Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions: Saturday's highlights for the 2020 and Centennial classes

ByJeff Legwold ESPN logo
Sunday, August 8, 2021

CANTON, Ohio -- The Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2020 and the Centennial Class were formally enshrined Saturday night in Tom Benson Stadium.

From Edgerrin James' call to avoid judgments on a person's appearance with the mic drop line of the night -- "my career started with gold teeth and ended with this gold jacket" -- to Steve Hutchinson's heartfelt, tearful thanks to his family and Steve Atwater asking all of his former teammates in the crowd to stand so he could thank each by name, the biggest enshrinement ceremony in the Hall's history was filled with gems.

And the celebration doesn't stop with Saturday's ceremonies. On Sunday, the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, which is headlined by quarterback Peyton Manning, will be enshrined (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Manning won a pair of Super Bowls and set many records in his 18-year career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. Manning will join seven other members of the class.

Here are some of the highlights from the 12 newest Hall of Famers who spoke from the podium Saturday in the order they appeared, as well as social media and congratulatory messages from HOFers' teammates and teams:

Saturday's speakers

Harold Carmichael, wide receiver (Philadelphia Eagles, 1971-1983; Dallas Cowboys, 1984)

The résumé: A four-time Pro Bowl selection, the 6-foot-8 Carmichael was the league's Man of the Year in 1980 for his work in his community. In an era when Drew Pearson once led the league in receiving yards with 877 in 1977, Carmichael was consistent in his impact, averaging over 15 yards per catch in six seasons. He led the league in catches and receiving yards in 1973 and finished with three 1,000-yard seasons in his career.

He said it: "I'm so honored to be part of this brotherhood. ... What a journey ... I remember coach [Dick] Vermeil saying 'Do your job better than everybody else and surround yourself with good people.'"

Cliff Harris, safety (Dallas Cowboys, 1970-79)

The résumé: Harris made the Cowboys' roster as an undrafted rookie in 1970, having arrived as a former college sprinter and cornerback. Harris became one of the league's first box safeties with enough athleticism to return punts and kickoffs. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said the two best safeties he faced were Harris and Hall of Famer Jake Scott. Harris was selected to six Pro Bowls. He led the Cowboys in tackles in 1976 and interceptions in 1977. He played on two Super Bowl winners, and the Cowboys were in the postseason in nine of his 10 years.

He said it: "What an incredible journey this has been for me. ... I also had the great fortune to play with many legendary players. ... Football was my passion, but my fallback was to become a doctor. ... If I can make it anyone can achieve their goals, the key is to never give up, keep going, keep learning."

Edgerrin James, running back (Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005; Arizona Cardinals, 2006-08; Seattle Seahawks, 2009)

The résumé: He was the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1999 and won the league's rushing title his first two seasons -- with 1,553 yards in 1999 and 1,709 in 2000. James had four 1,500-yard rushing seasons, five 50-reception seasons and finished with more than 15,000 yards from scrimmage.

He said it: "This is a special moment for me, my family and those closest to me. ... To my mama, we're here. ... It was also dope to play for fellow Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, a great coach, but even a better man. ... To the city of Indianapolis, thank you for embracing me. ... Think about what happens to our culture and our families when we don't get the protection we're supposed to. ... We have a lot of things going on in this country, it's only right to keep shining the light on it. ... I always knew who I was, a great player, a great father, a lion and this is my mane [pointing to his hair]. ... My closing message is proudly represent the real you. ... My career started with gold teeth and ended with this gold jacket."

Steve Atwater, safety (Denver Broncos, 1989-98; New York Jets, 1999)

The résumé: Atwater was one of the league's fiercest tacklers and won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. He closed out his career as an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro. Atwater had six 100-tackle seasons, and at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, he was one of the biggest, most mobile safeties of his era.

He said it: "I stand here because of so many people who have stood beside me. ... I'm humbled and honored to wear this gold jacket. ... You all have touched my life in one way or another on and off the field and I thank you."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1989-2006)

The résumé: His supporters cite his role in the growth of the NFL into a global, multibillion-dollar business, his part in the creation of the Rooney Rule to promote diversity in hiring, and a long period of labor peace between the league and the players' union. Before Tagliabue's tenure, the commissioner largely ran the league's day-to-day operations but held little power. Tagliabue flipped it to make the commissioner the central figure in the NFL's operations. Record television revenues and extended labor peace followed.

He said it: "It's like a dream come true, I'll tell you that. ... My journey in pro football began in 1969 as a young attorney. ... Think league first, those were the words [former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle] said so often. ... Most important of all, my deepest love and appreciation go to my wife, Chan. ... The perspectives of the players should be considered when they speak out on matters that are important to them in the league and in their community. ... Listen to players, they have a lot to teach all of us. ... I'm proud and grateful to have played a small part in the evolution of the league."

Steve Hutchinson, guard (Seattle Seahawks, 2001-05; Minnesota Vikings, 2006-11; Tennessee Titans, 2012)

The résumé: He was selected to the league's All-Rookie team in 2001, seven Pro Bowls and the All-Decade team of the 2000s. With the Seahawks, he played alongside Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones, forming one of the best guard-tackle tandems of the past three decades. He is one of 12 offensive linemen in the modern era to have been named first-team All-Pro five times and once went 44 consecutive games without having a penalty called on him that was accepted.

