With a passionate 33-minute speech in which he strolled around the stage, ad libbed, praised and joked, spoke of sacrifice, love, glory and overcoming the odds, Ray Lewis entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One of the best linebackers and leaders the game has seen, Lewis was the final man inducted of the seven class of 2018 members on hand. He was preceeded by Randy Moss, Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile and Bobby Beathard.
Terrell Owens was not in Canton, Ohio, choosing instead to hold his own ceremony in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“Tell me something can’t be done is like pouring lighter fluid on an open flame,” said Lewis, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who won a second Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens for the 2012 season - coming back from a torn triceps - then retired. He was the MVP of the 2001 title game.
“I came back, and boy did I come back,” Lewis said. “When you walk off the last time with that thing, that Lombardi, it’s a confirmation I am living proof of the impossible.”
A first-year nominee, Lewis was selected 26th overall in the 1996 draft - what were other teams thinking? He wasn’t even Baltimore first choice: Jonathan Ogden was, and the big tackle made the Hall of Fame in 2013.
His impact was immediate, both on the field, in the locker room, and even in pregame introductions, when his “squirrel dance” fired up fans and teammates alike. He and Ogden even did a short version on the stage.
Lewis was the first player with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career. An eight-time All-Pro and inside linebacker on the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team, he had a franchise-record 2,643 career tackles.
NFL receivers usually are tall or fast. Randy Moss was both, making him the most dangerous pass catcher in the game, and now a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
A first-year nominee, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Moss brought the perfect combination of height, speed, soft hands and agility to Minnesota as the 21st overall draft pick in 1998 after a rocky college career. His 69 receptions, 17 for touchdowns, and 1,313 yards helped the Vikings go 15-1 and earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
That was just the start for the eccentric but always dynamic Moss. When he finally hooked up with an elite quarterback, he caught a record 23 TD passes from Tom Brady in New England’s perfect 2007 regular season.
Moss rubbed the face and top of his bust, then delivered a sermon worthy of any church or synagogue.
“When I came into the NFL I had no sense of direction,” Moss said. “All I wanted to do was play football. Not for one day did I not think God was with me.”
Moss was a four-time All-Pro and member of the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s who played for five franchises in all. He said he didn’t regret one day with any of those clubs.
He paid tribute to his family, to the fans of his teams, and to his roots in West Virginia - he promised he would return to his hometown of Rand on Sunday to show off his gold jacket.
Weapon X is now a Hall of Famer.
Brian Dawkins, one of the hardest-hitting and most versatile safeties in NFL history, has been inducted into the pro football shrine.
Dawkins stared at his bust and nodded his approval to the crowd.
An extremely popular player for 13 seasons in Philadelphia and another three in Denver, Dawkins guaranteed he would cry during his inductions speech. He was true to his word during a passionate oration that echoed his playing style.
“The majority of success I have had has come on the back end of pain,” he said noting he had suicidal thoughts when he battled depression. “On the other side of it, all of a sudden I became better. There’s a purpose for my pain.
“I have grown leaps and bounds because of the things I went through. For those going through this now, there is hope on the other side. Keep moving, keep pushing through.”
Dawkins was the leader of an Eagles defense that made four straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. Voted to the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team and a five-time All-Pro, Dawkins intercepted passes in 15 consecutive seasons and had 37 picks overall. He averaged nearly 100 tackles a year and spotlighted his versatility as the first player in NFL history to get a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch (on a screen pass) in a game, against Houston in 2002.
Brian Urlacher has become a record-28th Chicago Bear inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A first-year nominee who filled the tradition of great middle linebackers in the Windy City so brilliantly, Urlacher actually was a safety at New Mexico. Chicago selected him ninth overall in the 2000 draft and immediately converted him to linebacker. He spent two weeks in training camp on the outside, then was moved inside - for 13 spectacular seasons.
“I love everything about football: the friendships, the coaches, the teachers, the challenges, the opportunity to excel. I loved going to work every day for 13 years,” said the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, a season in which Urlacher had 171 tackles.
The Bears won four division titles and one conference championship with Urlacher, their career tackles leader who also had 41 1/2 sacks and 22 interceptions. The five-time All-Pro and member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team even did some work on special teams.
But it was in the heart of the defense where he shone.
“The most coveted position for a defensive player to play is middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears,” said Urlacher, who had to hold back tears several times. “Just think about it. I hope over my 13 seasons I made you Bears fans proud.”
The long, long wait for Jerry Kramer has ended. At last, the star guard of the Green Bay Packers has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A senior committee nominee, Kramer became eligible in 1974 after 11 seasons with the Packers in which he won five NFL championships and two Super Bowls. Now 82, he admitted to being bitter when often passed over for the hall, but that any such feelings “disappeared” when he got in this year.
Kramer noted the Packers went 1-10-1, the worst record in their history, when he was a rookie.
