By Kevin Sullivan and Paul Herlihey
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted eight new members in the Class of 2018 – seven with traditional speeches in Canton, Ohio and Terrell Owens doing his own thing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he starred in college.
At their essence, Hall of Fame speeches should be about gratitude. Stories should be used to connect with the audience, make the speech memorable and to drive an authentic theme. Closing with a call to action that inspires the viewer to take positive action is the ideal capper.
Length can be an issue. Remarks ranged from longtime general manager Bobby Beathard’s pre-recorded three-minute video…to Ray Lewis’ 33-minute speech. Fifteen minutes is ideal – that’s enough time to thank everyone, tell a few supporting stories and give them something to think about at the end.
The most common themes in this year’s speeches were gratitude, overcoming adversity and glorifying God.
Here’s a look back at this year’s speeches, with special attention paid to what worked well.
Top Tier: Dawkins, Kramer and Lewis
Brian Dawkins delivered a top tier speech through his expression of gratitude and by connecting with the audience in a personal, memorable and inspirational manner.
His opening line, “First of all, Hallelujah!” set the tone. Underneath his gold Hall of Fame coat, Dawkins wore a t-shirt that read, “Blessed by the best,” which turned out to be an effective prop. Given profuse thanks to God was a recurring theme and he always thanked his coaches, teammates, fans, family and wife, Connie (to whom he presented a gold Hall of Fame veil), for helping guide him into the Hall of Fame. Using an outline on the Teleprompter as opposed to a script, Dawkins delivered a number of memorable lines, including “My haters became my elevators” to describe how he was motivated by all those who doubted an undersized defensive back could make it. At the big moments, Dawkins played to the crowd and let the applause build.
What set Dawkins’ speech apart, however, was the honesty and vulnerability he displayed when he thanked those who supported him during his struggle with depression. He admitted to suicidal thoughts and encouraged all those suffering to push through the pain, promising a better life on the other side. While Dawkins’ delivery was more intense than joyful, his message was so personal and real that it was effective – and carried an important message.
The remarks by the former Green Bay Packers guard was the funniest of the speeches. He exhibited humility by only telling stories that built others up, but there were several laughs along the way – a smart way for the oldest inductee to connect with the audience. His was the practiced and smooth delivery of a veteran of the public speaking circuit.
In his short tribute to Vince Lombardi, Kramer outlined the priorities (God, family, the Green Bay Packers) and principles (preparation, commitment and discipline) he learned from his coach. Kramer framed his remarks with a charge from a high school coach: “You can, if you will.” He told the audience that success is not so much a chance as it is a choice. He finished by issuing a call to live a life characterized by quality and excellence.
What was most remarkable about Kramer’s speech was that he never referenced waiting 50 years for the call from the Hall. There were no sour grapes, only joy and gratitude.
Lewis’ speech was the most free-wheeling, rambling and energetic of the bunch. He wore a headset microphone, roaming like stage and at times sounding like an evangelist. At 33 minutes, his remarks were nearly twice as long as they should have been. But without question, his message was powerful, inspirational and memorable…and he was likable. He even danced.
His humility, energy and storytelling were his audience connectors. He also delivered a handful of memorable sound bites, including, “Telling me it can’t be done is like pouring a gallon of lighter fluid on an open flame.”
Lewis continuously acknowledged and thanked those who helped him overcome adversity and achieve success. He showed vulnerability by acknowledging his challenging upbringing and then told his mother, “Momma look how far we’ve came.” He was humble, thanking God throughout, at one point saying he was “grateful to God for giving me strength in my darkest moments.” He used his experience to inspire others, saying, “There’s a young 10-year-old kid sitting home that don’t have a father and he’s ready to join a gang. He’s ready to give up. Don’t ever give up and don’t ever give in.”
Of all the speeches, Lewis offered the best close. While it could have certainly been tightened up, he offered an inspirational call to action to help unite the country.
He began by directing his comments to his fellow Hall of Famers. “I’ve always got to leave with an ask. How do we turn our legends into legacy? This is bigger than football, bigger than sports. We rose to the challenge week after week for the love of the game for the love of our team. That love is still in us, burning to be used. I’m talking to you at home, too. How we will execute that dream? It’s got to be us. In the next 30 days think about why you get up in the morning. What is most important to you in this life? We must come together as brothers and sisters. Think what we can do if we work together. Vow to be a leader in your community…vow to be a ray of light in the world around you – together there is nothing we can’t do.”
The former Redskins General Manager taped brief comments in which he showed gratitude by thanking the owners, coaches, friends, fans and family who helped him get to the Hall of Fame. He came across as sincerely grateful and genuinely touched by the honor.
Initially, Brazille planned to use notes for his speech, but when he began, his passion, gratitude and personality took over and the notes went in his pocket. He began with a funny anecdote. Before his speech he asked his wife, Brenda, how he should begin, and she said, “I don’t think starting the speech is going to be your problem.” For the next nine minutes, Brazille emphasized his family’s support in beginning his football career and later returning to it. He deployed an effective theme of “knocks and phone calls” that changed his life, culminating with his invitation to the Hall of Fame. He continuously referenced the undying support of those he loved, showing his character, gratitude and appreciation. Brazille came across as likable and genuine – the TV viewers would have connected even more had he not been wearing sunglasses.
The theme of Moss’s speech was gratitude and the principles of faith, family and football. He began by thanking God and his mother, who taught him that life was not all about him, but rather it’s about providing for others, especially family. Refreshingly, he admitted, “I had to mature” earlier in his career.
He shared his appreciation for his family’s support by powerfully saying, “WE, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.” He thanked his coaches and teammates who supported him throughout his career.
While Moss came across as authentic, his style was intense with much of the speech delivered with furrowed brow. “I never knew so many people wanted me fail,” he said. While his remarks were powerful and packed with real emotion, they lacked joy.
Owens was the only inductee not in attendance in Canton, Ohio. He went against the grain and chose to be honored at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He spoke confidently about his career in the league, but also dwelled on those who doubted him. At first, Owens sought to prove that he earned this honor, but he eventually expressed his gratitude to those most important to him. Owens showed authenticity in his raw emotions, pausing multiple times to wipe tears from his face, including when thanking his mother and his grandmother for their support.
Urlacher was the only inductee to read his speech from a teleprompter. He connected through gratitude, humility and storytelling, but at times seemed nervous and rushed. One highlight was directly addressing Bears fans, saying he never got the chance to say goodbye. This elicited an uproar from the fans in appreciation and support. Another memorable moment was when he individually and personally addressed his children, telling each one how proud he is of them. He acknowledged and thanked his parents for their support, crediting his mother with his commitment to hard work.