CANTON, Ohio – Linebacker Derrick Brooks opened the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony with a 24-minute speech that he called a “Thank you letter.”
And defensive end Claude Humphrey followed by saying the 28-year wait to hear his named called was worth it.
The ceremony kicked off with a pair of extremes on Saturday night.
It began with Brooks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star, who was selected for induction in his first year of eligibility, and followed by the 70-year-old Humphrey, who retired after the 1981 season.
“Now they tell me I only had 10 minutes up here, but let me start off by telling you that I’ve waited 30 years to get to this podium, so don’t rush me guys,” said Humphrey, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who split 13 NFL seasons between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles.
No one was in a rush as the seven-member 2014 class was formally – and for some, finally – inducted.
Rounding out the class are defensive end Michael Strahan, receiver Andre Reed, defensive back Aeneas Williams and Ray Guy, the first full-time punter to enter the Hall of Fame.
Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, paid tribute to family members, teammates and coaches, from his Pop Warner playing days to his 14 NFL seasons in Tampa Bay.
He thanked his late mother for instilling in him humility. He referred to former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy as his mentor. And Brooks thanked Dungy’s successor, Jon Gruden, for helping the Buccaneers believe they could be champions.
It was under Gruden when the Bucs blossomed into Super Bowl winners during the 2002 season in which Brooks earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Brooks even thanked Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica for his right foot, because of the number of tight games Tampa Bay won by field goals.
A persistent drizzle fell for much of the afternoon before finally letting up at about 4 p.m., about three hours before the start of the induction ceremony.
Workers spent the final hour wiping down and drying chairs on the Fawcett Stadium field reserved for guests and dignitaries.
As expected, there were numerous fans on hand wearing Bills jerseys in support of Reed.
Officials actually moved the ceremony from the front steps of the Hall of Fame building to the stadium in 2002 to make room for the number of Bills fans that traveled to Canton for quarterback Jim Kelly’s induction.
The ceremony has been held inside the stadium ever since.
And it was Kelly, who received a lengthy standing ovation when he was introduced among the Hall of Famers attending the ceremony. Kelly was strong enough to attend while he recuperates from chemotherapy and radiation treatments for sinus cancer.
Even Kelly’s fellow Hall of Famers stood and clapped on stage.
The applause lasted so long that Kelly attempted to urge fans to sit down. When that didn’t work, he then approached ESPN broadcaster and master of ceremonies Chris Berman and gave him a big hug at the podium.
Jones had a large contingent of fans seated to the left of the stage, all of them wearing Seahawks-colored T-shirts with the name “Jones” and the No. 71 on the back.