“Coach Lombardi arrived and the world turned around,” said Kramer, one of the anchors of the vaunted Green Bay offensive line under Vince Lombardi, and the guy who sprung the block to lead Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak to win the Ice Bowl against Dallas for the 1967 conference title. The Packers then won a second straight Super Bowl.
He paid tribute to learning the importance of “preparation, commitment, discipline, consistency, pride, tenacity, belief in your team and belief in yourself.”
“It was an incredible experience to be with him and have him bring you along,” he said of Lombardi. “Approval and belief: powerful, powerful tools.”
Bobby Beathard, who won four Super Bowls as a team executive and drafted four Pro Football Hall of Famers, has entered the hall himself.
A contributor’s committee nominee, Beathard worked for the Chiefs, Falcons, Dolphins, Redskins and Chargers. He won NFL titles each with Miami, including the perfect 1972 season, and Washington - where he hired fellow Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs as coach. He also helped Kansas City and San Diego make Super Bowls.
As a scout and general manager, Beathard spent much of his time on the road seeking talent for his teams. He has said he saw in person every player he selected, and particularly bragged about getting Texas A&M-Kingsville; cornerback Darrell Green with the 28th overall pick in 1983. Green played 20 seasons in Washington, winning two championships.
Beathard’s speech was delivered via video, although he was on stage with Gibbs, who presented him for induction.
“I’m really grateful for this honor,” said Beathard, who retired after the 1999 season, ending a decade with the Chargers. He was with the Redskins the previous 11 seasons.
Dr. Doom has entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Robert Brazile, who earned that nickname by playing in all 147 games for the Houston Oilers in his 10-year NFL career, has been inducted into the Canton shrine.
Forcefully, Brazile, who kissed his bust when it was unveiled, spoke of his upbringing in a “house filled with love” and how he and Walter Payton made history by being selected in the first-round of the same draft from a historically black college.
A senior committee nominee, Brazile was drafted sixth overall out of Jackson State, two picks behind his teammate. He made such an immediate pro impact he was the 1975 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and went on to five All-Pro seasons as one of the game’s most versatile linebackers. He was in on a stunning 185 tackles in 1978.
Presented by his father, also named Robert, Brazile made the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team. He retired in 1984 and became a special education teacher.
“When they knocked on my door,” he said of finding out in February he had finally made the hall, “all of my dreams came true. And after all these years, I’m at home.”
“In closing, I will leave you with this,” Owens said. “There was a guy by the name of William James and he said the great lease of life is to spend it on something that outlasts it. My legacy starts today.
“Thank you so much, Chattanooga.”
Owens had his gold jacket and wore it at his personal celebration. Owens didn’t attend the dinner in Canton on Friday night, where the other seven members of the class of 2018 got their jackets. But he had someone pick it up and bring it to Tennessee for his ceremony.
He originally wore a dark suit decorated with the hall logo when he entered McKenzie Arena at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he attended college.
- Teresa M. Walker reporting from Chattanooga.
Terrell Owens says he wants to address the elephant in the room on his reasons for celebrating his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 600 miles away from Canton, Ohio.
Owens says his character has been heavily challenged and questioned for years, but he wants to put truth to power or power to truth. He says he chose avoid Canton not because of how many times it took for him to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
He says it’s the fact that sports writers are not aligned with the mission and core values of the Hall of Fame. Owens says the writers disregarded the system, criteria and bylaws and ultimately the true meaning of the hall. He says he wants to take a stand so the next guy coming after him won’t have to wait three years or 45 years to get what was rightfully earned.
Owens came out wearing a dark suit smattered with the logo of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When his time to speak came, a woman came out with a gold jacket. Owens slipped on the gold jacket before a standing ovation from at least 2,500 fans at McKenzie Arena at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
He wiped tears from his eyes as fans cheered him and chanted “T.O., T.O.”
Terrell Owens will look out and see lots of his No. 81 jerseys in the stands at McKenzie Arena when he makes his personal induction speech for the Pro Football Hall of Fame at his alma mater.
His No. 81 shirts from Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas are scattered around the arena where Owens played basketball while at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He played on two NCAA Tournament teams along with playing football and running track.
Johnny Taylor, the 17th pick overall by Orlando in the 1997 NBA Draft, is among the former teammates on hand for Owens‘ moment.
Taylor says he was a little surprised Owens decided not go to Canton. But Taylor says that’s what he loves about T.O.: The man always does things his way. Taylor is excited that Owens is doing this in the city and at the university where he played. Taylor says that speaks volumes to the person Owens is even if other people think differently.
Three of Owens‘ college coaches are due to speak at the ceremony: former Chattanooga receivers coach Frankie DeBusk, former basketball coach Mack McCarthy, and former football coach Buddy Green. From the NFL, Owens has two former position coaches here in Larry Kirksey and Ray Sherman.
- Teresa M. Walker reporting from Chattanooga.
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