Tears and professional football do not often race as an entry, but they did last Saturday.
There is little sentiment in the smashmouth nature of the game, but a bit of soul of the men who play it was revealed last Saturday in induction ceremonies of six stars of the sport in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Perhaps the most telling comment was made by Harry Carson, best remembered as an eight-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker for the New York Giants. A ferocious tackler, he played with fierce intensity. So it was a surprise to hear Carson say, "I am the one individual who probably should not be standing before you this afternoon. I am so much unlike a football player. Physically, I look like a football player, but inside I have my mother’s heart. My mother’s heart being gentle, being caring, looking out for people." Carson also said, "I come from a very proud race of people. We didn’t come through Ellis Island. My predecessors did not have my opportunities. I think about all of those, my ancestors who never could even dream about a moment like this."
Mothers received much attention, not surprising since a number represented raised their children as single mothers. The most moving tribute was paid by Warren Moon, the first black quarterback to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, a model for the bevy of them playing the game today. Moon’s presenter and agent, Leigh Steinberg, said accurately, "He wore Number 1 for a reason ”¦ his circle of family, friends, teammates is extraordinary. Everyone relies on Warren for his sage advice, his support, his generosity. He’s a rock, a father to all.
Moon, however, was deprived of his own father early on. "I was born and raised in a family that had six women," he said. "My dad died when I was seven years old. My mom took care of six of us. I have five sisters that were the loves of my life. But my mother was my cornerstone, the lady that made it all happen for me. The way she kept our family together, the way she provided for us. I never in one day during my life thought I was poor, because of the way she provided and made sure I had everything that I needed, whether it was for school, whether it was for sports, whatever it was, she made it available to me. Mom, you’re the most important person in my life ”¦ You will always be my rock. You will always be the person that I look to when things are tough. You’ll always have those words of wisdom that you’ve had all my life."
Troy Aikman, the great quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, paid tribute to his presenter and former coach, Norv Turner. He said their friendship was most special because it endured long after Turner stopped coaching Aikman in Dallas. "He’s the big brother I never had," Aikman said, "and I thank him for having the biggest single influence on my career. I wouldn’t be here without him." Aikman also singled out his mother for special praise: "Mom, you’re an amazing woman. You’ve always given more than you’ve gotten, yet I don’t think you’d have it any other way. The older I get, the more I understand how much you sacrificed, and your children will forever be indebted to you."
John Madden, inducted as one of the NFL’s most successful coaches but also is one of America’s most revered sportscasters, called his induction "the sweetest ride of ’em all."
The "Big Cat," Rayfield Wright, the Dallas Cowboys’s great offensive tackle, told in an emotional moment how, at 10, he had prayed besides his grandmother, asking God "if he would just give me the ability that I could do something, that I could help my mother and my grandmother, and I could help other people."
And then diminutive Sara White, widow of perhaps the greatest defensive lineman of all time, paid tribute to her preacher husband Reggie, who died of respiratory problems when only 43. "It’s not how you die," she said, "It’s how you live. I encourage you to live like Reggie lived."
It was a wish for a tortured world.