CANTON, Ohio – After delivering an emotionally charged speech that brought both laughter and tears, receiver Andre Reed had one more thing to do to make his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction complete.
Turning his back to the crowd at the podium, Reed caught a pass from former Buffalo Bills teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jim Kelly on the stage at Fawcett Stadium on Saturday night.
The two then shared a long, emotional hug.
It was a fitting finish for a tandem that set a then-NFL record by hooking up 663 times in Buffalo.
And it was a moment that paid homage to the quarterback, who has spent the past 14 months battling cancer.
“You taught us not to quit,” Reed said, referring to Kelly. “You have endured a lot in your life. The loss of your son, and most recently your battle with cancer. You’re an inspiration to all you touch.”
Kelly was near tears, and the thousands of Bills fans in the crowd cheered.
Even louder cheers went up when Reed delivered a message to any Bills prospective ownership group having an intention of buying and relocating the franchise.
“Oh yeah, and the Bills will stay in Buffalo, too,” Reed said.
The Bills are on the block after founder and Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson died in March.
And leave it to defensive end Michael Strahan, and his familiar gap-toothed grin, for bringing the laughs.
He poked fun at his former New York Giants teammates, such as quarterback Eli Manning’s stoic expressions. He acknowledged being intimidated by Lawrence Taylor during his rookie season in 1993.
And Strahan then turned to “LT,” who was among the Hall of Famers on stage and added: “I’m still scared of you.”
Strahan, one of the game’s most dominant pass-rushers, also acknowledged former Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan, who was in attendance. He referred to Runyan as his toughest opponent, and “300 pounds of steel and non-sex appeal.”
The evening featured numerous memorable moments from the seven-member 2014 class of inductees.
Defensive back Aeneas Williams had the fans and fellow Hall of Famers chanting in the stands to give it their all.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks delivered what he called a 24-minute “Thank you letter.”
Defensive end Claude Humphrey called the 28-year wait to hear his name called as being worth it.
And Ray Guy made history, becoming the first full-time punter to be inducted.
The class also included offensive tackle Walter Jones, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection who spent his entire 12-season career in Seattle.
Jones had a large contingent of fans seated to the left of the stage, all of them wearing Seahawks-colored T-shirts with the name “Jones” and the No. 71 on the back.
The ceremony began with Brooks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star, who was selected for induction in his first year of eligibility, and followed by the 70-year-old Humphrey, who retired after the 1981 season.
“Now they tell me I only had 10 minutes up here, but let me start off by telling you that I’ve waited 30 years to get to this podium, so don’t rush me guys,” said Humphrey, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who split 13 NFL seasons between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles.
Guy’s wait was nearly as long. The seven-time Pro Bowl selection spent his 14-year career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. At 64, he was selected for induction in his 23rd year of eligibility.
“It’s been long, long overdue, but now the Hall of Fame has a complete team,” said Guy, who had as many as 20 former punters in the crowd to help him celebrate. “To know my legacy will be forever part of pro football history and that my bust will be alongside the greatest athletes of all time, it leaves this old punter speechless.”
Williams livened up the mood late in his speech during which he had one side of Fawcett Stadium chanting: “Begin with the end in mind,” to remind people how important it is to set goals.
And he had the other side chanting: “Die empty,” to remind people to give their all.
It was a fitting message from an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. He was an accounting major at Southern University, who walked on to the football team a week before the start of his junior season.
Selected in the third round of the 1991 draft, he proceeded to split 14 seasons between the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. Williams retired after the 2004 season and was selected for induction in his fifth year of eligibility.
“If you would have told me, ‘Aeneas, you have to the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks,’ I would have thought you were crazy and hit you with my right hand,” Williams said. “I’ll just take a moment to soak this all in.”
Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, paid tribute to family members, teammates and coaches, from his Pee-Wee playing days to his 14 NFL seasons in Tampa Bay.
He thanked his late mother Geraldine Brooks-Mitchell for instilling humility in him. He referred to former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy as his mentor. And Brooks thanked Dungy’s successor, Jon Gruden, for helping the Buccaneers believe they could be champions.
It was under Gruden when the Bucs blossomed into Super Bowl winners during the 2002 season in which Brooks earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Brooks even thanked Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica for his right foot, because of the number of tight games Tampa Bay won by field goals.
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