CANTON, Ohio — The Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomed eight new members to football immortality on Saturday afternoon. The ceremony, which took place inside the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, included memorable speeches, tributes, highlights and a few tears from the men who received their bronze busts and gold jackets.
This year’s class featured offensive tackle Tony Boselli, receiver Cliff Branch, safety LeRoy Butler, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Bryant Young, coach Dick Vermeil and official Art McNally. Boselli is the first Jaguars player to earn a Hall of Fame jacket. Like Boselli, Mills represented a team — the Carolina Panthers — who broke into the league in 1995. Branch, Butler, Seymour, Young, and Vermeil came to Canton with a combined nine Super Bowl rings. McNally was inducted after a decorated career that includes being credited with the creation of instant replay.
Here’s the main highlights from today’s ceremony, starting with one of the most popular Packers in franchise history.
LeRoy’s Leap into Canton
A standout safety for the Packers, Butler is credited for making the first-ever “Lambeau Leap” in 1993. His versatility helped the Packers defeat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, Green Bay’s first title in 29 years. Butler started his speech in a unique way. He quoted musician DJ Khaled, which went over well with the crowd.
Later in his speech, Butler referenced his former Packers coach, Mike Holmgren, who is a finalist for induction into next year’s class.
Mills keeps pounding
Inducted posthumously, Mills anchored the Saints “Dome Patrol” defense before helping lead the Panthers to an NFC Championship Game appearance in 1996. That season, the 37-year-old linebacker became the oldest player ever named to the Pro Bowl. Mills’ mantra was “keep pounding,” a battle cry that the Panthers use to this day.
Former Saints coach Jim Mora served as one of Mills’ presenters. Mora shared his memory of watching the 5-foot-9 Mills break the huddle during his rookie season. Mora admitted that he was scared for Mills before watching him make a tackle moments later while shedding a blocker who was at least 100 pounds heavier.
“I coached the Saints for nine years,” Mora said, “and he never looked short to me again.”
Mills’ acceptance speech was delivered by his wife, Melanie, who offered insight into the man Mills was off the field.
“Sam treated everyone with the respect and dignity they deserved,” she said. “He would ask about your day and he listened, because he cared.
“Keep pounding, everyone, because that’s what Sam would want you to do.”
Seymour praises Bill Belichick, makes HOF push for Robert Kraft
An integral member of the early Patriots’ 2000s dynasty, Seymour is the first player drafted by Bill Belichick to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.
“You’re the best coach in the game,” Seymour said of Belichick. “Thank you for everything you taught me.”
Seymour also paid tribute to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is a finalist for the Hall of Fame class of 2023. Seymour said that Kraft fostered a selfless culture that was centered on team success.
“You too will grace this stage,” Seymour said to Kraft, who was sitting in the audience.
Seymour follows former New England teammates Ty Law, Randy Moss and Junior Seau in Canton. More Patriots, including former New England QB Tom Brady, are sure to follow.
“We had a young quarterback,” Seymour said of Brady during his speech when discussing the early 2000s Patriots. “But we made it work.”
McNally makes history
Known as the founder of modern day officiating, McNally spent 48 years in the NFL as an official, including a successful run as the league’s supervisor of officials. He is the first former official to be enshrined in Canton.
McNally, who watched the ceremony from home, recorded an acceptance speech that included his appreciation for NFL officials. He also joked about how officials typically don’t want any attention, but today was obviously an exception.
“This is the greatest thing, I think, for an official: Do the job — hopefully nobody even knows you’re around — make the calls the proper way they should be with a heavy dose of common sense.”
“QB” Tony Boselli
One of the best tackles in league history, Boselli shared that he had other football aspirations during his childhood.
“I wanted to be a quarterback in the NFL,” said Boselli, who specifically wanted to play QB for the Broncos. That dream ended quickly, as Boselli was moved to tight end for the junior varsity and water boy for the varsity.
