2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction takeaways: Peyton Manning's passionate speech, Drew Pearson wait over
Here's a look at Sunday night's conclusion of an historic weekend in Canton, Ohio
Over a 24-hour span, 28 former players, coaches and contributors were formally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A day after the 20-member 2020 class was immortalized, the eight-member 2021 class received their gold jackets, bronze busts and an eternal place in Canton, Ohio.
The '21 class featured two players who were enshrined in their first year of eligibility. The class also included the first coach to lead a wild-card team to a Super Bowl victory. And yes, there were two more Steelers who received a bronze bust on Sunday, bringing the weekend tally to eight former Steelers who were enshrined. The night also included a razzing of the player many consider the GOAT (more on that later).
With both classes now enshrined, let's take a look at the highlights from Sunday's 2021 induction, which included Drew Pearson, Tom Flores, Peyton Manning, John Lynch, Calvin Johnson, Alan Faneca, Charles Woodson and contributor Bill Nunn.
Celebrating the Steelers' 'Super' scout
Sunday's ceremony started with the acknowledgement of Bill Nunn, the only member of the '21 class who was posthumously inducted. Nunn, a prominent sportswriter before joining the Steelers' scouting department, was a trailblazer in terms of scouting and finding talent in historically Black colleges. A host of players from the Steelers' 1970s dynasty included players from historically Black colleges, players that included Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Donnie Shell, and Pro Bowlers L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes. Nunn spent 46 years in the Steelers' scouting department and had a hand in all six of Pittsburgh's championship teams.
Pearson's prayer is answered
It's fitting that the play Drew Pearson is famous for is named the Hail Mary. It appeared Pearson would need a similar Hail Mary after waiting several decades to receive his gold jacket. But on Sunday, Pearson stood with his former Cowboys quarterback, Roger Staubach, as Pearson became the 347th member of the Hall of Fame. An undrafted rookie in 1973, Pearson retired as the Cowboys' leader in receptions and receiving yards. He played an integral role in the Cowboys' second Super Bowl win, a 27-10 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XII.
Pearson made it a point to thank Gil Brandt, a Hall of Fame executive who discovered Pearson coming out of Tulsa. Pearson also thanked a host of his former Cowboys receivers, as well as Michael Irvin, who grinned from ear to ear during Pearson's speech. Pearson thanked Irvin for "carrying on the legacy of the 88 club."
Flores gets his due
Like Pearson, Tom Flores waited a long time to receive his gold jacket and bronze bust. The 84-year-old joked that he was the second speaker so that he could get to bed by 9 p.m. Flores' career is like no other. One of 20 people who played in each of the AFL's 10 seasons, Flores was the first minority coach to win the Super Bowl. He is one of two coaches to appear in the Super Bowl as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach.
As assistant on the Raiders' first Super Bowl championship team, Flores was promoted to head coach following John Madden's retirement. In Flores' second season as coach, the Raiders became the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl after dispatching the favored Eagles in Super Bowl XV. Three years later, Flores led the Raiders to a shocking win over defending champion Washington in Super Bowl XVIII. Flores owns the highest postseason win percentage (.727) of any coach with at least 10 playoff games.
Canton is Peyton's place
Peyton Manning received a raucous ovation as he began his induction speech. Manning, a five-time league MVP and the first starting quarterback to win Super Bowls with multiple franchises, barely paused for breath during his passionate speech. As part of his speech, Manning "confirmed" John Madden's longtime claim that the Hall of Fame busts speak to each other at night. Manning then ran through a play — coming from the busts of Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher — that included a slew of fellow Hall of Famers.
Manning grew emotional as he talked about his father and presenter, Archie Manning. A decorated quarterback himself, Archie enjoyed a prolific career at Ole Miss before being a multiple Pro Bowler during his 11 years with the Saints.
"In my youth in New Orleans and in Newman School, football carved out a place for my favorite quarterback, my hero, my role model, my dad, Archie Manning to pass on something he loved to me," Manning said, via NFL Network. "Dad, there's no one I'd rather have or would be appropriate than you to welcome me to this stage."
Manning -- perhaps in a foreshadowing of a future commissioner speech? -- also spoke about the responsibility of each Hall of Famer with regard to continuing the growth of football.
Manning made a point to point out Tom Brady, who sat in his section on Sunday night. The crowed didn't exactly give Brady the same ovation as they did for Manning. It's going to be interesting when Brady gets inducted, which Manning guessed would be in 2035.
You can also check out how Manning isn't a big fan of having a much shorter time limit on speeches than past classes had.
John Lynch makes ex-teammate's case
Lynch's speech included a nod to former Buccaneers teammate Ronde Barber. Lynch and Barber played an integral role in the Buccaneers' first Super Bowl win.
"Your time's coming, man! You're gonna be there," Lynch said. While he has yet to get the call to Canton, Barber did make CBS Sports' recent non-Hall of Fame 53-man roster.
Lynch also encouraged the audience to follow NFL players' lead in trying to find common ground.
Megatron thanks Lions fans, sheds light on physical pain
Calvin Johnson did not directly address the Lions' organization during his speech, as Johnson has been vocal about the issues between himself and the franchise in retirement. Johnson did, however, thank the Lions fan base and the city of Detroit for their unwavering support, especially after the team's 0-16 season in 2018. The third youngest player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Johnson is also the seventh receiver to be inducted in his first year of eligibility.
"You've loved my family unconditionally over these years," Johnson said to Lions fans. "Michigan is our home, Detroit is our city, and Lions fans are our pride."
Johnson shed light on a back injury sustained early in his career that ultimately led to his retirement at age 30. He has dedicated a large portion of his retirement towards helping people who live with pain on a daily basis.
"There are so many people living in our world with pain right now and I want to speak to you for a moment," Johnson said. "I want you to know that I see you. You matter. Fight and do your best to make it through and never give in to the pain."
Faneca inspires those with physical challenges
Alan Faneca is synonymous for his crushing block that sprung Willie Parker loose for a 75-yard score in Super Bowl XL. But Faneca chose Sunday's stage to talk about his battle with epilepsy after being diagnosed at age 15. Faneca challenged the audience to not allow physical challenges get in the way of achieving their goals.
"I vividly knew that I was not going to let anything prevent me from fulfilling this dream," Faneca said upon receiving his diagnosis, via NBC Sports. "I knew as long as I listened to my doctors and followed their guidance, along with a strong support system, I would be fine. I always told myself, and have spoken about the fact that epilepsy is part of me, but it does not define me. We are in charge of our destiny. I never want any challenges to define us.
"We must define ourselves. Whatever one's challenge in life, whether we have a disability or not, my message is always to maintain an integral commitment to not let anything stop us from fulfilling our vision. We all get knocked down in life, but it's how we get up that matters."
Woodson's touching tribute to his mom
The final speaker of the night, Charles Woodson, spoke at length about the love and respect his has for his mother, Georgia, who also served as his presenter. Woodson, who grew up two hours from Canton in Fremont, Ohio, starred as a defensive back for the Raiders and Packers during his 18-year career.
"They say a woman can't raise a man, that's [expletive]," Woodson said.
If you want to read more about each of the 2021 inductees, be sure to click here. And check out our live blog below to re-live Sunday's ceremony.
Thanks for following along in our coverage in tonight's induction ceremony! Make sure to come back in a few minutes to check out our recap of the evening.
Passionate speech by Charles Woodson wraps up the 2021 Hall of Fame ceremony.
Woodson starts his speech by passion homage to his mom. "They say a woman can't raise a man, that's [expletive]."
Charles Woodson caps off the Hall of Fame weekend. Fitting that Woodson and Manning are in the same class. Woodson edged out Manning for the 1997 Heisman Trophy. Woodson's college teammate, Tom Brady, is also in attendance. They were part of the famous "Tuck Rule" that helped propel Brady's career.
Calvin Johnson thanks "Lions fans and the city of Detroit." "You've loved my family unconditionally over these years ... Michigan is our home, Detroit is our city, and Lions fans are our pride."
Matthew Stafford on hand to celebrate Johnson's enshrinement. Johnson has the record for the most receiving yards ever for a receiver in a season (1,964).
Calvin Johnson up next, curious to see if he will mention the Lions at all during his speech. He's been outspoken about the issues between the two sides since his retirement.
John Lynch was the defensive quarterback behind the Buccaneers' dominant defenses of the late '90s and early '00s. He pretty much called all of the Raiders' calls before they were called during Tampa Bay's win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.