NFL Hall of Fame: Eight greats take their place in

By Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 7, 2016 at 12:57 AM
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CANTON, Ohio -- On another glorious summer night at the birthplace of the National Football League, eight immortals had their busts unveiled in an emotional ceremony that raised to 303 the number of players, coaches and contributors enshrined in the hallowed Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Family, as much as football, was a recurring theme.

An NFL MVP three consecutive years from 1995 to 1997, quarterback Brett Favre played 20 seasons and 302 games with the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. He was selected to play in 11 Pro Bowls and retired with league records for passing yards (71,838), touchdown passes (508), completions (6,300) and attempts (10,169). Favre also set playoff records for yards (5,855), attempts (791), completions (481) and 20 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

Favre experienced the most emotions during the evening's speeches when he paid tribute to his father Irving, who was his head coach in high school. He said he wouldn't be where he is without him, and after choking up multiple times, he said, "This is tougher than any third-and-15 I've ever faced."

Recalling a poor game he played, his next-to-last in high school, Favre said he overheard his father tell his assistant coaches not to worry, that his son would redeem himself the next week. Favre said, "I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself and make him proud. I hope I succeeded."

The roaring crowed agreed that he did, and Favre said, "Thank you."

Former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. guided his franchise to five Lombardi Trophies, and in a period from 1981 to 1998 (not including the strike-shortened 1982 season), the 49ers averaged 13 victories a season, including the postseason, won 13 division titles, made 16 playoff appearances and advanced to the NFC Championship Game 10 times. Before this year, DeBartolo presented five players at their Hall-of-Fame induction.

DeBartolo said, "If there is one secret to the success of the 49ers, it is this: We did not see players as simply players. We saw them as men. We saw then as sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, with families and responsibilities. We knew that if we helped make it possible for them to bring their whole selves to work they would give us their all. We weren't just a family on Sundays; we were a family every single day.

"Frankly, I think we could use a little bit more of that sense of family in the NFL today."

The Indianapolis Colts, who will face the Green Bay Packers in the first preseason game of the year on Sunday night, featured head coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison.

Dungy changed the losing culture of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being hired in 1996. Before Dungy's arrival, the Bucs experienced 12 double-digit losing seasons in the previous 13 years. They were in the playoffs in 1997, and qualified for the postseason four times, before he was fired after the 2001 season. The Colts came calling eight days later, and in seven seasons they had 12 or more victories six times and won Super Bowl XLI as he became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl.

Harrison played all 13 of his seasons with the Colts and finished with 1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. In 2002, he set the NFL record with 143 catches and totaled 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns. For his career, he finished second to Jerry Rice in career receptions, most consecutive games with a reception (190) and most career 100-yard games (59).

"Coach Dungy, what you brought to our team and to me was more important than anything," Harrison said. "You taught us how to be teammates. You taught us how to be men. But the most important thing is you taught us about fatherhood."

Despite the record-breaking 143-catch season, Harrison recalled offensive coordinator Tom Moore being upset with him at the start of the following year's training camp. Harrison wondered why, and Moore told him, "You should have had 150."

Dungy, who played three seasons in the NFL before becoming a coach, spent his first two years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and his final year with the 49ers in 1979 when DeBartolo was the owner. Dungy said, "Eddie DeBartolo was instilling the same principles in his team that I had seen with the Steelers, doing everything in a first-class and family way."

Dungy credited former Steelers safety Donnie Shell, his presenter, who "took me under his wing and I learned so much from him. Not just about playing safety, but about being a Christian athlete, husband and father and a teammate."

He also credited former Vikings coach Denny Green, who passed away recently, for making sure "his assistant coaches had quality time with our families. He made sure we were able to be husbands and fathers as well as coaches. And just as (former Steelers head) coach (Chuck) Noll had done, Denny showed me that you could win doing it that way."

Outside linebacker Kevin Greene, who played 15 seasons with the Rams, Steelers and Panthers, totaled 160 sacks in his career, including 97.5 when he was 30 or older. He led the NFL with 14.5 sacks in 1996 when he was 34 years old. His 160 sacks were the third most all time when he retired and he had seasons of double-digit sacks 10 times. That was the second-most ever at the time of his retirement.

Greene said of the Army values his father passed on to him and brother Keith, "Be men of honor, have integrity, be respectful, have an attitude of selfless service."

Noting that enshrinee Brett Favre is No. 298 in the Hall pecking order, "and I'm No. 299, so isn't that cool that I am side by side with Brett Favre for eternity? Right where a linebacker needs to be, yeah."

The first overall choice in the 1997 draft, left tackle Orlando Pace kept pass rushers away from quarterback Kurt Warner and helped open holes for running back Marshall Faulk during the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" years that began in 1999. Warner won the league MVP award in 1999 and 2001, and Faulk won it in 2000. During Pace's 12 seasons in St. Louis, the Rams had more gross passing yards (50,770) than any other team in that span.

Pace made sure to thank the Rams' coaches that made his ascent possible.

"Coach (Dick) Vermeil, you were the heart and soul of our team. Coach, thank you for investing in players, investing in men. That's what guys on that team really enjoyed was the investment in the person, and not so much the player.

"Coach (Mike) Martz, thanks for challenging us every day. We took on your persona, fast and furious, coach, and we loved it. To my offensive line coach, Jim Hanifan, I remember one day when I walked in the Rams facility, coach, you said if I'm not standing on this stage when my career is over, it's nobody's fault but my own. Thank you for having the confidence in me."

The Snake, quarterback Ken Stabler, was singular in his approach to the game. In Oakland, he led the Raiders to five consecutive conference championship games and his 59.85 completion percentage was second all time at his retirement. After 10 seasons with the Raiders, he finished his career with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.

Guard Dick Stanfel played seven seasons with the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins. He was named All-Pro in five of those seasons, and was named to the All-Decade Team of the 1950s. He was also named a team MVP with Detroit in 1953.

The families of Stabler and Stanfel were represented at the ceremony as Stanfel's son Rich was there to unveil the bust, while Justin and Jack Moyes did the honors for Stabler, their grandfather.

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