“But I was a damn good water boy,” Boselli said with a smile.
Instead of serving water, Boselli served opposing defenders their lunch during high school, at USC and during his Hall of Fame career with the Jaguars.
While he wasn’t inducted as a quarterback, Boselli’s QB in Jacksonville, Mark Brunell, served as his presenter.
“He wanted to absolutely dominate the opponent,” Brunell said of Boselli. “He was a fierce competitor, and he wasn’t going to let anybody get to the quarterback. He made us all better.”
Boselli takes great pride in being the first Jaguars player enshrined in Canton. He made a push for former teammates Fred Taylor, Jimmy Smith and Tom Coughlin to join him in Canton.
Young honors his late son
During his speech, Bryant Young spoke about his son, Colby, who passed away in 2016 after a courageous battle with cancer. Young fought back emotion as he spoke to his son.
“Colby, you live on in our hearts,” Young said. “We will always speak your name.”
Young’s path to the Hall of Fame hit a major crossroads in 1998. Then in his fifth season with the 49ers, Young suffered a severe, career-threatening leg injury. Despite the significance of the injury, Young persevered and played nine more seasons. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1999, a year after suffering the injury. An All-Decade Team member of the 1990s, Young helped the 49ers win the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl during his rookie season.
“I proudly wore gold during my entire career,” said Young, who before the 49ers played collegiately for Notre Dame. “I’ll cherish this jacket for the rest of my life.”
Branch brings speed to Canton
Branch becomes the seventh member of the 1974 Raiders’ offense to be enshrined in Canton, an NFL record for a single unit. Branch, who passed away in 2019, was a valuable member of all three of the Raiders’ Super Bowl championship teams. His peerless speed helped him earn All-Decade Team honors for the 1970s.
Branch’s sister, Elaine Anderson, delivered her induction speech. Raiders owner Mark Davis also served as a presenter for Branch, calling him “my best friend.”
“When it’s not God’s time, you can’t force it,” Anderson said in her speech. “When it’s God’s time, you can’t stop it.
“Clifford was delayed, but not denied.”
Branch’s teammate, fellow Hall of Fame wideout Fred Biletnikoff, was in attendance to celebrate Branch’s induction.
“The lord finally has some speed up there,” Biletnikoff said prior to Branch’s induction.
Dick Vermeil praises others for induction
Few coaches have been as good at turning losing teams into winners. Vermeil ended a 12-year playoff drought in Philadelphia before leading the franchise to its first Super Bowl. After a long break from coaching, Vermeil led the Rams — who lost more games in the ’90s than any other team — to a memorable Super Bowl run in 1999. He then ended the Chiefs’ seven playoff drought by leading Kansas City to a 13-3 season in 2003.
Instead of celebrating himself, Vermeil thanked everyone who helped him earn a gold jacket. He specifically mentioned the player whose tackle at the end of this biggest victory contributed to his Hall of Fame induction.
“If Mike Jones doesn’t make the tackle at the end of Super Bowl XXXIV, I’m not standing here,” Vermeil said. “I will forever be indebted to all of you people.”
A former high school coach, Vermeil pointed out members of his high school team who were in attendance that he coached over 60 years ago.
“I still call them kids, they’re in their high seventies today,” he said.
Vermeil also pointed out Torry Holt, who was part of the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf.” Vermeil declared that Holt would one day join him and fellow former Rams Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace and Isaac Bruce in Canton.
From his Eagles years, Vermeil paid homage to Wilbert Montgomery and John Bunting, former players who then served as coaches under Vermeil. Vermeil also thanked Eagles fans who supported him both near and far. He thanked current Chiefs coach Andy Reid for traveling to Canton to congratulate Vermeil despite being in the middle of training camp.
A well-known cryer, Vermeil did not cry until he spoke about his wife, Carol. He intentionally waited until the end of his speech to praise his wife of 66 years, knowing that he would shed tears.