Another Inspiring Weekend In Canton

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: August 8, 2008

CANTON — The place where pro football legends come to rest was alive as “Redskins Nation” brought their passion and loud voices to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A total of 16,654 boisterous fans, most draped in the Burgundy and Gold of the ‘Skins, packed into Fawcett Stadium to see their heroes reach pro football’s apex.Saturday’s six new members made the ranks of Pro Football Hall of Fame’s fraternity swelled to 247.

Often on Saturday as I stood stage left and listened to each man hand out their “Thank You’s” and love to everyone from Mom and Dad to their junior high football coach, the goose bumps were quite prevalent.I can honesty say that “I love the game of Pro Football” and each year when I make the trek to Canton, my passion for the sport is re-kindeled by the legends of past.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a special place and the host city of Canton, OH and the National Football League (NFL)put on the best induction ceremonies of any Hall of Fame in my opinion.What makes the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions so special to me is that the event brings the hustle and bustle of NFL to “Small-town” Middle America — there lemonade stands, people using their lawn as a parking lot, barbeques, touch football games, and good tidings at every turn.

A lot of people may wonder why the Hall of Fame of the biggest sport in the United States is in such an off-the-beaten-path place.But these questioners need to understand that pro football was not always “America’s Game” as today’s NFL Network highlight driven league has a rich history established 88 years ago by renegade/visionary people like Bert Bell, Jim Thorpe, Art Rooney, George Halas, Red Grange, Fritz Pollard and many others in small tough industrial towns like Canton, Ohio and Hammond, Indiana.

This year’s ceremonies may not have had the “Michael Irvin tear-jerker” moment, but there were plenty of emotions and memories that will last a lifetime for the players, presenters, fans in attendance, and the national television audience.To me one of the best features that now brings the legend to life before their speeches is the video player highlight montages of Sundays past and pre-presentation words from the HOF player’s presenter that easily broughta tear to your eyes.

The overriding themes of this year’s event were “Follow Your Dreams” no matter the obstacles, nothing could be accomplish without the love and support from family/friends, and the strong guiding force of faith in the humbled honorees lives.

However, Saturday’s event clearly felt like FedEx field on a Sunday afternoon especially when Redskins greats Darrell Green and Art Monk brought the house down with their speeches.

Here is a breakdown of each of the new members and their speeches.

Andre Tippett - The former Patriot best known for bringing the wood to quarterbacks (100 career sacks), used his induction speech to thank the many people who had helped him along the way.Tippett clearly loves being part of his own family and his adopted Patriots family – Tippett even had current Patriots owner Robert Kraft presented him even though he never played under him.He specially thanked the organization for giving him a chance during and after his 11-year career with the franchise.

The road for Tippett may have been hard from the tough streets of New Jersey to Iowa to New England then finally the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he wanted young people to know the journey was worth it.He said to the many young people watching, “I am proof you should do everything you can to live your dream. Whatever that may be. I did not have the material advantages, but through commitment to achieving my goals, using the advantages that I did have and listening to the wise men and women who offered their support, I was able to live my dream. This was my dream.”

Emmitt Thomas – The oldest member of this year’s class might have had the best pre-induction speech when Emmitt’s son Derek said of his father, “Like most kids, we don’t always follow that advice. A piece of advice he gave me once was never make athletes your heroes because they are humans and they make mistakes, too. I guess I didn’t listen to that advice very well. I’d like to introduce you to my hero, my mentor, my father, Emmitt Thomas.”

After waiting for his selection by the veterans committee, Thomas who patrolled the secondary for Hank Stram’s Super Bowl Champion Chiefs (58 career INTs) gave his glory to God.In his own words Thomas said it was God’s work that drove an undrafted free agent, country boy from little Angleton, Texas to the hallowed grounds of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thomas, who served as the Atlanta Falcons interim head coach in 2007 said, “It’s simple, ladies and gentlemen. I respected (the NFL) and I still respect the American values that our great game stands for.” He spoke of the difficulties he had growing up, following the death of his mother when he was 8 years old.As a tribute to his grandfather, Thomas asked the Hall of Fame to let him go into the Hall with the name of Emmitt Earl Fyles Thomas. His grandfather’s name was Lewis Fyles Jr.

Fred Dean – After being announced by former Niners deposed owner Eddie DeBartolo – saved Dean’s career while helping his team win the Super Bowl in 1981 — the smallish pass-rushing specialist had a church sermon feel to his speech.

The sermon was long-winded at times, but no one could blame 11-year veteran as he defied the odds of size, management issues earlier in his career, and being a combo defensive end/linebacker to make it to Canton .

At times he rambled on about his family especially his Mother and Father (attended the event), but he had a “grandfatherly” feel to his speech that made you want more.With all of Dean’s stumbling early on, something definitely seemed remiss.

