Perhaps the most popular Philadelphia Eagle ever, safety Brian Dawkins had a little bit of everything in his speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on Saturday night.
He drew laughs and tears, gave advice and inspired cheers from a load of Eagles fans in attendance, all the while pounding the microphone stand with his fist like he was wearing out a running back over the course of a game.
Dawkins, a nine-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro who also spent three years with the Denver Broncos, discussed his history of depression and how he overcame suicidal thoughts after his career.
“The majority of the success I have had has come on the back of pain,” Dawkins said. .”.. I was actually planning the way I would kill myself so my wife would get the money. But what that pain did for me, it increased my faith exponentially.”
He went on to encourage others who battle depression or mental health illnesses, saying, “There is hope on the other side. Keep moving, keep pushing through.”
Dawkins credited his wife, Connie, with saving his life, and he had a special gift planned for her. In the middle of his speech, she was presented with a golden shawl — to match his Hall of Fame gold jacket — as Dawkins called her a “Hall of Fame wife.”
A longtime captain, Dawkins also had powerful words for his former teammates, displaying the trademark passion he showed as a player and a leader during his 16-year career.
“Teammates, listen: I had a healthy dose of fear of letting you down,” Dawkins said. “That’s why I worked so doggone hard. I never wanted to let you down. I didn’t. Anything that I could do for you, you know I would do for you.”
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher seized upon a similar theme during his speech, recounting how much he prided himself on the way he approached the game, alongside his fellow Bears.
“As a player, I want to be remembered as a good teammate, that’s it,” said Urlacher, who was an eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and 2005 Defensive Player of the Year. “Just know how much I respected the game. ... I feel like I played the right way.
“I didn’t just compete to beat the other person. I competed to be my best.”
Urlacher was brought to tears while reflecting on his late mother, calling her the hardest-working person he’s ever known. He also reflected on the rather sudden end to his career with the Bears, who released him in 2013 after 13 years, and Urlacher chose not to sign with another team.
“I never had a chance to say goodbye,” Urlacher said.
Urlacher, 40, followed an inductee who is more than 40 years older and retired 45 years before him.
After waiting more than 49 years to get in, longtime Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer did not disappoint, delivering a lengthy speech filled with stories and inspirational quotes. In one anecdote, the colorful Kramer described the challenge of negotiating a contract back in an era when players didn’t have agents or know what their peers made.
Kramer said he knew his request for an $8,000 salary was too low when the immediate response came back, “OK, sign here.”
“I left a few bucks on the table, but then I recovered quickly: I said, ‘I want a signing bonus, too.’ “ Kramer, who was an 11-time finalist before getting the nod this year, recounted. “He said, ‘What about $250?’ I said, ‘OK that’d be great, that’d be super.’ “
Kramer, 82, also emphasized the importance of living a life built on character, not his list of accomplishments.
“Once the stadium lights are off, the championship ring is on the dresser, the only thing left at this time is to lead a life of quality and excellence and make this world a better place because you were in it,” he said. “You can, if you will.”
The first speaker of the night was Robert Brazile, a seven-time Pro Bowler with the Houston Oilers, and he showed off a memorable belt buckle to honor the late Bum Phillips, his former head coach. When Phillips passed away in 2013, he left the belt buckle — which features gold lettering of the team’s name and his name, along with a football and Phillips’ signature cowboy hat — to Brazile.
“When they knocked on my door, all of my dreams came true,” Brazile, the man nicknamed Dr. Doom, said emphatically to close his speech. “And after all these years I’m at home!”
The theme of longtime NFL personnel man Bobby Beathard’s induction was family, as he thanked those closest to him for always supporting him while he worked long hours on the job. Beathard is best known for helping build four Super Bowl teams, two as director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins and two as general manager of the Washington Redskins.
Among his supporters in the crowd was San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard, whom 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan made sure to excuse from training camp so he could be in attendance. Meanwhile, one of Bobby Beathard’s sons, country music singer Casey Beathard, teamed up with his own son, country music singer Tucker Beathard, to produce a song commemorating his father’s enshrinement.
Beathard, 81, is suffering from the early stages of dementia and chose to pre-record his speech. He also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons and then-San Diego Chargers.
Wide receiver Terrell Owens, the first player ever inducted to decline his invitation to the enshrinement ceremony, gave his own speech in Chattanooga, Tenn., earlier Saturday, at McKenzie Arena at his alma mater, Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Owens said during his speech he made that decision because he believes sportswriters “disregarded the system” in regard to his Hall of Fame candidacy, after he took three years to be inducted.
“I wanted to take a stand so the next guy coming after me will not have to go through what I and others have gone through,” Owens said. “Whether it’s three years or 45 years, you should get what you’ve rightfully earned.”
—Field Level Media