Pro Football Hall of Fame 2021: Ceremony Recap, Speech Highlights and Reaction

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVAugust 8, 2021

Troy Polamalu, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class, gestures after receiving his gold jacket during the induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)
AP Photo/David Richard

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020, the wait was worth it.

Twelve NFL legends were officially enshrined into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, celebrating in an event that was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canton, Ohio, is just a few hours away from Pittsburgh, so plenty of Pittsburgh Steelers fans made the drive west to laud two key figures in the franchise's Super Bowl XL victory: Bill Cowher and Troy Polamalu. Four-time Super Bowl champion Donnie Shell, meanwhile, was yet another member of the vaunted Steel Curtain defense to get enshrined.

Suffice it to say, there were a lot of Terrible Towels at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium:

Pittsburgh Steelers @steelers

Sooooooooo many Terrible Towels‼️ <a href="https://t.co/0tz1tUt1dd">pic.twitter.com/0tz1tUt1dd</a>

NFL Network @nflnetwork

"STEELER NATION!"<br><br>Donnie Shell got the <a href="https://twitter.com/steelers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@steelers</a> fans going in the crowd 🗣<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> Enshrinement on NFL Network <a href="https://t.co/hGPKmo4cCt">pic.twitter.com/hGPKmo4cCt</a>

Cowher brought the festivities to a close.

The 64-year-old had massive shoes to fill when he succeeded Chuck Noll. He left with the second-most wins (149) in Steelers history and brought Pittsburgh its fifth Super Bowl title.

He had play the role of diplomat when he referenced his playing and coaching career with the Cleveland Browns:

Rob Powers @RobPowersTV

“No, no, no no: I’ve got 2-kids who were born in Cleveland…” Bill Cowher… Congrats, Coach!

Cowher started as a special teams coach with the Browns on Marty Schottenheimer's staff and went out of the way to thank the late Schottenheimer.


Never forgot about the people who helped him get there. <a href="https://twitter.com/CowherCBS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CowherCBS</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> Enshrinement on <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a> <a href="https://t.co/6HGBC2e9Ii">pic.twitter.com/6HGBC2e9Ii</a>

Cowher helped bring Polamalu, a a first-round pick in the 2003 to Pittsburgh. The eight-time Pro Bowler immediately climbs near the top of the Hall of Fame bust power rankings:

Pittsburgh Steelers @steelers

Even his Bronzed Bust has great hair! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> <a href="https://t.co/ar1aASl2I4">pic.twitter.com/ar1aASl2I4</a>

Rich Eisen @richeisen

I mean, I’ve never seen a bust and thought that the <a href="https://twitter.com/ProFootballHOF?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ProFootballHOF</a> is gonna have to figure out how to display the back of it too. <a href="https://t.co/cBlXLBlrEF">pic.twitter.com/cBlXLBlrEF</a>

Polamalu recounted one of his first "welcome to the NFL" moments:

Jenna Harner @JennaHarner11

Troy Polamalu on his first real introduction to the NFL: “Our first full padded practice, when Heinz Ward and I hit.”<br><br>“It was my legs that subsequently buckled and he helped me up like a toddler and said, I'm not like any other wide receiver.”

He also summed up what he believed to be an ethos for anybody who ever wore the black and gold:

Pro Football Hall of Fame @ProFootballHOF

A true sign of respect from <a href="https://twitter.com/steelers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@steelers</a> legends...<a href="https://twitter.com/tpolamalu?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tpolamalu</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> <a href="https://t.co/mhtpksZK5R">pic.twitter.com/mhtpksZK5R</a>

Before he went on to be a legendary head coach, Tony Dungy played two years with the Steelers and shared a locker room with Shell. Dungy reflected on Shell's big night:

Tony Dungy @TonyDungy

Donnie Shell was not only my roommate but my mentor. He taught me about playing safety but also taught me how to live as a Christian man. He didn’t tell me—he showed me. A true Hall of Famer on and off the field, I am so proud of Donnie. Congratulations on this special honor. <a href="https://t.co/l8GLsybKwW">pic.twitter.com/l8GLsybKwW</a>

The Steelers partisans who cheered Cowher, Polamalu and Shell had to put fandom aside as Jimmy Johnson took the podium.

