CANTON, Ohio — Forcefully and emotionally, Cris Carter summed up the 50th induction ceremony for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
The seventh and final inductee from the Class of 2013, Carter honored dozens of people in his life who were “going into the Hall of Fame with me tonight,” as he followed Jonathan Ogden, Dave Robinson, Larry Allen, Bill Parcells, Curley Culp and Warren Sapp in being inducted.
More than 120 hall members, a record, returned for the 50th anniversary celebration of the shrine.
“I appreciate the process you have to go through to get to be a Hall of Famer,” said Carter, who had perhaps the best hands of any receiver the NFL has seen. “To be able to join these men on this stage in football heaven is the greatest day of my life.”
Carter needed six tries to make the hall even though he retired as the No. 2 career receiver behind Jerry Rice. He choked back tears as he made his speech after being presented by his son, Duron, and he spoke of his problems with alcohol while playing three years for the Eagles before being released.
He hooked on immediately with the Vikings and hooked onto nearly everything throw his way: Carter finished his 16-season career with 1,101 catches for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns.
“This game gave me identity, gave me a sense of purpose,” he said.
Parcells also seemingly spoke for everyone in the Hall of Fame, and all the people gathered Saturday night.
“There’s a kinship created that lasts for the rest of your life,” he said about his experience as one of the NFL’s most successful coaches.
Parcells had several of his proteges in the crowd at Fawcett Stadium. The only coach to take four franchises to the playoffs, Parcells won Super Bowls with the New York Giants in the 1986 and 1990 seasons. The master of the team turnaround with the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys, Parcells was called “the definitive winner” by former player George Martin, who presented him for induction.
“Every organization I worked for supported me to the fullest,” Parcells said. “Without that, you’ve got no shot.”
Parcells’ career record was 183-138-1 and he won Coach of the Year honors in 1986 and 1994. He asked to have his bust placed somewhere near Lawrence Taylor in the hall “so I can keep an eye on that sucker.”
And he mentioned a quote by former Giants defensive back Emlen Tunnell, the first black man inducted into the Canton shrine, in 1967:
“Losers assemble in little groups and complain about the coaches and players in other little groups. But winners assemble as a team.”
As relaxed as if he had no one to block, Ogden became the first Baltimore Raven enshrined in the hall. Ogden was the leadoff inductee in his seven-member class, just as he was the first player drafted by the Ravens after the franchise moved from Cleveland in 1996 and was renamed. The man who made that selection, fellow Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome, now Baltimore’s general manager, presented the massive offensive tackle.
A former college shot putter at UCLA, at 6-foot-9, 345 pounds, Ogden was an imposing presence at tackle for a dozen seasons in Baltimore, winning the 2000 NFL championship. Six months after the Ravens won their second Super Bowl, Ogden gave a smooth, humor-laden speech, always in control — just like he was when neutralizing even the best opponents.
“He is part of the foundation of this franchise, part of the reason we have two Super Bowl championships,” Newsome said.
Ogden, who was given a 2013 Super Bowl ring by the team, made the hall in his first year of eligibility. He was a six-time All-Pro, made the Pro Bowl 11 times and was the main blocker when Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003.
“Talent isn’t enough,” Ogden said. “A lot of people have talent, they don’t always live up to it. For me it is about maximizing, striving for perfection.
“I am so proud to be the Baltimore Ravens’ first Hall of Fame inductee.”
Allen, who sniffled his way through his speech, was just as dominating a blocker as Ogden. He also was, he said, NFL’s strongest man, once bench-pressing 700 pounds, and saying “I did it naturally.”
One of the key blockers for Dallas as Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s career rushing leader, Allen made six All-Pro squads and 11 Pro Bowls in his 14 seasons, the final two with San Francisco. He won the Super Bowl in the 1995 season and was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility,
“I just knew I had to win every play,” he said. “That’s the reason I am here I knew if I lost a play, I had 45 seconds to get even.”
Presented by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who drafted Allen out of small-college Sonoma State in 1994, Allen punctuated his discourse with the requisite “How about them Cowboys?” as he joined the likes of Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders in the hall.
Sapp became only the second Tampa Bay Buccaneer to be enshrined, 18 years after Lee Roy Selmon made it. He was elected in his first year of eligibility following 13 seasons in which he went from instant starter after being selected 12th overall in the 1995 draft to Defensive Player of the Year in 1999. That season, he had 12 1/2 sacks as the Bucs won their first division title in 18 years. For his career, Sapp had 96 1/2 sacks, extremely high for a defensive tackle.
“I sit here with the greatest among the great,” Sapp said, breaking into tears. “We’re here, baby.”
Presented Saturday night by his 15-year-old daughter, Mercedes, Sapp made the NFL’s All-Decade squads for the 1990s and the 2000s.
Sapp, who both Ogden and Allen said was as tough to handle as any player they faced, paid tribute to his roots in Plymouth, Fla.
“That dirt road was something rough,” he said. “We sure turned it into something special.”
Robinson became the 12th inductee from the vintage Packers coached by Vince Lombardi to be enshrined. Robinson was a prototype outside linebacker who could rush the quarterback, cover tight ends or running backs on pass plays, and stop the run. He made the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s and won three NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls.
“This is the biggest day of the 21st century for the Robinson family,” he said, adding that he “lives 25 miles from here but it took me 38 years to get here.”
Not quite: Robinson served on the Hall of Fame’s board of directors for 27 years. Now, he has a bust in the museum.
“I never dreamt about the Hall of Fame” when he was at Penn State, he joked. “There wasn’t even a Hall of Fame when I broke in to the NFL.”
Indeed, Robinson’s rookie season was the year the hall was created, 1963.
“Now, I am immortalized.”
As is Culp, one of the game’s most dominant defensive tackles for much of his 14 pro seasons, including the 1969 season when he helped Kansas City win the NFL title.
A five-time Pro Bowler, Culp also played for Houston and Detroit, retiring in 1981, then waiting more than three decades to be enshrined Saturday as a senior nominee.
“It gives me joy and inspiration that will last the rest of my life,” Culp said. “I am just overwhelmed by the struggles, joys and tears of those who made it here. I’m happy to join them in the Hall of Fame.”