Seau, Bettis, six others enshrined in Hall of Fame


CANTON, Ohio -- The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a wonderland for any fan of the sport. Its annual enshrinement ceremony is pure gold.

No other event so eloquently captures the journey of football's greatest players, coaches and contributors. Saturday's induction proceedings told the story of men who gave their life to a game that always asks for more. Football has become a centerpiece of our culture. Perhaps we think and dream and obsess too much about this game, but not tonight. Tonight, we celebrate the men who shaped this league and gave fans so many enduring memories along the way.

Eight men were enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Saturday: Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Bill Polian, Junior Seau, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff and Ron Wolf. Here are some highlights from all the speeches:

Sydney Seau gracefully honors her father

Junior Seau's daughter said it best about her unforgettable dad.

"He was just a light in general," Sydney Seau told the crowd in a video tribute to the former Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots linebacking legend.

Inducted posthumously on Saturday night, Seau was lauded this weekend by his fellow Hall of Famers as a once-in-a-lifetime player -- and an even better man. But nobody spoke with more heart than his daughter.

"His energy was contagious, everyone could feel it," Sydney said. "Instead of just making a difference, I feel like he was the difference on the field ... that was the person that he was."

Sydney said her father would have been "overwhelmed and honored" to be here tonight. "He would say that this honor is also yours," she added. 

Seau's death in 2012 sent shockwaves through the NFL community, but Sydney lost much more. Her father is gone, but she made it clear tonight that Seau will always be close.

"You gave us your time, your presence, your love, but most of all you gave us your heart," Sydney said. "I know at times it seemed like everything you accomplished in life wasn't enough, but today and every day since you held me in your arms for the first time, you were more than just enough, you were everything and I hope this induction can exemplify the fact that you are more than just Junior Seau, 55 and a buddy. You are a light and I want nothing more than to see you come on stage, give the speech you were meant to give, give me a hug and tell me you love me one last time, but that isn't our reality."

There isn't enough space here to list what Seau accomplished as a player. The eight-time All-Pro was the beating heart of the Chargers for more than a decade, willing the Bolts into Super Bowl XXIX and roaming the field as a player Bill Polian called "the toughest guy to prepare for."

We will never see another like Junior Seau.

Wolf raised Green Bay from the dead

Where Ron Wolf goes, Brett Favre stories are sure to follow.

The former Packers general manager -- who put his career out on a limb to trade for Favre before the 1992 season -- praised the organization that showed faith in that boom-or-bust swap, a move that laid the foundation for Green Bay regaining its nickname as "Titletown, U.S.A."

When Wolf joined the Packers, they were a team in the dumps -- the kind of place other clubs would threaten to trade their own malcontents if they didn't fall in line.

"When I was hired by the Packers, I did not know what a wonderful place I was moving to," Wolf said. "The history of this magnificent franchise is unparalleled in the history of the National Football League. ... I was fortunate enough to be able to hire Mike Holmgren, trade for Brett Favre, sign Reggie White -- and because of those three people, plus an excellent supporting cast, the Packers started to become a force once again in the NFL after over two decades of mediocrity."

Wolf witnessed waves of league history over his 38 seasons in the NFL. People know him most for raising the Packers out of the darkness during his 11 years in Green Bay, but he spent the better part of three decades as a front-office man for Al Davis and the Raiders before brief stints with the Buccaneers and Jets.

Wolf gushed over Davis. "I spent 24 seasons working for him and appreciate deeply all I was able to learn," he said. "He was a remarkable teacher and I am forever in his debt for providing me with an opportunity to work in this extraordinary game."

Wolf's short-but-sweet speech always seemed to come back around to the Packers, though, as the front-office icon said of the franchise he revived: "The goddess of victory only comes about once or twice during a contest. These gentlemen seized that moment."

Haley speaks from the heart

Charles Haley furthered his reputation on Saturday as one of the more unforgettable players of his generation.

The only man in history to play on five winning Super Bowl teams, Haley thrived wherever he went, notching a whopping 10 division titles over his 12-year career with the 49ers and Cowboys.

His highest praise on Saturday was saved for former Niners owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr., who he called the "greatest owner I ever played for." Calling him "Mr. D," Haley stumped for DeBartolo to make it into the Hall and shared a memory of "Mr. D" taking him golfing for the first time, a story that had Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium erupting in unexpected laughter.

