The Hall of Fame gives each inductee a moment for an acceptance speech. Those that follow this introductory slide are the best of the best.
I’m not going to dress it up much here. That would be a mistake. The words that need to be emphasized have already been spoken.
I could only mess it up.
So click through to find a power ranking of the best speeches. Click through to be moved and inspired.
Mike Singletary’s speech was a simple reminder to thank the people in our lives that mean something. Really, that’s all it was.
There were plenty of others that ran in a similar vein. I don't know if it's the new-age athlete or a product of the instant-information age we live in, but almost all of those that were similar were from a “simpler” time (read: they were old).
But what sets Singletary's out from the others is what separates good writing from poor writing—Succinctness. Singletary got his message out quickly and effectively.
Who doesn’t appreciate that?
It was a close battle between Singletary and Emmitt Smith. But, again, you have to give it up for giving up the podium quickly.
There were funnier ones that were grateful, but every one included a story where the Hall of Famer proclaimed to his parents that he would make it to the show.
Singletary’s was different. His story about his mother wasn’t really about a prediction. It was about showing his gratitude for her and her guidance.
And, again, it was short.
The other main competition for this spot was Wellington Mara’s beautifully crafted speech. But simplicity means something when giving speeches, and the words chosen by Singletary made his message easier to digest.
There wasn't much in the way of inspiration, so it simply can't be ranked any higher.
However, simplicity and modesty are two traits that aren't celebrated enough. That's why Mike Singletary's speech of gratitude makes the list, albeit at the very bottom.
Deion Sanders never lacked a flare for the dramatic. From gold chains to colorful bandanas, Sanders was difficult not to notice—either off the field or on it.
But his speech, while exuberant, didn’t seem all that special.
For a while.
Sanders thanked everyone, as is customary. He droned on about each person who helped him reach the height of fame and fortune while being humble.
But then Sanders started speaking about his “Mama,” and things got real. He spoke of his embarrassment at his mom working hard in a hospital, toiling away in a menial job.
So Sanders created Primetime as a kind of homage to his mother. And, much like the top-ranked speech, he revealed that a responsibility to his mother was the driving force behind his success.
Then Sanders challenged everyone in the audience and his fellow Hall of Famers to make a difference. Not to talk about it, but make an honest-to-goodness change in the world around them.
It was inspiring to see a guy who always seemed to be so self-centered during his playing days use his moment to make a call for action.
And while his speech was more substantial than Singletary’s, it didn’t have the emotional charge of those to come in this list.
Hey, Primetime can’t be the best at everything.
While Singletary was praised for his simplicity and brevity, Michael Irvin gets a pass on those two characteristics. His speech was too good to worry about such things.
His spirit of genuine appreciation oozes from every word. The audience joined Irvin’s tears when he spoke of fulfilling his mother’s hopes and prayers.
The honesty was startling and refreshing. We all know of Irvin’s past sins. We didn’t know how contrite he was and is.
He spoke about how much he appreciated his teammates: How inspiring Emmitt Smith’s tenacity was and crucial Aikman’s leadership was. And he probably spoke the longest about his strength and conditioning coach, Mike Warsick.
But perhaps the most defining point of his speech was the humbling entreaty that his sons shouldn’t have to pay for his sins. His quote, “look up, get up and don’t ever give up,” is the type of sound bite that Jimmy Valvano would be proud of.
Irvin touched everyone with his honesty and raw emotion, and he left a message that really hits home. That’s something that neither Singletary nor Sanders could match.
These are Hall of Fame speeches. At least one has to include some sort of road map that is universal. And it figures it would be the loquacious yet gritty Shannon Sharpe who would show us the way.
He spoke of “chasing” dreams, not expecting them to develop on their own. He emphasized dedication, discipline and determination.
Sharpe also discussed self-confidence and believing in yourself. But he wasn’t so smug about being “self made” to not take the time to thank, of all people, his high school teacher.
He then gave touching examples of the help he received from coaches along the way. He thanked his family.
Then, the emotion came pouring forth as the focus of his speech became apparent: family.
It started when he raved about his brother. Sterling Sharpe was a great player who endured an unfortunate, premature end to his football career. Shannon wasn’t going to let this moment pass without everyone understanding how great his brother was.
But there was another level that Sharpe was saving. Once he began to discuss his grandmother, plenty of men suddenly had to wipe the dust from their eyes.
Almost everyone can relate to having someone in his or her life that went above and beyond because it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, many of us are too wrapped up in our own lives to truly let that person know how thankful we are. Hearing about Shannon’s regret on that topic touches a part deep in all of us and elevated this speech above all except one.
Sharpe’s speech wasn’t the most inspirational, even though it provided plenty of it. It also wasn’t the saddest, because there are tougher stories out there. But it was great because it focused on his family and his feelings towards them.
And that’s something we can all relate to.
Curtis Martin didn’t start off in a serious tone. He cracked jokes about Willie Roaf’s desire to get manis, pedis and facials (what?), and Cortez Kennedy’s ability to speak the lights out.
Then he delved into the honesty that separates the good speeches from the great ones.
At first, we think we’re dealing with the supposed horror that one of the greatest rushers in NFL history doesn’t love football.
But it’s much more than that.
His story takes a dark turn that creates that uncomfortable feeling you get when watching a couple fight. It’s none of your business, and you don’t want to be involved.
But it’s much more than that.
The stories he tells of his mother’s abuse at the hands of his father churn your stomach, leaving you to wonder how humans can commit such atrocities.
But then you realize how much more Martin is actually trying to convey.
Martin gave himself over to the audience, and it’s impossible not to come away affected in a meaningful way after hearing his speech.
You start to understand that Martin didn’t need a love for football, just a love for his mother. That it wasn’t glory or greed that fueled his piston-like legs, but love. He gave a new meaning to the phrase "running with a purpose."
His seamless transition to the inspiration that Bill Parcells bestowed on him about pushing to the next level and ending with a funny story is how he softens the blow. You are still deeply affected by the gravity of his speech, but it doesn’t weigh so heavily anymore as to depress you.
Curtis “my favorite” Martin delivered my favorite speech. And not just of the Pro Football Hall of Fame variety, but of all time.
It’s the perfect speech.