2006 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
August 5, 2006
Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
VIDEO: Watch Rayfield Wright's enshrinement speech
STAN LOMAX:Good afternoon, everyone. To Commissioner Tagliabue, Mrs. Opel Wright and the Wright family, to honorees today and to past honorees, Ladies and gentlemen, it is, of course, a very distinct privilege to stand here where permanent tribute is given to the men who have reached the zenith of their profession.
Today we come to extol the outstanding career of one of those men, an imposing man of integrity who once unbelievably failed to make his high school football team at Fairmont High School in Griffin, Georgia. But he later moved onto Fort Valley State University, a great school in an even smaller community, but a caring community, Fort Valley, Georgia.
In just a few moments, Rayfield Wright will come to this position. He will come here and he will speak to you. You will soon find that any continuance of the belief that nice guys finish last can be forever dispelled. The path to this podium is much more than a walk from his seat to this microphone. It is covered with the acceptance of opportunities to contribute. It is filled with challenges to overcome, and it's paved with life's wins and losses.
Yes, Griffin, Georgia, Fort Valley, Georgia, Dallas, Texas, each offering different choices. Is your place a small place tended with care? He set you there. Is your place a large place guarded with care? He set you there. Whatever your place, it is not yours alone. It belongs to the one who set you there.
Rayfield's belief is where we are born, where we grow up, must never determine how high we rise. Could it be that professional football games are played primarily on Sunday afternoons for reasons other than the convenience of scheduling, of viewer preference? Today I have the temerity to believe there is a spiritual quality about football. The rules of the game suggest it. The history of the game supports it. Lombardi, Brown, Landry all would have divested themselves were that not so.
Someone once said, I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day. For more than 12 years, Rayfield Wright with displays of commitment and determination delivered his message clearly and emphatically each Sunday afternoon. Primarily he had two admonitions. One, Thou shalt not touch Roger (smiling). The second was, Thou must not impede the forward progress of Calvin or Tony.
Now, on behalf of governor Sonny Perdue of the state of Georgia, president Larry Rivers of Fort Valley State University, your Wildcat teammates and classmates, many of whom are here today, and your many friends from your hometown of Griffin, Georgia, we salute you, Rayfield, and offer sincere congratulations for this momentous achievement.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my single honor to present to you the newest inductee into the professional football Hall of Fame, No. 70, Larry Rayfield Wright.
RAYFIELD WRIGHT: First of all, I'd like to give praise and thanks to our father in heaven and through his son Jesus Christ that has given me the ability to play sports.
I learned a poem in the eighth grade entitled, The Road Not Taken. It's about two roads. One was well traveled, the other was grassy and wanted wear. Through this poem, I discovered that life would give me choices. It was recognizing those choices that proved to be the greatest challenge. Looking back, my instinct was to always take the easy road. But the easy road never came my way.
You see, I grew up in Griffin, Georgia. My mother and my grandmother raised me, my brothers, and my sister. We didn't have much money or any luxuries to speak of. Times were tough, and I recognized at an early age the struggles that we faced.
I remember getting on my knees when I was 10 years old beside my grandmother, and I simply asked God something. I asked him 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. My grandmother taught me the power of prayer and what that prayer meant to me. And it's still in front of me today.
Back in the '50s, kids in my neighborhood didn't wear hundred dollar tennis shoes, and never went to sporting camps. After chores and homework, you'd find us in an empty field playing football, basketball, baseball. We didn't have golf in our community. If we had, we would have learned how to play that.
My brother Lamar taught me the basics of sports. Even then something in my spirit told me that sports would be my chosen path. But success didn't come my way instantly. In fact, I went out for football in high school and I couldn't make the team my first three years.
Now, basketball was a different story. I loved playing basketball. Another recognized my ability and passion for the game. In fact, Loyola University wanted me to come play basketball for them. But due to financial hardships, I selected a career in the Air Force to serve this great country and to continue my education and play basketball.
As I came to learn, that wasn't God's plan for me. About the same time, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Stan Lomax was hired to coach at Fort Valley State College. Coach Lomax had learned of my athletic ability from my cousin, John Willis. Through Coach Lomax's persistence, I was offered an athletic scholarship. Coach Lomax, I thank you for always treating me and believing in me, treating me like a son.
And to my cousin, John Willis, I wouldn't be standing here today without you. God bless you, brother. I love you.
During my college years, I excelled in both football and basketball, but basketball was still my preferred sport, as I averaged over 20 points a game, 21 rebounds per game. In fact, the Cincinnati Royals tried to sign me my junior year to come and play basketball for them, but I declined that invitation because I needed to stay in school and get my education. And I did just that.
And I knew I was headed for the NBA. But, again, I found myself traveling yet another road. My senior year, I received a telephone call from a gentleman by the name of Mr. Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys. He stated that the Cowboys was interested in drafting me. I asked him, For what? I had my sights set on the NBA.
But I realized that potential, playing for the Cowboys, was a God given opportunity, and I couldn't ignore it. I decided to attend the Cowboys training camp which was in July. The Royals camp didn't start till August. I kind of figured that if I didn't make the Cowboys team, I could go right to the NBA.
That year, 1967, the Dallas Cowboys had 137 rookies in training camp. Gil Brandt was signing everybody that could walk. Only five made the team that year, and I was one of the five.
I thank you, Mr. Brandt, for giving me the opportunity to play for the Dallas Cowboys.
My career started as a tight end. Don Meredith was our quarterback at the time. Recently I asked Don. I said, ‘Don, you remember throwing me a touchdown pass against the Eagles?’ He laughed and said, ‘Rayfield, I wasn't throwing the ball to you, you was just so tall, you got in the way.’
