*Eight more NFL all-time greats took their rightful spots among the very best that have played or contributed to football in Saturday night's 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed, Champ Bailey, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Johnny Robinson and Gil Brandt took center stage on a memorable day, while Pat Bowlen was posthumously recognized among the legends of the game. *
An incredible football journey
Having aided in the architecture of one of the most dominant and well-known franchises in all of sports, the Dallas Cowboys, Gil Brandt's greatest contributions largely came behind the scenes.
On Saturday afternoon, Brandt took center stage as the first honoree to speak at the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.
Brandt's drive down memory lane weaved in and out of a who's who of Cowboys greats, many of whom Brandt had a helping hand in bringing to the franchise.
"The lifeline of any organization is the players," Brandt said.
In his speech, Brandt looked back upon a truly revolutionary career as he developed innovative scouting and management of personnel systems and was an early advocate of computer analysis to evaluate talent. In addition, he was at the forefront of scouting players no matter where they played or the color of their skin.
"I'm extremely proud that with the backing of the Dallas Cowboys, during a highly volatile time in race relations in our country, I was able to be on the ground floor of scouting the emerging talent from America's historically black universities," Brandt said. "Places like Elizabeth State where we were lucky to find Jethro Pugh. Or Fort Valley State, where future Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright dominated the competition."
From colleges near and far, big and tiny, Brandt has traveled over the years. He surely isn't the only one, though, and he made certain to deliver kind words to all those who have shared his often tireless and thankless profession.
"What you do in locating and securing talent is the lifeblood of the sport of football," Brandt said of his fellow scouts. "All of the time in random hotels, driving from one place to another, it pays off.
"It's so rewarding and I want every single one of you to look at my election into the hall of fame as a tip of the cap to the entire scouting industry."
Still going strong at 86-years-young, it's been one heck of a ride for one of the greatest scouts in gridiron lore.
"My life has been an incredible journey," he said, "all inspired by professional football."
An enshrinement a long time coming
Robinson was an AFL All-Star Game honoree six times and a one-time Pro Bowler who played in three AFL title games and two Super Bowls. For all the big games and special achievements, a place in the Hall of Fame was most certainly monumental for Robinson.
After a long wait, Robinson was grateful to finally have a bust in Canton and a celebrated spot among football's elite.
"It's been 47 years since I last played professional football. After all this time, I thought I had been forgotten. I can't tell you how pleased I was to be notified as a senior finalist after all these years. Then to receive that knock on the door from David Baker seemed surreal to me," Robinson said. "I think back to when I was a young boy and all I ever wanted to do was play ball."
Kevin Mawae at home in Canton
Much as he moved defenders during his 16-season, eight-time Pro Bowl career, center Kevin Mawae moved those in attendance and watching all over with a stirring speech in which he thanked everyone that helped his career, beginning with his parents, his children, his siblings and his No. 1 fan, his wife.
"I never felt more challenged mentally in a game than when I faced your teams. I came to love the puzzle of figuring out your defenses," he said. "I still hate the Patriots.
"Congratulations to you and all your successes and thank you for making me a better player."
Mawae thanked myriad before and after, including all his teammates in attendance, stating it was them who were just as responsible for him being in Canton. It was a journey he was thankful for, as well.
"Today I stand at the doorstep of football immortality," Mawae said. "I knock on this door and I tell all of you, I am home!"
This one's for Pat, too
Less than two months following his passing, Pat Bowlen, the longtime owner of the Denver Broncos, was posthumously enshrined in Canton.
The Bowlen family emerged on stage and had a group hug around his bust during a teary celebration of one of the most successful and highly regarded NFL owners the sport has ever had.
They call it the Patriot way
As the Patriots dynasty defies time and carries on looking to defend its latest championship, Canton enshrined one of the architects of New England's dominance.
On an evening in which the greatest of individual accomplishments are celebrated, defensive back Ty Law delivered a tribute to those who helped him on his path to Canton, stating over and over that "we" are in the Hall of Fame to his mother, father, his hometown and others.
A veteran of 16 seasons who racked up 53 career interceptions, five Pro Bowls and a spot on the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Law began his days in the NFL with a first-round selection by the Patriots in 1995.
"They took a chance on me and I was going to give them all I had and I did," he said.
Law made sure to thank coach Bill Belichick and, in doing so, emphatically praised him for being the best who ever manned a sideline.
"Coach Bill Belichick. The GOAT. Thank you for believing in me," Law said. "Thank you for not trying to change who I was.
"There's no mistake, it's no coincidence that you are the greatest coach this game has ever seen. I love you Bill. I appreciate you."
Then it was time for Law to bring it all together, revisiting the "we" theme and shining the spotlight on the old school Patriots who began the dynastic ways that are carrying on through today's training camps.
"The old school/new school stand up," Law said. "It's about time. I'm not standing here alone. I'm on this stage, not because of statistical reasons. I'm here because I was a part of something special. We created a culture. A brotherhood in unselfishness that we displayed as we won three Super Bowl titles. Let's keep it real. We started this!
"They even gave what we created a name. They call it the Patriot Way. But we know where it started fellas. Together, we are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
No place like Baltimore for Ed Reed
A trademark thick beard with a fedora and cigar for good measure, Ed Reed, one of the most exceptional safeties to ever lace up a pair of cleats, was emotional from the start.
"There's no place like, Baltimore!" Reed bellowed before thanking Steve Bisciotti, John Harbaugh, Brian Billick, the Ravens organization and others.
He paid homage to Ronnie Lott, who inspired him as a kid, as he continued to battle through his speech, tears streaming down his face under and around a pair of shades.
He made an impassioned speech about mental health and gun violence.
He even thanked a police officer from his hometown who told him he had "something."
"We all are human beings, just make it home," Reed continued.
He covered it all, just like he did during a sensational career.
HOF got it right the first time with Champ
Following that statement, Bailey made certain to thank his fellow Class of 2019 inductee, Pat Bowlen, who he referred to as Mr. B.
"He will forever be my teammate," Bailey said of Bowlen.
Thereafter, Bailey gave the trademark salute to Broncos fans and said he would always consider Denver his home.
Of course, Bailey, a first-ballot inductee, also had some praise for those who voted him in.
Tony Gonzalez finishes strong
After a phenomenal 17-season career filled with Pro Bowls and All-Pro nods, it's hard to ponder that the 6-foot-5 Tony Gonzalez, one of, if not, the greatest tight ends of all-time, actually didn't want to play football at the onset and had to overcome his fears of the game and of bullies.
But he did.
As Gonzalez took the stage on Saturday evening, the day having gone to night and many spectators having departed, he made a joke about just how long the ceremony had been.
After a long list of thank-yous, Gonzalez began to tell his football tale.
It started out with the revelation of how he disliked football when he started playing and quit his first season of Pop Warner.
While Gonzalez returned, he soon dealt with bullying that wouldn't cease, but it was football and facing the fears of the game and of confronting his tormentors that was the lesson of the day.
"It ain't how you start out, it's how you finish," Gonzalez said to a resounding ovation. "First thing you gotta do is get through that fear."