NFL Nation: 2012 HOF enshrinement

HOF12: Curtis Martin's amazing story

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
10:14
PM ET


CANTON, Ohio -- Curtis Martin won his bet to make it through his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech without crying.

Did anyone else?

Martin, in accepting his enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shared details about his life that would wrench the hardest heart: the murders of his grandmother and aunt; the manner in which his father tortured his mother; the time someone held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger seven times, only to have a bullet discharge on the eighth pull, when the gun was pointed elsewhere.

This was as moving a speech as I can recall hearing.

That Martin would survive all this and grow into a man with the wherewithal to nurture his mother to health? That, together, they would forgive his father?

It's a good thing Martin's speech came last. No one could have followed him.

Martin closed by saying he hoped his daughter, when delivering his eulogy years from now, would speak not of the yards he gained, but of the man he became. He hoped she would speak of having sought a man of similar character. He hoped she would, in closing his eulogy, leave mourners with a footnote.

"Oh yeah," she would say, "he was a pretty good football player."

Martin's presenter, retired coach Bill Parcells, spoke of his former player's great balance. Martin's speech showed the same quality. He balanced those emotional reflections with humor. And he showed great wisdom.

Martin busted on fellow enshrinee Willie Roaf for suggesting the Class of 2012 go for pedicures this week. He joked about Cortez Kennedy speaking for so long that God decided to turn off the lights.

Martin again found the right balance when discussing player safety issues, particularly whether he'd feel OK about his own child playing the game, were Martin to have a son.

Two previously enshrined Hall of Famers -- I could not identify them from a distance -- rose and applauded when Martin provided a thoughtful answer. Martin said he never sought football or loved it, but he learned life lessons from it through Parcells, through his former high school coach and through experiences on the field.

"If kids can learn what I learned from playing the game," Martin said in words to that effect, "I'd let him play. It would be worth the risk."

Martin rushed for 102 yards and the winning touchdown in his first regular-season NFL game. Parcells, upon seeing reporters gather around Martin's locker for postgame interviews, let it be known Martin was merely a "one-game wonder."

Before too long, "one-game wonder" would give way to "Boy Wonder" as Parcells' preferred nickname for Martin. The more flattering moniker survives to this day, for good reason. Martin opened his career with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, an NFL record shared by another Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.

Martin turned out to be a pretty good football player, all right, and so much more.

CANTON, Ohio -- Dermotti Dawson, the fifth of six Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees to speak Saturday night, thanked his parents for the guidance they provided over the years.

The other modern-day finalists preceding Dawson at the podium -- Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy -- made similar comments.

Curtis Martin, the final enshrinee scheduled to speak, will tell a different story. He'll surely pay tribute to his mother, but so many other factors in his life worked against him. His father left the family when Martin was 4. His grandmother was stabbed to death in brutal fashion when Martin was 9.

Martin never dreamed of the Hall of Fame; at one point, his goal while growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood was simply reaching age 21. The speech he delivers Saturday night has the potential to pack a different type of emotional punch.
CANTON, Ohio -- A theme is emerging throughout the ongoing Pro Football Hall of Fame proceedings.

Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy in particular have stressed the importance strong parenting played in their lives and, ultimately, in their successes on the field.

They've spoken of parents who held them accountable when it might have been easier let them off the hook.

Doleman's father had one rule: Finish whatever you start. Signing up for a sport or anything meant seeing it through no matter what.

Kennedy thanked his father for forcing him to cut the grass at 5 a.m. after doing a poor job the first time.

Kennedy reflected on his mother forcing him to quit the football team in high school when his grades slipped. When Kennedy's former teammates won a state title without him, Kennedy's mother went to the game and sent a postcard home.

"Wish you were here," it read.

Running away from difficulties might have shielded Doleman and Kennedy from short-term failures, but the lasting lessons would have been negative ones. Hats off to their parents.
video

CANTON, Ohio -- New Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman retired from the NFL following the 1999 season.

Doleman joked Friday that he'd still be playing if recently adopted NFL rules scaling back training camps had been in place during his career.