"You know I don't know how to play golf, right, so I'm driving the golf cart around and I drive the golf cart up on the green," Haley said. "... Eddie, Ronnie (Lott), Joe (Montana), all those guys laugh at me. Some guy flying behind us was like, 'Get off the green!' I'm going, 'What is he talking about?' ... So then I said, 'If this guy comes and opens his mouth again, I'm going to knock him out!' So I started to turn around, and then Eddie and them go, 'Hey, you can't drive up on the green!' ... I said 'All this (expletive) is green!'"

Along with DeBartolo, Haley also lauded Jerry Jones, spitting out a hilarious impression of the Cowboys owner's Southern drawl and praising Jones for supporting his daughter Brianna's battle with leukemia.

It was a night full of gratitude from Haley, who went on to call 49ers legend Bill Walsh the "greatest coach ever," Jimmy Johnson a "warrior," and Barry Switzer the best "players' coach" he ever knew.

Chris Wesseling accurately noted that Haley's locker-room adventures "would make Richie Incognito blush," but the man we encountered this weekend was full of humor and good cheer and spoke with a sense of reflection about his career -- and love for those who made it possible.

Haley also spoke candidly about his battle with manic depression, saying that he entered the NFL as a "22-year-old man with a 16-year-old inside of me asking for help." One day after vowing support for the embattled Aldon Smith, Haley begged for young people who need it to seek help.

All in all, this was a Charles Haley we haven't seen before, but hope to see again.

Tingelhoff says it with silence

Mick Tingelhoff isn't a household name among today's millennial set, but the former Minnesota Vikings center won over the crowd without saying a word on Saturday night.

The humble lineman let his presenter and former quarterback speak for him.

Vikings legend Fran Tarkenton walked Tingelhoff to the stage and broke down in tears describing how the unsung center waited 37 years to enter the Hall.

"I never knew Mick Tingelhoff to have a bad day," said Tarkenton, calling the silent center "his best friend" and his "protector" on and off the field. It was a nice moment.

Tingelhoff is a fascinating case study because of his incredible durability at one of the game's most punishing positions. Initially signed as an undrafted linebacker out of Nebraska, the converted blocker never missed a practice or a game and started all 240 regular-season tilts of his career despite standing 6-foot-2 and weighing just 237 pounds. By comparison, current Vikings center John Sullivan checks in at 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds.

Despite their standing in Dan Hanzus' Pain Rankings, the Vikings enjoyed plenty of success with Tinglehoff at the pivot, earning 10 divisional crowns and four Super Bowl appearances over an 11-year span from 1968 to 1978. All four of those title games ended in a loss, but the respect Tingelhoff earned among teammates remains today.

"Mick's a man of little words, but a lot of action," said Tarkenton.

We need more guys like this, not less.

Shields: "Be the difference-maker in this village"

Offensive linemen are often seen but not heard.

Especially a no-nonsense guard like Will Shields, who earned 12 straight Pro Bowls during his brilliant Chiefs career, but never drew headlines like the runners he blocked for.

On Saturday night, Shields used his time to thank a laundry list of players, coaches, family members, friends and mentors -- we put the number of humans thanked at roughly 102. A classy move by a player who waged war each Sunday without asking for much in return.

"When the opportunity presents itself in your life," Shields said, "choose to be the difference-maker in this village."

Lifelong Raiders star Tim Brown joked Friday that he "hated" Shields because of how durable he was -- always in the lineup, always ready to go on every play. He's not wrong. Shields was inserted into the lineup midway through Week 1 of his rookie season in 1993 and never missed a start over the next 14 seasons. Along the way, he blew open holes for runners like Priest Holmes, who ran for an outrageous 4,590 yards from 2001 to 2003 behind the road-grader.

Shields is arguably one of the finest third-round picks in the history of the game -- just don't expect him to boast about it.

Polian calls NFL the 'ultimate meritocracy'

Bill Polian was fascinating to speak with on Friday and even better to listen to on Saturday night.

Following a heartfelt introduction by poet-coach Marv Levy -- who praised Polian as a "smart, honest, witty, astute" leader who championed the mantra "total organization wins" -- the former general manager took the stage to reflect on a career that saw him guide three teams to a combined eight conference title games.