Johnson only coached nine years in the NFL, but he made quite an impact. Beyond leading the Dallas Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 1992 and 1993, his team-building approach has been duplicated by numerous coaches since.

Troy Aikman teared up upon watching Hall of Fame President David Baker inform Johnson he was a newly minted Hall of Famer. Aikman was on hand to present his former coach, and they shared a moment together on the stage:


A special moment for <a href="https://twitter.com/TroyAikman?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TroyAikman</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/JimmyJohnson?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JimmyJohnson</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dallascowboys</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> Enshrinement on <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a> <a href="https://t.co/J7L02RMsQU">pic.twitter.com/J7L02RMsQU</a>

Wayne Huizenga owned the Miami Dolphins when the franchise hired Johnson in 1996. He helped the former coach gain a new level of perspective on life:


Quality. Time. Left.<a href="https://twitter.com/JimmyJohnson?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JimmyJohnson</a>'s on the importance of appreciating family. <br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> Enshrinement on <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a> <a href="https://t.co/pGclKHmr21">pic.twitter.com/pGclKHmr21</a>

Edgerrin James made an immediate impact for the Indianapolis Colts, leading the NFL in rushing in each of his first two seasons. He finished as the Colts' all-time leading rusher (9,226 yards) before enjoying two more 1,000-yard rushing seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

The 43-year-old reflected on his time with the Colts, when Indianapolis was often near the top of the AFC:


Peyton. Marvin. Reggie.<br><br>Edgerrin James looks back at his legendary teammates with the <a href="https://twitter.com/Colts?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Colts</a>.<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> Enshrinement on <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a> <a href="https://t.co/fBzkAtR9ji">pic.twitter.com/fBzkAtR9ji</a>

Jim Ayello @jimayello

Edgerrin James on the draft: "I’ll always be grateful to fellow hall of famer Bill Polian for shocking the world and putting his faith in me."

James also wanted to leave fans with a message that transcends football:


Inspiring from Edgerrin James. 💙<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> Enshrinement on <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a> <a href="https://t.co/4m8JfXwHAo">pic.twitter.com/4m8JfXwHAo</a>

He also delivered perhaps the line of the night:

Bruce Feldman @BruceFeldmanCFB

Edgerrin James closes his Hall of Fame speech with, “My career started with gold teeth. And ended with this gold jacket."

Isaac Bruce caught 1,024 passes for 15,208 yards and 91 touchdowns. Along with Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Kurt Warner, he was a member of the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf."

The four-time Pro Bowler took a moment during his speech to shout out an anonymous doubter who appears to have been a large source of motivation:


To anyone who doubted <a href="https://twitter.com/IsaacBruce80?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@IsaacBruce80</a>...<br><br>"How you like me now?" 😏<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PFHOF20?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PFHOF20</a> Enshrinement on <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a> <a href="https://t.co/hSwcUZGmdC">pic.twitter.com/hSwcUZGmdC</a>

Steve Hutchinson helped pave the way for Shaun Alexander and Adrian Peterson on the gridiron. A seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, the former Michigan Wolverine was one of the best offensive linemen of his era.

His football career may not have gotten out of its nascent stages had he not experienced a change of heart at a pivotal moment.


"I remember my freshman year of high school walking out to the first of two practices in the south Florida heat while my friends were hanging out at the pool. I made a choice then that I wanted to be great and I haven't looked back."<br><br>Inspiring words from Steve Hutchinson 👏 <a href="https://t.co/KrIzdQPaCo">pic.twitter.com/KrIzdQPaCo</a>

The Hall of Fame festivities aren't drawing to a close just yet.

The Class of 2021 will be front and center Sunday, with the ceremony scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET. Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson and Charles Woodson are among the eight luminaries honored.


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