The Pro Football Hall of Fame grew by seven on Saturday night as the newest inductees from the Class of 2014 were officially enshrined into Canton, Ohio.
The ceremony was the crowning achievement for seven players who are among the best to ever play the game. It was also the end of their football journeys—journeys that began decades ago.
The coolest moment of the night arguably happened when Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly joined former teammate and newly inducted Hall of Famer Andre Reed on stage after Reed's induction speech.
After Reed spoke glowingly of Kelly and made his former quarterback a focal point of his induction speech, Kelly came out to throw Reed one last pass. The duo that connected 663 times during their NFL careers rekindled their chemistry one final time on Saturday night.
Kelly is fighting a very public battle with cancer, which Peter King chronicled in Sports Illustrated's The MMQB. Kelly also joined the NFL Network crew to discuss his ongoing fight against cancer during the event's broadcast.
Kelly's wife, Jill, said that nothing was stopping Jim from making the trip to Fawcett Stadium to share in Reed's special moment, per Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News:
'Andre was at the hospital,' she said. 'He was at the house the day we flew to New York City. He came to New York and again when we got back. Every time Andre was there, Jim was down and out, struggling. But it was always the conversation. It was a given that Jim was going to be at the Hall of Fame.'
Kelly lived up to that promise and received a standing ovation from players and fans alike after being introduced, per Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York:
Just an awesome welcome for Jim Kelly. Standing ovation, prolonged applause, all Hall of Famers rose. Another special moment. #Bills— Sal Maiorana (@salmaiorana) August 2, 2014
Watching Kelly bask in the applause sent chills down your spine.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks gave the first speech of the night. Inductees are supposed to keep their speeches to 10 minutes, but Brooks was the first and not the last to flout that rule.
The 2002 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year spoke about what it means to be humble:
Brooks' humility shone through as he thanked just about every single teammate he played with in Tampa, all the way down to kicker Martin Gramatica. Hearing the names Mike Alstott, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber and Tony Dungy likely brought back a flood of memories for Bucs fans from those teams that enjoyed newfound success in the late '90s and into the new millennium.
Claude Humphrey was up next and delivered the most captivating speech of the ceremony. He acknowledged the 10-minute maximum before he began talking, but added that he'd waited 30 years to make it to the Hall of Fame, so he was going to take his time.
Humphrey's speech clocked in at nearly a half-hour, per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, but it was worth every second:
Claude Humphrey finishes at 29 minutes ... He thanked the sportswriters at the 28-minute mark, though, so it was totally worth it.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) August 3, 2014
The legendary Atlanta Falcons defensive end was equal parts introspective, comedic and candid. Nobody could've predicted that the birds and the bees would be on the docket for Saturday night's proceedings:
"My baby girl, she came purely by accident. My wife and I... WE KNEW WHERE BABIES CAME FROM!" -Claude Humphrey #PFHOF14— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 3, 2014
Humphrey also revealed a great tradition he and his grandson share, via Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:
Claude Humphrey goes to church and eats chicken wings with his grandson on Sunday mornings, and then they go back to sleep.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) August 3, 2014
Following an orator like Humphrey was a tall task, but Aeneas Williams stepped up and gave perhaps the most passionate of the seven inductions.
The former Arizona Cardinals defensive back included plenty of entertaining anecdotes, including thanking New York Giants fans for saluting him in their own recognizable manner:
Aeneas Williams thanks Giants fans for once saluting him "by telling me I was No. 1 with their middle finger" at Giants Stadium.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) August 3, 2014
A portion of Williams' speech was dedicated to the Cardinals' Wild Card Round win over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1999 playoffs, a game in which he said he had one duty, per NFL's Around the League:
Aeneas Williams on covering Michael Irvin in a 1998 upset over the Cowboys: "If he went to the restroom, I had to go flush it."— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) August 3, 2014
Williams also wondered if the Cowboys' loss set in motion Jerry Jones' pursuit of a new stadium, per NFL.com's Adam Rank:
"God must not be with (the Dallas Cowboys) anymore." Aeneas Williams taking credit for building the Cowboys new stadium. Awesome. #HOF14— Adam Rank (@adamrank) August 3, 2014
Williams' contributions to the game have gotten lost in time a bit in part because he spent most of his career in Arizona, where he made the postseason once in 10 years. His success helped pave the way for future corners to come, with him commenting that before "Revis Island," it was all about "Williams Island."