Calling football the "ultimate meritocracy," Polian issued a war cry to everyone in the league by saying: "Football is the ultimate team game. At every club, we had a special group of dedicated professionals, trainers, doctors, equipment men, videographers, groundskeepers, security, clerical, and public relations staff. Largely unknown to the public, but certainly not to me. I'm grateful to every one of them."

Like Ron Wolf, Polian's mountaintop moments were attached to a marvelous group of coaches -- Levy and Tony Dungy, for starters -- and a pair of superstar quarterbacks in Bills legend Jim Kelly and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.

Speaking to Manning, who was in the crowd, Polian joked that if the 39-year-old keeps playing, "I may not be around for your induction. But wherever I am, I'll be thrilled and proud."

Polian drew laughter by thanking Dungy for "cleaning up" his vocabulary and nearly shed tears talking about Levy as "my mentor, my role model and my friend," saying: "I have very often failed to live up to his example, but I never failed to continue to try because he represented all I ever aspired to be when I was a young man dreaming impossible dreams."

He can't match Charles Haley's five Super Bowl rings, but everywhere Polian went, teams long in the gutter became winners. He's also a reminder that you aren't going anywhere in the NFL without a quarterback and a vision.

Brown bathes in the moment

It took Tim Brown long enough to get here, but the Raiders legend expressed no regrets on Saturday night.

In one of the evening's best -- and longest -- speeches, the franchise's all-time leading receiver urged the Silver and Black faithful to drown out a Steelers-heavy crowd with chants of, "Raiders! Raiders! Raiders!"

Brown warned the masses that he has "preacher tendencies," and his words were inspired, with the nine-time Pro Bowler praising the "power of positive people" in his life.

One of those people: Coach Lou Holtz, who hit the scene at Notre Dame to tell Brown that he "could be the best player in the country." Brown had struggled in college to that point, but Holtz wouldn't let go, praising Brown to the media as team's "smartest player."

Brown acknowledged that Holtz "had more confidence in me than I had in myself," arguing that he wouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy without the support of his coach.

In his 30-plus-minute speech, Brown thanked his parents, his children and finally his wife -- who was introduced to Brown by now deceased Raiders defensive tackle Chester McGlockton, who Brown called "my angel."

Brown's career, in many ways, was a study in patience. The Heisman Trophy winner caught just 147 balls over his first five NFL seasons before ripping off nine straight 1,000-yard campaigns. The feat is all the more staggering after hearing Brown rattle off the 20 quarterbacks he played with -- most of them no-name retreads with zero track record of leading wideouts to Canton.

Brown is here now, though, and he fully deserves it.

Bettis saves the best for last

This was basically a home game for Jerome Bettis.

With Canton a mere 93 miles from Pittsburgh, Steelers fans swarmed Benson Stadium to support their beloved power back. Amid a raging sea of Terrible Towels, Bettis opened his heart.

"We've got to get one thing understood here tonight! We're in Canton, but this is Steeler country!" Bettis thundered, whipping the crazed Pittsburgh contingent into a scene more akin to Three Rivers Stadium in January.

Bettis was all soul, drawing cheers after asking his wife to rise, so that he could thank her "for allowing me to live my dream." "The Bus" then honored his children, telling us how his daughter was the one who convinced him to play one more (Super Bowl-winning) season before urging his young son to be a better man and person than Bettis himself was growing up. Bettis' love of family -- his mom and dad, especially -- oozed with every word.

The best anecdote involved a young Bettis going to Reggie McKenzie's football camp, where the former pro offensive lineman pointed to the NFL players around him, and asked the kids: "Who's going to be the next one?"

Bettis stood up and told Reggie, "I am." It went down as the first time Bettis believed he could be a special player. Bettis grew emotional thanking McKenzie for believing in him.

Traded from the Rams to the Steelers for a second- and fourth-round pick in 1996, Bettis on Saturday night also thanked the team that helped make him a Super Bowl champion.

"The love came back," Bettis said of his move to Pittsburgh, before praising Bill Cower as "exactly the kind of coach I needed," and "one of the biggest reasons I stand here today."

Bettis closed his fascinating career with a Super Bowl win in his hometown of Detroit, but on Saturday, Canton was home. It couldn't have been a sweeter moment for one of football's most unforgettable runners.

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