Pro Football HOF Class of 2011
The NFL lockout is over. Football is back. And the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011 Enshrinement is on.
The Class of 2011 includes seven men who made important contributions to the game both on and off the field—Ed Sabol, Richard Dent, Marshall Faulk, Les Richter, Chris Hanburger, Shannon Sharpe and Deion Sanders.
For the eighth consecutive year, I was honored to be among the members of the media covering the Enshrinement at one of my favorite places—the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Welcome to Canton, Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011.
Ed and Steve Sabol
Simply put, Ed Sabol changed the way we watch football today.
As the man behind the idea for NFL Films, Sabol introduced a number of innovations—the sideline camera, microphones on coaches, referees and players, the use of reverse angle replay, adding popular music to video footage and popular bloopers videos, just to name a few.
If you enjoy any weekly NFL highlight show, you can thank Sabol for the idea. Do you own a sports home video? Sabol introduced the first one in 1980.
Sabol is responsible for most of the coverage we enjoy today.
"I dreamed the impossible dream," Sabol said to all fans of the NFL, "And I'm living it right this minute. You're a great bunch of people—dedicated, loyal and hard working. And you're the reason I'm sitting up here."
Richard Dent was one of game’s premier pass rushers with 137.5 career sacks during his 15 NFL seasons, third best all time when he retired in 1997.
He was the prototype, as they say, at his position. And he played on one of the—OK, THE best defense in the history of the NFL with the Chicago Bears.
Not only was he an integral part of that vaunted 1985 Bears defense, but during their Super Bowl XX victory, Dent was the Most Valuable Player with three tackles, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Dent had it all—speed rush, bull rush. And the numbers didn't lie—17.5 sacks in his second season, 10 or more sacks in eight of the next 10 seasons.
He thanked many of those who helped him realize his dreams, but especially his mother:
"My mother was my heart," Dent said. "And I tell you, I couldn't be here without her. Everybody else were daddy's boys. I was mama's boy. I'm so thankful to be here. I wish my mother was here."
Marshall Faulk is one of my favorite running backs of all time. If you were to ask me to name five players I enjoyed watching play the game of football more than any others, Faulk would unquestionably be in my top five.
His ability to run and catch the ball—and the way in which he did it—was as impressive as I have ever seen. I remember watching him as a young player with the Indianapolis Colts, when Peyton Manning was the starting rookie quarterback for the team.
Along with Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, Faulk had something special when he got his hands on the football. It was fun to watch.
He would later take his next-level talents to the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis, where the Rams would win Super Bowl XXXIV. He was a human Swiss Army Knife.
Faulk closed his acceptance speech with three bits of inspirational advice:
"Live life, don't let life live you," Faulk said. "Next—my father told me this—if you ever traveled on a road with no speed bumps, you're headed for a dead end. Life's a challenge. I'm always told how blessed I am to be talented enough to have played football. I say we're all blessed. God blessed everyone on this earth, but what we do with it is the blessing. It's in our hands to put that blessing in motion."
I was very young when Chris Hanburger was in the business of headhunting opposing team's quarterbacks. I thought his name was funny, but his defensive skills didn't make offenses laugh.
Hanburger was a “defensive quarterback” and one of most dependable and steady linebackers of his era and an integral part of the dominant Redskins teams of the 1970s.
His appreciation for induction into the hallowed halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was both heartfelt and genuine.
"I will tell you that I respect this so much," Hanburger said. "There were so many players that played before I did. I'm so fortunate."
Deion Sanders had a flair for the spectacular. As a defensive back for 14 NFL seasons, he had some of the best ball skills of any player I have ever seen. He was a shutdown corner if ever there was one. But he did a lot more than defend passes.
Sanders was a playmaker. A prime-time playmaker.
He spent time with five different NFL teams and scored a total of six touchdowns on punt returns, three TDs on kickoff returns and returned nine interceptions for scores.
He also returned one fumble for a touchdown and had 60 receptions for 784 yards and three TDs during his career.
Sanders' success was fueled by a drive to make a better life for his mother. At seven years old, he made her a promise that he would one day make a lot of money and take care of her.
She brushed it off at the time. And why wouldn't she? Her son was only seven years old. But 14 years later, Sanders' promise was realized.
"That's why you can't give up on your dream, your promise," he said. "Because 14 years later, this dream, this promise came—that I was able to allow my mama to go into a job and say, 'I'm not doing it anymore. My son has blessed me.'"
Sterling and Shannon Sharpe
Shannon Sharpe looked more like a bodybuilder than he did a football player during his days with the Denver Broncos.
Of course, the two often go hand-in-hand in modern day football, but back in 1997 when he graced the cover of Muscle Media 2000, it literally changed the way I looked at health and fitness from that day forward.
Sharpe more than touched on his work ethic and what drove him to succeed during his 14-year NFL career—to give his grandmother, who raised him, a better life.
Fellow Hall of Famer Michael Irvin told him: "You don't know a man's pain unless you walk a mile in his shoes." Sharpe's take was: "You can't walk a mile in Shannon Sharpe's shoes because that wouldn't do it justice. You need to walk 20 years of my life."
As probably the least-known member of the HOF's Class of 2011, linebacker Les Richter's career in the NFL lasted nine years with eight consecutive Pro Bowls. He never missed a game.
Richter was one of the best linebackers of his era, known especially for his rugged and punishing style of play.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Richter was also a placekicker and led the Los Angeles Rams in scoring during their 1955-56 seasons.
Richter was so in demand as a player that the Rams gave up 11 players to get him.
Unfortunately, Richter passed away last year at the age of 79. He was presented by his son, Jon Richter.