Welcomed into an exclusive club
Six are inducted into Football Hall of Fame with an emotional appeal for unity.
CANTON, Ohio — As he so often did on the field, LaDainian Tomlinson stole the show.
With a powerful speech calling for “Team America” to be a place for inclusion and opportunity, the great running back of the San Diego Chargers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
The 2017 roster of entrants into the shrine was deeply impressive: fellow running back Terrell Davis; quarterback Kurt Warner; defensive end Jason Taylor; safety Kenny Easley; placekicker Morten Andersen; and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
All spoke eloquently, with bursts of humor and heartwarming stories. But Tomlinson’s words resonated so strongly that he drew several standing ovations not only from the crowd of 13,400, but from his now-fellow Gold Jackets.
“Football is a microcosm of America,” Tomlinson said. “All races, religions and creeds, living, playing, competing side by side. When you’re part of a team, you understand your teammates — their strengths and weaknesses — and work together toward the same goal, to win a championship.
“Let’s not choose to be against one another. Let’s choose to be for one another. I pray we dedicate ourselves to being the best team we can be . ... Leading the way for all nations to follow.”
Tomlinson and Taylor were elected in their first year of eligibility.
A third-round draft pick from Akron, Taylor’s 139½ career sacks helped him make the All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He also was the NFL’s man of the year in 2007.
“I honestly can’t believe I am here,” said Taylor. “It took 20 years to travel 20 miles to put on this jacket. It was worth every step.”
The longest wait, 24 years, was by Easley, chosen for enshrinement by the seniors committee. The hardhitting Seahawks safety out of UCLA, a member of the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team, played only seven seasons and 89 games. But what an impact he made. The 1981 NFL defensive rookie of the year, Easley was the league’s top overall defender in 1984 when he had a league-leading 10 interceptions, a career high.
“I thank you for welcoming me into your exclusive club,” he said.
Andersen joined Jan Stenerud as the only placekickers in Canton.
A native of Denmark, Andersen played an incredible 25 pro seasons, a league record.
“My story isn’t only about my love for my country of Denmark and its people, but also my deep appreciation and respect for what I discovered here in the United States of America,” he said.
It took Warner years to get discovered. Warner stepped in when Trent Green tore up his knee in a 1999 preseason game. He went on to win two NFL MVP awards and one league title, reinvigorating the Rams and then the Cardinals.
“People say Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better,” Warner noted.
Davis’ mercurial NFL stay had been something of a hindrance for entry into the Hall. But he was the catalyst for the NFL titles Denver won in 1997 and ’98 with another Hall of Famer, John Elway, at quarterback.
KENNY EASLEY, left, with Hall of Fame presenter Tommy Rhodes. A safety for the Seahawks who was drafted out of UCLA, Easley waited 24 years to be picked.