will top this next year.
Twitter went hard on a couple of the busts, especially Deion’s bust. The likeness was debatable, to say the least.
By the way, will anyone miss the Hall of Fame game?