Another Hall of Famer, this one speaking informally earlier in the day, said he thought restrictions on contact and practice time would serve older players at the expense of the game. He suspected that was one reason some of the older players serving as labor leaders supported the restrictions.

I asked Doleman for his feelings on another issue dominating NFL headlines off the field: whether the game puts players at undue risk, and whether children should play the game. The video carries his answers.
CANTON, Ohio -- Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Jack Butler had us worried for a moment when he stared into the Fawcett Stadium crowd without saying anything for several seconds.

Stage fright? Hardly.

Butler, 84, soon made it clear he was on his game for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement.

"OK," he said while Pittsburgh Steelers fans cheered, "that's enough."

Butler rose to the occasion. He was poised and measured. He spoke with purpose. His son, John, spoke of Jack Butler's discipline and work ethic. It was clear Butler was in control.

Butler finished his speech with panache when he thanked various family members for attending, then, in a nod to his age, rejoined with, "Heck, I'm thankful I'm here."
CANTON, Ohio -- New Orleans Saints players gave Cortez Kennedy a standing ovation early in the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement program Saturday.

They won't be sticking around for Kennedy's speech, however.

The Saints, scheduled to open their exhibition season against the Arizona Cardinals in the same Fawcett Stadium on Sunday, left their seats and disappeared behind the end-zone grandstands once former New Orleans tackle Willie Roaf finished his acceptance speech.

Roaf led off the Hall program. Jack Butler's time is now, followed by Chris Doleman and then Kennedy. Dermontti Dawson and Curtis Martin round out the proceedings.

Kennedy played for the Seattle Seahawks, but he works as an adviser to the Saints. He collected a Super Bowl ring with the Saints following the 2009 season.

Video: Roger Goodell from Hall of Fame

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
7:56
PM ET


Ed Werder talks to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the Saints, player safety and replacement officials from the Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies.
video

CANTON, Ohio -- Willie Roaf's father, Clifton, has just presented the former New Orleans and Kansas City tackle for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The video presentation for Willie Roaf was packed with emotion, especially when Clifton Roaf, his jaw quivering with emotion, called his son his hero.

A quick aside: Clifton Roaf, speaking over lunch Friday, recalled the time his son shut out Hugh Douglas, one of the better defensive ends in the NFL at the time. According to the elder Roaf, Douglas finished with no tackles. When the game ended, Douglas paid tribute to Roaf by crawling off the field. Now that is domination.
CANTON, Ohio -- Jack Butler stood and waved to the crowd while hundreds of fans wearing the Pittsburgh Steelers' throwback jerseys rose and cheered. The big screens at Fawcett Stadium showed Butler, 84, rising and soaking in their adulation.

That brought the first goosebumps of the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, at least for me.

Butler waited 50 years for his enshrinement. He and his oldest son, John, have been quite visible in Canton over the past few days. They've been so appreciative, so gracious, so humbled.

In speaking with John Butler at a reception Friday night, he said something about getting a couple football cards featuring his father and giving them to my young sons. A couple hours passed and that part of our conversation had faded from my mind. It was the sort of thing a lot of people would have said without really meaning it.

Our family left the reception, returning only briefly a couple hours later in hopes of seeing a couple more Hall of Famers. The younger Butler found us and presented the two football cards -- both signed by Jack Butler, with "2012 HOF" written on them.

HOF12: Payton's ties go beyond Roaf

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
7:08
PM ET
CANTON, Ohio -- The NFL has allowed suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement now under way.

I saw Payton and his son at the Gold Jacket Dinner on Friday night. They sat briefly at the table next to ours, but Payton did not stay long. He was seen back at the McKinley Grand Hotel while the dinner proceedings were ongoing. The NFL obviously wants Payton to keep a low profile during his bounty-related absence.

Payton's connections to the program extend beyond the enshrinement of former New Orleans (and Kansas City) tackle Willie Roaf.

Another enshrinee, Cortez Kennedy, has worked for the Saints in an advisory role. Kennedy remains particularly close to Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who was a Seattle Seahawks executive when Kennedy played for that team. Kennedy won a Super Bowl ring with the Saints. He has two NFL families, in other words, and Payton leads one of them when he's not suspended.
CANTON, Ohio -- New Orleans Saints players, in town to play the Arizona Cardinals in an exhibition game Sunday, are filling the final four rows across two sections at Fawcett Stadium.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement program is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET.

Each Saints player is wearing a black T-shirt with Willie Roaf's No. 77 on the back, a show of support for one of the greatest players in Saints history.

Saints players are seated in direct sunlight on a hot, muggy evening. They've got at least three coolers filled with drinks. Some are using programs to shield their faces from the sun. The Cardinals are presumably relaxing in an air-conditioned hotel.

Neither team's starters will play extensively, this being the exhibition opener for both.

Update: The Cardinals' Daryn Colledge says via Twitter that the Cardinals have recently landed in Canton, meaning they're not yet cooling at their hotel.
CANTON, Ohio -- Welcome to Fawcett Stadium for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

I'll be blogging throughout the proceedings, as you might have noticed when this post went live a bit earlier. First, a look at the order for enshrinement and speeches for the program, which begins at 7 p.m. ET:
  • Willie Roaf: This one promises to be emotional, as anyone who witness the way Roaf's father, Clifton, hugged him during the Gold Jacket Dinner presentation Friday night. Clifton Roaf is presenting his son. The Hall encourages presenters to limit their comments to eight minutes in duration. That could be tough for the elder Roaf.
  • Jack Butler: Butler had to wait a record 50 years for enshrinement. He won't have to wait long Saturday night. The Hall has him going second.
  • Chris Doleman: The former Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco defensive end offered some thoughts Friday on the state of the game. I hope to share those a bit later.
  • Cortez Kennedy: The second career Seahawk to earn enshrinement will have some time to gather his thoughts. He's fourth in the order.
  • Dermontti Dawson: One of the greatest interior offensive linemen follows one of the greatest interior defensive linemen.
  • Curtis Martin: Bill Parcells is presenting Martin. Parcells could be back as an enshrinee before long. Parcells does have some star power. Having him go last wasn't a bad idea.

Should be a memorable night.
CANTON, Ohio -- Ninety-degree heat and 57 percent humidity could not stop Seattle Seahawks fan Jeff Evert from taking his seat at Fawcett Stadium two-plus hours before the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks
Mike Sando/ESPN.comJeff Evert of Richland, Wash., wearing a Cortez Kennedy jersey, sits alone in the heat awaiting the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies.
Evert, visiting from Richland, Wash., regretting missing Steve Largent's enshrinement in 1995. He wasn't going to miss Cortez Kennedy's enshrinement with the 2012 class. Evert, wearing a newly purchased "Vintage" series jersey with Kennedy's name and No. 96, sat nearly alone in the stands for hours.

Evert toured the Hall of Fame and overdosed on Pittsburgh Steelers stuff. By the time he encountered the giant mural showing Steelers players dousing then-coach Bill Cowher with Gatorade, he'd had enough.

"I know I shouldn't be that way," Evert said, "but Seahawk fans have always felt like they got screwed over in that one Super Bowl."

They don't have to worry about it Saturday night, although the Steelers do hold a 2-1 edge over the Seahawks in 2012 enshrinees. Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler are joining Kennedy on the dais.

Update: As I'm looking down on Evert's seat, I notice two Steelers fans occupying the seats next to him.
CANTON, Ohio -- We're a few hours away from the 7 p.m. ET start to enshrinement ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I'll be heading over early to get a feel for what awaits.

Cortez Kennedy and his daughter, Courtney, were seen downstairs at the main hotel here a bit ago. Kennedy seemed relaxed for a man nearing the hour when he'll be giving a speech center stage.