He said it: "They said be brief so thank you, good night. ... If I could go back and tell myself anything, it would be not to fear failure. ... Thank you to the fans at every stage of my career. ... To the kids out there who are wondering if they can ever play in those stadiums, never give up on your dreams. ... Success is not always comfortable or easy."

Donnie Shell, safety (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-87)

The résumé: Shell was physical enough to play the run like a linebacker, and had the athleticism and savvy to have 51 career interceptions. Shell played on four Super Bowl winners and was voted the team MVP of the 1980 Steelers, a team that included nine Hall of Famers (Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount). He was a five-time Pro Bowl and three-time first-team All-Pro selection.

He said it: "It's been a long journey, but a good one. ... I arrived in Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent and now I'm in the Hall of Fame, only God can do that."

Isaac Bruce, wide receiver (Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1994-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09)

The résumé: When he retired, he was second all-time with 15,208 receiving yards; he and Jerry Rice were the only wide receivers to have topped 15,000 yards at that time. He was the first player in NFL history with three consecutive games of at least 170 yards receiving, and he had three career 200-yard receiving games. He finished his career with eight 1,000-yard seasons.

He said it: "I'm grateful, I'm having a good time. ... I'd like to thank my high school, Dillard High School, the standard in South Florida. ... To the city of St. Louis, its fan base, I love you. ... To all the defensive backs, the ones that baptized me and all the ones I baptized, I thank you."

Jim Covert, tackle (Chicago Bears, 1983-1990)

The résumé: A two-time first-team All-Pro, Covert helped power a Bears offense that led the league in rushing in each of his first four seasons and finished among the top three in rushing in seven of his eight seasons. A back injury ended his career in 1991. Covert held Lawrence Taylor without a sack in his three meetings against the Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon once said Covert and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz were the best tackles he faced.

He said it: "Growing up I never dreamed I'd be standing here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. ... I never had to look far for role models because I always said they were right down the hall. ... My mom is the rock of our family, I love you mom, thank you. ... When I went to the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka said, 'I've got good news and bad news. The good news is we're going to the Super Bowl. The bad news is half you guys won't be here.'"

Troy Polamalu, safety (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2003-14)

The résumé: He forced 14 fumbles, recovered seven and had 32 interceptions. He was a second-team All-Decade pick at safety only because Ed Reed -- Hall of Fame class of 2019 -- was the first-team selection at Polamalu's spot. Polamalu was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was a four-time first-team All-Pro as well as the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.

He said it: "I love football, I love football, it was my entire life as long as I could remember. ... It is the willingness to push the body beyond what the brain says is possible. ... Thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey. ... To be a Steeler is to consider others before you consider yourself. ... [To his sons] I love you, thank you for holding me accountable."

Jimmy Johnson (Dallas Cowboys, 1989-1993; Miami Dolphins, 1996-99)

The résumé: He made the most of his nine seasons with two Super Bowl wins as the Dallas Cowboys went from 1-15 in his first season in 1989 to 36-12 in his last three years in Dallas with back-to-back Super Bowl victories. He is credited with the extensive use of the draft chart to make trades, while his Herschel Walker and Steve Walsh trades netted him four first-round picks, four second-round picks and two third-round picks. He turned those picks into a team that won three Super Bowls -- two for him and one for Barry Switzer. Johnson drafted 18 players who would start in Super Bowls, including three Super Bowl MVPs, and 15 players who would be selected to a Pro Bowl.

He said it: "I had a lot of great players, but more than a great player [Troy Aikman] has become a great friend. ... It's a special, special game. ... You want to know what I'm going to say about Jerry Jones, well Jerry, you told me we were going to make sports history. ... We -- we -- did make sports history. ... Let me tell you from the bottom of my heart, thank you Jerry. ... My two sons played football and I never saw them play a down, and that's unfortunate. ... To hell with it, I can't make a list, there's too many ... I coached, recruited or drafted 13 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. ... I was never really a dreamer, dreamin' is hoping. I believed."

Bill Cowher (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1992-2006)

The résumé: Cowher followed legend Chuck Noll as coach of the Steelers and won with both a power-first offense and a wide-open, pass-first attack. The Steelers' defenses were also consistently among the league's best. He had nine 10-win seasons in 15 years with the Steelers, and won eight division titles and Super Bowl XL. His team's defenses finished among the league's top five in scoring defense seven times.

He said it: "My friends ... I've always preached it is important to surround yourself with good people. ... Playing football is about camaraderie and having each other's backs. ... Thank you, Steeler Nation."

Eight members of the Centennial Class were honored posthumously, with their busts unveiled on stage and with video tributes played on the stadium's video boards:

Safety Bobby Dillon (Green Bay Packers, 1952-59); tackle Winston Hill (New York Jets, 1963-76; Los Angeles Rams, 1977); defensive tackle Alex Karras (Detroit Lions 1958-1962, 1964-1970); tackle Duke Slater (Milwaukee Badgers, 1922; Rock Island Independents, 1922-25; Chicago Cardinals, 1926-31); wide receiver Mac Speedie (Cleveland Browns, 1944-52); defensive end/linebacker Ed Sprinkle (Chicago Bears, 1944-55); Administrator/president Steve Sabol (NFL Films 1964-2012); executive/general manager George Young (Baltimore Colts, 1968-1974; Miami Dolphins, 1975-78; New York Giants, 1979-1997; National Football League).

Photos and videos from Canton

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J. Johnson: 'How 'bout them Cowboys?'

Charles Woodson's legendary path in NFL

Winston Hill, Joe Namath's friendship

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