Two years later, Coach Landry called me into his office and said, ‘Rayfield, I'm going to move you to offensive tackle.’ I looked at him and I said, ‘Coach, I never played that position before in my life.’ He said, ‘I know, but you're quick, you learn fast. Besides, we got a young quarterback coming to the team this year, and his name was Roger Staubach, and he don't stay in the pocket. He runs around a lot, and he needs a little bit more protection.’
But I was never one to question the authorities of elders. Coach Landry, I believed in his decision, and that was good enough for me.
Now, offensive linemen are taught to protect the quarterback the same way that the secret service protects our nation's president. In this case, Roger Staubach was our president. The director of the secret service was our offensive line coach Jim Myers. He built an offensive line that was unmatched. And today I cannot accept this honor without bringing Coach Myers and his offensive line into the Hall with me. That line consists of John Fitzgerald, Tony Liscio, Dave Manders, Ralph Neely, John Niland and Blaine Nye.
Gentlemen, I'm proud to call myself your teammates. I share this enshrinement with you.
And to our defense, you were the Doomsday. I'm thankful that I only had to face you guys in practice. I remember Coach Landry once telling me, Rayfield, no matter how many awards or accolades you receive, you will be never greater than the team. The Dallas Cowboys was a team, and what a team the Cowboys had during the dynamic decade of the '70s.
I have 13 years of players and coaches I'd like to acknowledge today. But I've been told that I'm not to go into overtime. We had a lot of shares of playing games in overtime back in the glory days. You can understand the pressure that I face up here right now.
But we played together as a team in 12 playoff games, five Super Bowls. Guys, you know who you are. I know who you are. The Cowboy fans around the country know who you are. I always remember that we were winners, and I treasurer those moments and memories.
Fans always ask me who my toughest opponent was, how tough they were, who they were. I played against the best. My body still hurts when I hear their names called. But I wouldn't be here today without these great players. Deacon Jones, thank you for your gracious welcome into the NFL. In case you're wondering, Deek, the answer is yes, my mother knows I'm here.
Claude Humphrey, you were a brut, a strong and physical player. LC Greenwood, your long arms and quickness made Sunday afternoon a chore. Jack Youngblood, you played with finesse, and I tried always to try and outsmart you. Bubba Smith was a mountain of a man. Carl Eller, if you ever need a ride from Bloomington to Minneapolis, give me a call, my friend. But this time, I'll drive you in my car.
I have some angels here today that are enshrined in the heavens’ Hall of Fame. My first angel probably arrived here at 4:00 this morning to make sure that everything was in place. That angel is my grandmother. We called her Big Mama. In essence, Big Mama was my first coach. I know she's very proud of me.
The spirit of my youngest brother Phillip is also here. He was a great athlete with a big heart. He left this world much too soon. Cowboy fans would give the next angel a warm welcome because he is coach Tom Landry. However, you may not recognize him today because he's smiling. Thank you, Coach Landry, for your inspiration on and off the field. On the sideline was coach (inaudible), our distinguished defensive coach.
Next to Coach Landry and Coach Stockner are two Cowboy legends, Harvey Martin and Bob Hayes. Harvey was one of the most accomplished defensive ends to ever play the game. Bully Bob Hayes forever changed the game of football. Harvey and Bob, my hope and prayer is that someday you will both join me into and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I've had many mentors in my life who always said, Let honor and success come to you only if it's deserved, not because it's sought after. Being enshrined today is, indeed, an honor. I extend my gratitude to the selection committee for nominating me, with special thanks to Mr. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Some say that patience is a virtue. After 22 years of eligibility, God knows that I'm not a saint, but I am a Dallas Cowboy. And today I acknowledge my 2006 inductees. I'm privileged to be in such a stellar class. I would give thanks and shout to our troops who are protecting this great nation. May God keep you safe. To thank everyone who is playing and who has played a vital role in my life would take me 60 years, so I'll try to keep it brief.
I wish to tip my helmet to the Dallas Cowboy fans, especially the ones who remember my playing days and America's team of the '70s. To the Bob Hayes family, I thank you for your support and continued support over the years. To my former teammates, the ones who are here today, to those who have reached out to me over the past several months. I love you guys, and I thank you.
To Jeannette DeVadder, the coauthor of my book and my friend, thanks for keeping me real. To my classmates and teammates from Fairmont High School, and Fort Valley State college, we are connected through the gifts of education and knowledge. To my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, to everyone in Griffin, Georgia, you are a vital link to my past and a solid bridge to my future.
To Mr. David Walker, my Boy Scout master, who always taught me to be prepared. To my brother Lamar and my sister Erline, my children, La Ray, Anisha, Larry, Arial, and my grandchildren, Iesa and Taylor, you nourish my soul and I love you from the bottom of my heart.
And to my mother, Mrs. Opel Wright, from the day I was born, you watched me take the road less traveled. Mom, you are my rose garden, you watered each day with your love, with your faith, and with your prayers. Your roots are deeply instilled in me, and your soul is so beautiful, in spite of all the painful thorns that life has put in your way.
Now, parents, teach your children well. Encourage them with your faith and leadership. Remember that you are the windows through which your children see this world. Take notice of yourself and the things that you do in hopes that your example will stir their hearts and souls.
To every young athlete within the sound of my voice, it takes courage to dream your dream. Don't let them sit in the locker room. Take a leap of faith. Listen to your parents and respect your elders. Learn from your successes and your losses. Defeat is possible and as a challenge to do better next time. Be satisfied you gave the game everything that you had and remember this: Don't be afraid to travel the road less traveled because Larry Rayfield Wright did, and you can, too.
May God bless you and may he keep you and may his countenance shine down upon you and give you peace. God bless you. I love you.
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