take center stage at induction
By Don Seeholzer
(Aug. 4, 2001) -Mike Munchak had the largest rooting section, and Lynn
Swann got the loudest cheers. But no one moved the crowd at Saturday's
Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies more than the one speaker
who couldn't walk to the podium.
for 16 years, Marc Buoniconti made the day's first presentation speech
one of its most powerful. For three minutes, the quadriplegic son of Nick
Buoniconti shared memories of a loving father and his hopes for a brighter
future, bringing the crowd of more than 12,000 to its feet and his tough
old man to tears.
and Marc Buoniconti
anyone could blame him. As the former Boston Patriots and Miami Dolphins
linebacker said at the pre-induction morning media session: "The
only thing I know is, when Marc speaks, I don't want to follow him. Marc
is a very good speaker."
The kid proved
that during his time at the microphone, noting that football has given
the Buoniconti family "some of its greatest moments and its darkest
days"-notably the 1985 game in which he was paralyzed while making
a tackle for The Citadel.
"Dad, looking into your eyes, I saw the mask of pain and fear transform
into that familiar look of determination," he said. "I knew
you were getting ready for our biggest challenge. So when they started
using labels for me and telling you all the medical clichés that
I'd never walk again, that I'd need a machine to breathe for me, that
paralysis couldn't be cured, once again you didn't listen. You made a
bedside promise to do anything and everything you could to help me walk
became The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which the Buonicontis co-founded
and funds scientists in numerous disciplines to research a cure. Together,
father and son have helped raise about $12 million annually for the project,
and Nick Buoniconti said finding a cure for spinal-cord injuries is his
greatest remaining challenge.
climbed a very high mountain," he said. "But there's another
mountain to climb
Believe me, we are going to find a cure, and the
single biggest reason we're going to do it is my son, Marc."
the only subject tackled by Buoniconti, who finally got into the Hall
of Fame 25 years after his final play and 20 years after he became eligible.
defensive player in Dolphins history to be inducted paid tribute to the
other members of Miami's No-Name defense, rattling off the names and numbers
of every starter. He also called on the Hall of Fame to recognize his
old Patriots teammate, Gino Cappelletti, and more former American Football
League players in general.
overachieving middle linebacker, who played in three Super Bowls and won
two, closed on a personal note.
I close this book on my professional career
the biggest challenge
and the highest mountain has yet to be climbed," he said. "I
would trade this ring in and all my professional accomplishments if one
thing could happen in my lifetime. My son, Marc, dreams of the day when
he can walk. As a father, I would like nothing more than to walk at his
a tough act to follow, but the other six members of the Class of 2001
also had their moments.
receiver Swann, who was the last to speak, joked that his mother named
him Lynn because she wanted a girl and about running off to dance class
in tights in high school.
paid tribute to former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski,
who will be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, and thanked
the many Pittsburgh fans for their support during his long wait for enshrinement.
was fourteen years on that list before I could stand here today,"
he said. "
But if patience is a virtue, the virtuous part of
that patience is finding the positives to enable you to wait that long."
Oilers guard and current Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Munchak
recalled watching NFL highlights as a kid and pretending he was Swann.
who set a Hall of Fame record with 400 invited guests-including nearly
100 family members-also recognized them and his nearby hometown of Scranton,
twelve years, they have piled on buses to see me play," he said.
"That kind of support is unusual, especially for an offensive lineman."
and Jackie Slater, the other two offensive linemen inducted, offered up
their tributes to football's often-overlooked warriors.
Class of 2001
missed just two games during a 15-year career with the Minnesota Vikings
and Los Angeles Rams, waxed poetic on the subject of the unselfishness
of the men in the trenches.
is the creed of the offensive lineman that defines the American spirit,"
he said. "Which is built into the fabric of the sport of football."
tackle Slater, whose 259 regular-season games were the most by an offensive
lineman at the time of his 1995 retirement, called his brethren "the
player in NFL history to play 20 seasons with one team dabbed at his eyes
several times during his speech, blaming the moisture on his "allergies."
man said there's nothing better under the sun for a man to do than to
eat, drink, and know that his work is good," he concluded. "I'd
like to think my work was good and thank you for telling me that."
Famer Merlin Olsen, in presenting former Rams teammate Jack Youngblood,
recalled the defensive end's tough rookie season of 1971 and how coach
Tommy Prothro, after a loss, ripped him in front of the whole team by
bellowing, "Youngblood, you may be the worst football player I've
who went on to play in a Rams-record 201 consecutive games and was the
league's defensive MVP in 1975, retold the story about how he played the
1979 NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XIV with a fractured fibula.
He then chided Swann and his presenter, John Stallworth that the Rams
could have beaten the Steelers that day "if only they had stopped
the game with six minutes left
You guys already had three rings.
You could have let us have one."
this game with a passion," Youngblood concluded. "It was more
like a love affair that gave me momentary satisfaction but never enough.
I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to
but I always played with
passion and I hope it shows."
eloquent speech was delivered by the Class of 2001's elder statesman,
former Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, who turned
76 on Friday.
everyone from his old high school basketball and track coach, to mentor
George Allen, and Bills owner Ralph Wilson, and recalled the day he phoned
his World War I veteran father to tell him he was leaving Harvard Law
School to become a high school football coach.
seconds of profound silence followed," Levy said, "and then
the old Marine said, 'Be a good one.' I hope I didn't disappoint him."
and neither did any of the other guys in their new gold jackets. The Class
of 2001 doesn't know the meaning of the word