The Hall itself opened early Saturday. A few thoughts after touring the Hall for the first time:
  • Cool Cardinals exhibit: One display case features a Pat Tillman jersey, the shiny black Nike shoes Patrick Peterson wore when returning a punt 99 yards for a touchdown to beat the St. Louis Rams in Week 9 last season and the gloves Larry Fitzgerald wore while collecting his 400th career reception against the New York Giants on Nov. 23, 2008. Fitzgerald became the youngest receiver to reach 400 catches.
  • Busts are accessible: The Hall features busts for the 267 Hall of Famers already enshrined, plus spaces for the busts honoring 2012 inductees. The busts are arranged by year of enshrinement. They rest on open-air perches, allowing visitors to touch them. The busts were low enough for our kids to pose with them, sometimes almost cheek to cheek. Seeing our boys' heads flanking Dick "Night Train" Lane's bust was a highlight of the visit.
  • Interactive video: Touch-screen menus allow visitors to cue up short highlight and documentary packages for various Hall of Famers. These were good, but a little short. We wanted more. Of course, with more than nine million visitors to this point and quite a few coming around the time of enshrinement each year, there isn't time for each person to watch a full-length movie.
  • "Madden 12" center: Kids packed this area and ours were initially eager to join in the gaming, but we drew the line on this one. Something seemed wrong about using time at the Hall to play games many kids have at home.
  • Homage to Lombardi: The Hall features a sideline player bench used at Lambeau Field for Vince Lomardi's final game as the Green Bay Packers' coach, in 1967. They've wisely got it stowed safely in a display, preventing people from sitting on it.
  • Harbaughs making history: Jim Harbaugh's autograph dresses up a game ball from the San Francisco 49ers' game against Harbaugh's brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens last season. The game itself was forgettable from the 49ers' perspective.

All for now. Time to get ready for the festivities Saturday night.

HOF12: The experience of a lifetime

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
11:07
AM ET
CANTON, Ohio -- Sights and sounds from a magical first 30 hours in Canton for festivities relating to the upcoming 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony:

Batting 1.000


[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
Cortez Kennedy was the person I hoped to see first Thursday night after unloading bags for check-in at the McKinley Grand Hotel. He was the 2012 enshrinee I'd covered years ago and gotten to know while presenting his case to the other Hall selectors. Having the retired Seattle Seahawks great step from the hotel's entrance before I could get my bags to the curb foreshadowed good fortune.

A trip to the hotel bar a couple hours later found the place mostly empty except for a couple reporters from Minnesota. I sat down with them and soon discovered Hall of Famer John Randle, Kennedy's teammate on the 1990s All-Decade team, seated across the way. Two-for-two and three full days in Canton still to come.

I'm not much of a drinker -- a six-pack lasts a year in our house -- so when tequila shots appeared unexpectedly on our side of the bar, visions of "Frank the Tank" from Old School came to mind.

My hesitance must have been easy to spot. Randle rose from his chair and looked my way.

"Hey, you in?"

Enjoying the ride(s)

Trip One to the elevator produces a five-story ride with Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patti.

Leroy Kelly, Elvin Bethea and Roger Wehrli are along for the ride on a subsequent trip.

By then, my wife, Kim, and our two sons, Derek (10) and Cade (7), have arrived via red-eye flight from Seattle to Cleveland. We'd decided to make this a family trip, a mini-vacation for them, upon learning months earlier that Kennedy had earned enshrinement.

"We were just in the elevator with Gale Sayers!" Derek announced upon entering our room.

Heading to the Hall

The lobby was packed with Hall of Famers, most wearing their gold jackets, as they assemble for bus rides (police escorts included) to the Hall for a dedication ceremony. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. will be there when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Hall officials cut red ribbon for the new Pro Football Research and Preservation Center in Wilson's name.

Another chance meeting with Kennedy produces a lucky break. He graciously invites me to ride along in his car, along with Mark, an off-duty police officer from Las Vegas and Kennedy's friend since 1994.

The weather is already sizzling when we arrive, but it doesn't get much cooler than this: Hall of Fame corner Lem Barney, who averaged five picks per season for 11 years with the Detroit Lions, practically intercepts us as we get out of the car. He shakes Kennedy's hand. Mark and I get handshakes, too. Kennedy follows the red carpet to the special seating area for Hall of Famers.

All in the family

Mark and I wind up sitting next to Patti Thomas, Thurman's wife, in the front row of the general-seating area. Sayers and Joe Greene sit across the rope divider about six feet away. She's moved when Wilson, 93 and a World War II veteran, delivers a speech marked by self-deprecating humor after initially needing assistance to stand.