Speaking of unsung stars, Walter Jones took the stage next. The Seattle Seahawks left tackle was one of the best of his generation. For over a decade, QBs in Seattle knew that their blind sides were afforded plenty of security.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll saluted Jones on Twitter:
As good as Jones was on the field, that's how understated he was off it. Sports Illustrated's Greg Bishop commented that his speech totaled more than every word he spoke throughout his illustrious career:
Walter Jones just doubled the amount of words he has spoken in his life. Nice speech.— Greg Bishop (@GregBishopSI) August 3, 2014
Jones did manage to get his daughter Waleria's Instagram a shoutout, though:
Ray Guy came next, becoming the first-ever punter to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Sportswriter Joe Posnanski reflected on a time when he had to tell Guy that Canton would have to wait another year. Guy's reaction was priceless:
I once delivered the news to Ray Guy that he did not make the Hall. He said: "OK. Goin' fishin'." Man is now where he belongs.— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) August 3, 2014
One of the biggest proponents for the former Oakland Raider was former NFL punter Chris Kluwe, who went so far as to wear a "Vote Ray Guy" sticker on his Minnesota Vikings uniform. Kluwe thought Saturday was the culmination of a legendary career:
Huge congrats to Ray Guy. Great speech, and so glad to see him finally get the recognition he deserves.— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) August 3, 2014
Some might question whether a punter should be in Canton. John Madden's presentation for Guy encapsulated every reason why this was a deserved achievement:
In his speech, Guy stated that he hopes his enshrinement will lead to more punters getting the recognition they've earned throughout their careers. Guy was a trailblazer when he played the game, and he remains a trailblazer well after he's retired.
The penultimate inductee was Reed. Of course, much as Marvin Harrison will always be connected to Peyton Manning and Jerry Rice to Joe Montana, Reed's name will forever be remembered in tandem with Kelly.
The two formed one of the most lethal aerial duos of the 1990s, helping the Bills reach four straight Super Bowls. Reed made his feelings for his former quarterback clear, with a touching tribute to Kelly, via NFL on ESPN and CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz:
"The toughest individual I've ever met in my life is Jim Kelly number 12." - Andre Reed pic.twitter.com/bYUOCEtNMn— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 3, 2014
Andre Reed while speaking to Jim Kelly: "12+83 always = 6." Kelly mouths the words along with him.— Josh Katzowitz (@joshkatzowitz) August 3, 2014
Pity to anyone who wants to move the Bills, too. Reed appears ready to throw his Hall of Fame weight around to prevent that from ever happening, per Tim Graham of The Buffalo News:
Andre Reed: "Oh, yeah. And the Bills will stay in Buffalo, too." Crowd erupts.— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) August 3, 2014
The ceremony wrapped up with Michael Strahan. Considering he works on a talk show for a living, you knew his speech would be great.
One of the first things the New York Giants sack leader did was to make sure that his Hall of Fame bust had his trademark gap-toothed smile:
Strahan's speech was particularly impressive in the emotions it brought out from his former teammates and coaches, per NFL.com's Kimberly Jones:
Remarkable job by Michael Strahan, who is making Tom Coughlin laugh and Eli Manning cringe. Eventually, Eli smiled. And nodded.— Kimberly Jones (@KimJonesSports) August 3, 2014
This was a fitting conclusion to the enshrinement ceremony.
The overarching theme of his monologue was the word "improbable." Strahan said that at almost every stage of his football career, he was overwhelmed by the improbable nature of his achievements.
Who would've thought that a second-round pick out of Texas Southern would become one of the NFL's greatest-ever pass-rushers?
The same question could be asked of the other six inductees. When they began their football careers many years ago, the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a mere pipe dream. Having a bust in Canton would've been unthinkable.
Now, after long and fruitful journeys through the NFL, they will forever be immortals of the game.