Humorously the crowd soon learned during the middle of the speech that Dean had forgotten his glasses and couldn’t read the speech. Hall of Fame Detroit Lions corner back Lem Barney was “Johnny on the spot” as he lent his glasses to Dean with the former cool former Niners defensive end bringing laughter from crowd by saying, “I think that’s gonna work, Dog”.

I think Dean’s best quotes centered on his will to play defensive end despite his size, “I wanted to be a defensive end. You know, when you get used to it, you get used to getting down in the dirt, getting your clothes dirty and wallowing a little bit, it makes everything come out right when you can stand up out of the mud and feel comfortable. So I said to myself, ‘Hmm, I like the dirt.’

Darrell Green – Once known as the NFL’s fastest man (3-time champion), this time Green savored each moment and took the time during his speech to drive home that in his words “I belong here!!”.After being introduced by his very eloguent son Jared, Green took the stage to a roaring crowd fating him with chants of “Dar-rel, Dar-rel”.The only player in the ’08 class selected in his first year of eligibility was also the only one to cry, and he was proud of it. “Deacon Jones said I was gonna cry. You bet I’m gonna cry,” he said after being introduced “You bet you’re life I’m gonna cry. You bet your life I will”.

Green’s electric smile light up the stadium as the NFL’s oldest corner ever (42) didn’t disappoint everyone’s feeling that he would bring the house down.Green gave Thank yous to his family, friend, teammates, and Redskins fans before chronicling his journey (junior high to high school to college at Texas A&I (quitting then returning) to the Redskins to the Hall of Fame) as a very small player that some questioned in his youth.Green spoke ofhow the journey was a long one filled with obstacles including the death of both his parents and two close childhood friends (Kevin Mitchell and Sean Taylor), but he said his faith kept him on the right path.

In closing he talked of encouragement finishing with the story “My dad, my dad, Leonard Green, Sr., everybody said you’re too little, you can’t do it. He said, boy, you can run that ball. They said no. And he said go. The most encouragement you can ever get in life is when a dad encourages his son. Encourage your son, that’s what he did for us.”

Gary Zimmerman – First off you have to take your hat off to Zimm for going in-between two Redskins in front of a partisan crowd of ‘Skins fans.During a career that spanned two leagues (USFL and NFL), three franchises (LA Express – USFL, Minnesota Vikings, and Denver Broncos) and almost two decades (made two NFL All-Decade Teams (1980s and 1990s), Zimmerman was never asked to say much the same as most offensive lineman.

But on Saturday, John Elway’s former offensive line bodyguardafter getting out his Thank Yous, Zimmerman spoke for awhile about how offensive lineman’s work is yeoman.He said no one wants to start out as an O-lineman, but in the end you find out the responsibility of the position.To related that theme, the 7-time Pro Bowl player said”When I began playing in Denver, I came to know the curse.

The curse happens to tackles that have an amazingly talented quarterback, like John Elway. And you are responsible for protecting his blind side. What happens is the night before the game you get little or no sleep, because if you didn’t do your job, you’ll forever be known as the guy who lost our franchise. … I would also like to thank John, it was worth every sleepless night.”

Art Monk – The player, who everyone wanted to probably hear from the most went last.The Fawcett Stadium crowd fueled by Redskins Nation gave the quiet former all-time NFL career catch leader (940 catches) a four-minute standing ovation. Most of the crowd’s chants during the ovation were, “It’s about time!!” as the man who went unselected 8 times as a finalist finally had his moment at center stage this evening.

Monk spoke very eloquently and humbly about his journey to Canton.His overall focus seem to be regarding his unwavering faith that never allowed him to keep pushing on when everyone though he was “average” at many levels of football.It was also his faith, he said that allowed him to not measure himself against being in or not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The great thing about Monk’s speech was that you could visually see that he truly was touched to be in the company of the NFL’s all-time greats.He said of finally joining the NFL’s elite, “It’s been hard to sit back and think about the significance of what all this really means, I realize that it’s more than a bust and wearing a gold jacket. It’s about history and the game and those who made the game what it is today, and it’s a privilege to be included in that group”.

As I headed to my car for my drive back to Pennsylvania — BTW: Special Thanks goes out to the Magness family for hosting this scribe – fireworks light up the Canton nigh punctuating this special event and I was truly full from pro football’s legacy.The event is truly awing and I hope that everyone who loves the game can come for a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Because the place is more than busts on a wall, it is echoes and voices of people who wanted to build a tradition for the future generations of football and they did.So lets make sure that everyone associated to the NFL understands that this sport has been around for a long time and it is our duty to continue honoring its rich heritage.