CANTON, Ohio – One of the NFL’s most decorated players helped end the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s biggest fortification weekend in history on Sunday night when Peyton Manning entered the Hall class of 2021 in a ceremony full of tears, laughter, memories and a cascade of thanks headed along the way.
Drew Pearson, who was the only first-team selection from the 1970s All-Decade team that was not previously anchored in the hall, kicked off the evening with an energetic presentation that set the tone and included the crowd “those thin legs” that catapulted him into the Hall of Fame when he pulled up his pant legs for an ovation.
Pearson, a former college quarterback who was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys list as an undrafted rookie wide receiver in 1973, was the Seniors inductee. His career was shortened by liver injuries sustained in a car accident at the age of 33.
Pearson was followed by Tom Flores, the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl. Flores won Super Bowl rings as a player, assistant coach, and head coach to win an AFL championship as a player.
Flores and Hall of Famer Mike Ditka are the only people in NFL history to have won the Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. His nine seasons as a Raiders coach included two Super Bowl wins, an 8-3 postseason record, and a playoff win percentage of 0.727, placing him only behind Vince Lombardi.
At the end of his speech, Flores, who had previously spoken of his parents’ house with dirty floors and no indoor installations, said there was a “memory I want to leave you”. He said that Oakland assistant coach Sam Boghosian, who hailed from the same part of California’s Central Valley as Flores, leaned over to Flores in the final minutes of the Raiders’ Super Bowl XV victory and said, “Not bad for a couple Grape pickers. “
But the group headliner finished third in the speaking order when Manning stepped onto the podium to a thunderous ovation and gave the crowd a thumbs up. Manning, who was selected in his freshman year, played on two Super Bowl winning teams, was a five-time MVP, 14-time Pro Bowl pick, Former Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Comeback Player of the Year.
After 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning signed with the Broncos in 2012 – making him one of the most accomplished players to switch teams in the free agency era. The Colts had 11 seasons with 10 wins while Manning was their quarterback and won the Super Bowl XLI, with Manning receiving MVP awards.
The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 to end the 2015 season – the final game of Manning’s career – and a four-year run in Denver that saw the team win 50 games and four consecutive AFC West titles. Manning retired with numerous individual season and career records, including his 5,477 yard passing and 55 touchdowns in 2013.
Manning’s humor and tears combined in his speech as he teased Ray Lewis for the length of his inaugural speech in 2018 – “he’s just finished” – and said Tom Brady would publish his final inauguration speech among the crowd of Manning invitees “on his Instagram account”. Manning tried to hold back tears as he thanked his parents, Archie and Olivia, his brothers, his wife Ashley and their children.
Manning also passionately advocated securing the future of the sport at all levels: “The future of this game is in our hands, we just have to take tomorrow as lightly on our shoulders as we put on our pads for games. . God bless you and God bless football. “
The ceremony on Sunday evening at Tom Benson Stadium crowned an extended weekend inauguration with the Hall of Fame Game last Thursday, which included the ceremonies for the Hall class of 2020 as well as the Centennial class of the Hall of Famers, which will be held as part of the 100th anniversary The league’s anniversary was selected, which took place on Saturday evening. Both ceremonies were canceled last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Manning was followed on the podium by former Buccaneers and Broncos Safety John Lynch, who joked, “Nothing about my Hall of Fame trip was easy, I waited eight years and then” [Hall president] David Baker tells me I’m following Peyton Manning, thank you David. “
Lynch, now general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, made nine Pro Bowl selections, including his last four years in the league, which he spent in Denver. Lynch reported on the influence of Hall of Famer Bill Walsh on his career as well as the influence of Hall of Famer Tony Dungy and Herm Edwards.
He talked about his wife, Linda, taking notes for him before every game.
Also selected for inclusion in his first year of eligibility and slated to turn 36 next month, Calvin Johnson was only the third player to be inducted aged 35 or younger.
Johnson spoke of conquering back pain and other injuries in his shortened career. “The pain began to take a toll on my body and quality of life,” said Johnson. “… But I agreed because I left everything on the field and enjoyed every moment. … There are just so many people who are in pain, I want to talk to you for a moment, I want you know that I see you. “
Johnson had five 1,200-yard reception seasons, finishing 31st. He finished his career as a Detroit Leader in Targets (1,312), Receipts (731), Yards (11,619) and Touchdowns (83). His 84 touchdowns are second in Lions history behind Barry Sanders, 109, in the Hall of Fame.
Former Steelers security guard Alan Faneca spoke about dealing with epilepsy throughout his career – “I’ve always said and talked to myself that epilepsy is part of me, but it doesn’t define me, we are responsible for our fate” – – and called his wife Julie “my champion”.
Woodson ended the night singing to his mother Georgia as he took the podium. Finally, he asked the stadium crowd to stand up, “if you are a fan of the way I played football … when I say when I go in, we all go in, I mean from the bottom of my heart.”
Long-time Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who was anchored as a contributor, was posthumously honored with a video tribute during the ceremony.
Nunn, a Boy Scout pioneer, advised NFL teams on players from the country’s historically black colleges and universities whom he had rated as a sports journalist. Nunn later spent more than four decades with the Steelers and was a key figure in the team’s dynastic run in the 1970s and returned to the Super Bowl in the decades that followed. He died in 2014.