Hall of Fame welcomes latest class; Harrison, Pace 1st to enter
CANTON, Ohio — They came in No. 4 jerseys and wearing cheeseheads. They chanted “Go Pack, Go.”
It was Lambeau Field transported to Ohio, and only one man could have caused it.
Brett Favre, welcome to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Believe me, I am an extremely blessed man,” Favre said Saturday night during an emotional speech spiced with humor and playfulness. “Play a game that I love so much for 20 years, to have all the wonderful things happen ... to share in that joy with you guys here tonight.”
And when he choked up talking about his late father, Irv, and how Favre spent his career “trying to redeem myself” to make Irv proud, the crowd offered loud and comforting support.
Adding that “this is tougher than any third-and-15,” he spoke of his new goal once his father died in 2003:
“I said to myself, I will make it to the Hall of Fame so I could acknowledge the fact of how important he was. I would not be here before you today without my father, there's no doubt whatsoever.”
Football's most durable quarterback (a record 299 straight regular-season starts and 321 including playoffs) and one of its greatest passers, Favre was the first three-time MVP (1995-97) and an NFL champion in 1996. He played with four teams, defining toughness and fortitude, particularly in 16 seasons with the Packers, a franchise he helped revitalize.
A swashbuckler with no fear on the field — in addition to completing 6,300 passes for 71,838 yards and 508 touchdowns, he threw an NFL-high 336 interceptions — Favre was a three-time All-Pro and made 11 Pro Bowls. His enthusiasm and love for the game marked his career, which began in Atlanta in 1991 and ended with the Vikings in 2010. He spent 2008 with the Jets.
And he just might not be done.
“I am going to ask Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson to let me play the first series tomorrow night,” Favre joked.
Joining Favre in the class of 2016 were Tony Dungy, a trail-blazing coach and Super Bowl winner; one of Dungy's stars, Marvin Harrison; Kevin Greene; Orlando Pace; Ken Stabler; Dick Stanfel; and Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
Harrison's 143 receptions in 2002 are an NFL record. He retired in 2008 with 1,102 catches, now third behind Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez. He had eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards receiving for Indianapolis. His receptions, 14,608 yards and 128 touchdowns are all Colts franchise records. He topped the 100-catch mark four straight times as Peyton Manning's prime target.
He came full circle Saturday.
“I worked extremely hard to get to this point,” said the Colts' first-round draft choice in 1996. “I played my first NFL game right on this very field.”
Pace was the blocking cornerstone of the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf that won the 1999 NFL title. The top overall draft pick in 1997, he helped turn running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Kurt Warner into NFL MVPs.
Like Harrison, he had memories of the Canton shrine, too, recalling visiting the hall when he was 13.
“My goal has always been to be the very best I can be ... not simply in football but in life,” Pace said. “My name in the Hall of Fame will stand as a lasting reminder. When you set your goal to be the very best, there is no other path.”
Nicknamed “Snake” for his elusiveness on and off the field, Stabler helped the Raiders win their first Super Bowl and make it to four other conference championship games in a five-year span. One of the first great left-handed pro QBs, Stabler, who died last year, was elected by the seniors committee.
He was known for some of the biggest plays in Raiders history, including his intentional fumble forward in the closing seconds of a game against San Diego in 1978 that led to a touchdown — the “Holy Roller” play — and to a rule change.
He was presented via video by Hall of Fame coach John Madden.
“Whatever the thing was, that focus, concentration, competitiveness, he could just step up a notch when you needed it,” Madden said.
Stanfel, who died last year at age 87, also was a seniors committee selection. He helped the Detroit Lions win the NFL title in 1952 and ‘53. He earned All-Pro honors five times in his seven-season career.
“I think he is the guard of the century,” said his presenter, Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy.