To the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2008: It is an honor for me to welcome you to the greatest football team of all-time. What you are about to experience will be one of the greatest moments of your life. It's not just the enshrinement ceremony itself, but the idea that you will be surrounded all weekend by football royalty -- and now you are part of that royal family.
That's the thing that shook me up when I was in your shoes last summer. The Hall of Fame is a unique club. There are 247 guys in this club. And, like somebody said to me last year, this is like being in the mob.
In fact, this is better than the mob. Because in the mob, the only way you can get out is if you die. Here, you can die and we'll still have you in!
With a year of being "in the club" under my belt, I can tell you first-hand that it is a life-changing experience. Certainly, opportunities will open up for you -- opportunities to do different things, meet new people. But even more, there is that great deal of respect that comes with those three letters:
H ... O ... F.
I was amazed after last year's ceremony how many little old ladies, who probably don't watch a lot of football, knew me after the Hall of Fame ceremony. It's been quite a ride. And now, when I go places, make appearances, I am not introduced as "Michael Irvin." I'm introduced as "Hall of Famer Michael Irvin." That is serious.
We've all grown up playing this game wishing we could be called a Hall of Famer. Now you know what it is like. And you all deserve the honor.
I'm not sure how many of you have been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a visitor. I had never been there before last year, and making the trip has truly had a profound impact on me. I made the suggestion last summer that the NFL should make it mandatory for all rookies to visit the Hall -- and I was so thrilled that they took me up on it.
Let me tell you what. There is such a great amount of history and heritage at the Hall of Fame. We often look at the kids coming into the league and say, "They don't respect the game, they don't respect the history of the game." The important part for them was a need to escape their own history. Once they get to the NFL, then it is important to teach them the history.
I was in Canton a month ago when rookies from both the Cowboys and Eagles visited, and I watched these kids thoroughly enjoying their tour of the Hall of Fame. They were touching every button, listening to stories about football history. I was so impressed with the way they ate up that trip. Ate it up. It was like they were yearning for that knowledge.
The Class of 2008 may be the most unique in the 45-year history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One thing they all had in common: They were all scouted by Gil Brandt out of college. Here are his observations and recollections of each:
Seeing the amazement on the faces of all those young players, you cannot tell me that these visits won't change them. If any of these kids come to that fork in the road, and the opportunity is there to do the right thing or do the wrong thing, that trip right there will help them choose the right path. You cannot tell me that will not happen.
As great as it was to be in Canton with those rookies, I can't wait to spend time with all of you on my next Canton trip. Of course, in addition to the pageantry of the enshrinement ceremony, there is the Nitschke Luncheon on Friday afternoon in which members of the Hall of Fame will stand up and address you, the rookies of the group. This is the locker room of the Hall of Fame, my friends. One thing football players love more than anything is the locker room, and the Nitschke Luncheon is a Hall of Fame locker room.
Be prepared. I don't know if I'll get a chance to speak. I don't make that choice. One of the veteran Hall of Famers will stand up and might say, "Let's hear from one of these guys from last year." Suffice it to say, if they call on me, I am looking forward to addressing you guys.
Finally, as I take this time to welcome you to the Hall, I want to make sure you understand this is just the beginning. Someone asked me if I would be one of those Hall of Famers who comes back to Canton every summer for Enshrinement Weekend. You better believe it. I'm coming back every year. Without a doubt. And I look forward to seeing you six guys every summer as well.
There is nothing better than this. Welcome to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.