The Class of 2012 -- Willie Roaf, Jack Butler, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Dermontti Dawson and Curtis Martin -- made it official before an intimate crowd at Fawcett Stadium. Saturday evening's speeches were crisper than in years past, at least out of the chute. Along the way, we learned something about each of these NFL legends:
Willie Roaf: Clifton Roaf broke down while presenting his son, the offensive tackle who anchored lines for the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs. We were reminded of Roaf's nickname in New Orleans -- Gilligan's Island -- for his ability to swallow up defensive linemen in a storm ... and make them disappear. Roaf was a scary man on the field, but he was all love tonight. He closed by thanking his mother, Andree Layton Roaf, who passed away in 2009: "No, mom, I did not become a doctor, a lawyer or a brain surgeon, but I did become a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and I know you're proud of me."
Jack Butler: His game highlights are in black and white, but Butler's life has been anything but drab. Consider this: Instead of playing high school football, Butler spent his youth tucked away in a monastery. In the end, this wannabe priest used Sundays to punish receivers as one of the greatest defensive backs in Pittsburgh Steelers history. He thrilled a Steel City-heavy crowd by saying, "I was fortunate enough to play in the great city of champions." (In addition: Midway through the speech, Gregg Rosenthal IM'd me to note that his mother called a younger Jack Butler "a very good-looking man.")
Chris Doleman: At his most poignant, Doleman told us, "Anything you want in life you can get through sacks -- money, life, fame, women." He then thanked Minnesota Vikings fans for showing up to games in the rain and snow (they play in a dome). Otherwise, a classy, gracious speech from this former defensive terror. He recalled his father's mantra: If dad signed you up for something, you had to finish it. Doleman obviously listened.
Cortez Kennedy: Somewhere in the middle of this wandering soliloquy (in which Kennedy saluted roughly 412 people, including his "childhood doctor") the former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle told a classic yarn. When he was a sophomore in high school, Kennedy's mom forced him to quit football because he wasn't hacking it in the classroom. The team went on to the state championship, but Cortez stayed home. His mother did not, sending her son a postcard from the game: "Wish you were here." It served as a wake-up call that quarterbacks everywhere paid for dearly.
Dermontti Dawson: More than a few Steelers fans made the trip to Canton, and Double D did not disappoint. Pittsburgh's longtime center used his time to thank God, his family and those "who ignited my fire" as a child and saw "hidden potential." His high school coach and presenter Steve Parker also told about the first time he saw Dermontti -- a huge, hulking, football-ready thing -- in the school hallway, asking, "Where have you been all my life?"
Curtis Martin: Gil Brandt talked about Martin being forced into the pro game to escape a shattered home, even though he didn't enjoy the sport. When he was drafted by Bill Parcells and the New England Patriots, Martin turned to his family and said, "My God, I don't want to play football." A talk with his pastor turned him around and off he went. Tonight in Canton, Curtis Martin bared his soul, telling of a sparse childhood held under siege by an abusive father, a tormented mother and a grandmother murdered in the family home. He grew up believing he wouldn't live past his 21st birthday. Martin believes God "upheld his end of the bargain," and the New York Jets legend has vowed to uphold his side of the deal. So far, so good.