The Hall experience can be as much for the families as for the enshrinees themselves.

"I'm his wife and I'm blown away," Patti Thomas said. "These guys that you grow up watching ... my brothers come. They are huge sports fans. They're like kids in a candy shop. They've met 'em all and they're still like that, over and over again. Ninety-five percent of the guys are very outgoing. It's been an amazing thing. What a huge blessing."

Ray Nitschke Luncheon

From the Hall, it's off to the annual initiation luncheon, a chance for the new class to socialize with existing Hall of Famers in a private setting. Goodell is there, as are Hall officials, Class of 2012 presenters and some selection committee members. There are no wives or family members. And when lunch is served, enshrinees head into their own private room. No one else is allowed inside.

A microphone gets passed around, but the current class only listens. What happens beyond that, no one can say for certain.

"Thurman has so much fun when we come," Patti Thomas said. "He tells me his favorite thing of all is the Ray Nitschke Luncheon because it's only Hall of Famers, just the guys in there. And he said that is the coolest event because it's just us. Nobody else is allowed to come in there and he loves it."

A Butler and a dentist

Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Jack Butler waited 50 years for enshrinement, a record. His son and presenter, John, would give a guy the shirt off his back. John Butler did just that Friday. When one of the Hall of Famers showed up with the wrong shirt -- all were supposed to wear official blue Hall polos -- the younger Butler gave up his.

While the Hall of Famers were enjoying their privacy and camaraderie at the Nitschke luncheon, John Butler and Willie Roaf's father, Clifton, a retired dentist, sat down at the table I'd chosen in our less exclusive luncheon room.

What an honor it was for me, a first-time visitor to Canton, and the two other Hall selectors seated at our table.

I'd approached Jack Butler in the hotel lobby earlier in the day, congratulating him on his enshrinement. With Ted Hendricks, James Lofton and several other Hall of Famers gathering nearby, the elder Butler said "it's starting to have a meaning to it all."

"It's amazing, just incredible," John Butler said. "You think about it in the past, we would look at his numbers, ever since I was a kid, and say, 'Wow, his numbers match up.' But it's not like an expectation he'll get in. When it happens, it's overwhelming."

Gold Jacket Dinner

[+] EnlargeCurtis Martin
Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesBeing steady in his career and patient with his rushing attack earned Curtis Martin a Hall of Fame induction.
Kennedy, Roaf, Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman and Curtis Martin received their gold jackets during an emotional ceremony at the local civic center Friday night.

Our family purchased tickets and arrived with a group featuring Greene, Dave Casper, Tom Mack and others.

"Is that the ghost-to-the-post guy?" Cade, our youngest, asked later.

That was him. Of course, Casper accomplished much more for the Oakland Raiders than his famed overhead grab for a 42-yard gain against Baltimore on Christmas Eve 1977. A 7-year-old raised on NFL Films drama might not know that yet.

Dozens of previously enshrined Hall of Famers took their turn walking an aisle through guest tables before greeting the 2012 class on stage. My wife heard our oldest, Derek, gasp when Marshall Faulk's name was called.

The boys craned to see Warren Moon make his entrance.

The video highlight packages are what got me.

Dawson pulling from his center position and flattening the same defender twice on one play. Doleman forcing fumble after fumble with blind-side hits on quarterbacks. Kennedy beat the center and then dragging the guard into the backfield to stop a runner in his tracks. Roaf collapsing one side of the formation with devastating power. Martin setting up his runs with patience and accelerating away from trouble. Butler picking off passes, scoring as a receiver and lighting up opponents (I feared Goodell might fine him retroactively).

There were poignant moments, too. The elder Roaf hugged his son and wouldn't let go. When he finally walked away, leaving his son to sport his new jacket alone on the stage, Clifton Roaf squeezed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb, as if to stop the tears.

The after party

Once the Gold Jacket Dinner broke, Hall of Famers and their families returned to the hotel for a reception.

My kids headed straight for the ice cream sundae bar, of course.

Not to worry, a nearby bartender offered. Bill Parcells, presenter for Martin, had done the same thing. A weekend such as this one makes all of us feel like kids.

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