CANTON, Ohio — 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 Georgia native Ray Guy made history, becoming the first full-time punter to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony kicked off with numerous extremes to reflect the varied background of the seven-member class on Saturday night.
It 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.”
Rounding out the class are defensive end Michael Strahan, receiver Andre Reed, offensive tackle Walter Jones.
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.
A persistent drizzle fell for much of the afternoon before finally letting up at about 4 p.m., about three hours before the start of the induction ceremony.
As expected, there were numerous fans on hand wearing Bills jerseys in support of Reed.
Officials actually moved the ceremony from the front steps of the Hall of Fame building to the stadium in 2002 to make room for the number of Bills fans that traveled to Canton for quarterback Jim Kelly’s induction.
The ceremony has been held inside the stadium ever since.
And it was Kelly, who received a lengthy standing ovation when he was introduced among the Hall of Famers attending the ceremony. Kelly was strong enough to attend while he recuperates from chemotherapy and radiation treatments for sinus cancer.
Even Kelly’s fellow Hall of Famers stood and clapped on stage.
The applause lasted so long that Kelly attempted to urge fans to sit down. When that didn’t work, he then approached ESPN broadcaster and master of ceremonies Chris Berman and gave him a big hug at the podium.
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.
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