CANTON, Ohio — One of the great leaders football has seen, Ray Lewis used his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech to call for more enlightened leadership in our country.
Meanwhile, Lovington High and University of New Mexico alumnus Brian Urlacher gave an emotional speech, lasting roughly 20 minutes, during which he had to hold back tears several times.
Those two were joined by Randy Moss, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile and Bobby Beathard as class of 2018 inductees at the hall ceremony Saturday. The other member, Terrell Owens , declined to attend. Instead, he held his own celebration at his college in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was shown in a video and his photo was hanging in Tom Benson Stadium. Otherwise, T.O. was MIA.
Urlacher became a record-28th Chicago Bear inducted into the hall. The All-American safety at UNM and a first-year nominee filled the tradition of great middle linebackers in the Windy City so brilliantly. Chicago selected him ninth overall in the 2000 draft and immediately converted him to linebacker. He spent two weeks in training camp on the outside, then was moved inside — for 13 spectacular seasons.
“I love everything about football: the friendships, the coaches, the teachers, the challenges, the opportunity to excel. I loved going to work every day for 13 years,” said the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, a season in which Urlacher had 171 tackles.
The five-time All-Pro and member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team even did some work on special teams.
But it was in the heart of the defense where he shone.
“The most coveted position for a defensive player to play is middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears,” said Urlacher. “Just think about it. I hope over my 13 seasons I made you Bears fans proud.”
The last of the seven members on hand to be enshrined, Lewis eschewed notes and the lectern, instead strolling along the stage and passionately urging his listeners to come together.
“Are you living every day to make this world better?” Lewis asked at the end of his 33-minute oratory, often invoking the teachings of Martin Luther King. “Think what we can do if we work together as a country … teaching our nation to love each other again.
“It’s how we react to the challenges in our life that shows our greatness. How do we execute that dream? Who will answer that knock on the door in the middle of the night? And it has to start right now. We need people willing to fight for what is good and what is right.”
A first-year nominee, Lewis was selected 26th overall in the 1996 draft — what were other teams thinking? He wasn’t even Baltimore first choice: Jonathan Ogden was, and the big tackle made the Hall of Fame in 2013.
His impact was immediate, both on the field, in the locker room, and even in pregame introductions, when his “squirrel dance” fired up fans and teammates alike. He and Ogden even did a short version on the stage.
Dawkins also delivered a powerful speech and, as he promised, cried during it. One of the hardest-hitting and most versatile safeties in NFL history, Dawkins stared at his bust and nodded his approval.
“The majority of success I have had has come on the back end of pain,” he said noting he had suicidal thoughts when he battled depression. “On the other side of it, all of a sudden I became better.”
Another first-year nominee, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Moss brought the perfect combination of height, speed, soft hands and agility to Minnesota as the 21st overall draft pick in 1998 after a rocky college career. His 69 receptions, 17 for touchdowns, and 1,313 yards helped the Vikings go 15-1 and earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
In a lengthy and humorous speech, Kramer brought the crowd back to the Lombardi Era. A senior committee nominee, Kramer became eligible in 1974 after 11 seasons with the Packers in which he won five NFL titles and two Super Bowls.
“It was an incredible experience to be with him and have him bring you along,” he said about Lombardi, who gave him “approval and belief: powerful, powerful tools.”
Kramer also spent some time placekicking for Green Bay. He made five All-Pro squads, the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team, NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s and the Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team.
Brazile, known as Dr. Doom when he played in all 147 games for the Houston Oilers in his 10-year NFL career, kissed his bust when it was unveiled. He spoke of how he and Walter Payton made history by being selected in the first-round of the same draft from a historically black college (Jackson State).
Presented by his father, also named Robert, Brazile made the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team. He retired in 1984 and became a special education teacher.
Beathard won four Super Bowls as a team executive and drafted four Hall of Famers. His best hire might have been coach Joe Gibbs, who presented Beathard for induction.
A contributor’s committee nominee, Beathard worked for the Chiefs, Falcons, Dolphins, Redskins and Chargers. He won two NFL titles each with Miami, including the perfect 1972 season, and Washington. He also helped Kansas City and San Diego make Super Bowls.