By Craig Ellenport,NFL.com
Special to Profootballhof.com
CANTON, Ohio (Aug. 5, 2006) – The chants of “Reggie! Reggie!” began early this afternoon, as Sara White was introduced to the crowd at Fawcett Stadium. The widow of legendary defensive end Reggie White took her place among the other five members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2006,
And as she stood there on pro football’s greatest stage, there was no question that the indomitable spirit of Reggie White was looking down and smiling.
The Hall of Fame selection committee is often reminded that off-the-field actions are not to be considered in the voting process. Those instructions usually pertain to players who may have questionable character or checkered pasts.
But if voters aren’t supposed to consider negative character, then they shouldn’t consider positive character either, right? Being an ordained minister at age 17, earning countless honors for his humanitarian efforts, working with children, needy families and impoverished communities – what to do about this?
“If life were to have a Hall of Fame for people who were important in society, I would be so bold as to say that my dad would be in the Life Hall of Fame,” said Jeremy White, who presented his father for enshrinement. “His passion for God, his love for his family and community, and his dedication toward making the world a better place would at least get him nominated.”
Perhaps it is not so much a matter of earning extra credit for those efforts. Rather it serves to illustrate what made him such a dominant figure on the football field. Simply put, whether it was setting up a corporation that provided loans to at-risk borrowers or facing a double-team while trying to get to the quarterback, White demonstrated a drive and will to succeed that few could match.
“Today would have been the best day of Reggie’s life besides watching the birth of his two children,” said Sara White, who noted that making Reggie’s enshrinement speech, saying what she thought Reggie would say, was perhaps the hardest thing she would ever have to do.
“Reggie was no phony,” she said. “He stood for what he believe in. That’s the thing that I want to encourage you. Whatever you believe in, you stand on your principles. Do not let anyone sway you.”
Just as Reggie White stood on his principles and would not be swayed when he joined the renegade USFL after college, and when he took the path less taken when he signed with Green Bay as a free agent in 1993. Through it all, he dominated.
At 6-5, 300 pounds, few players in NFL history were more imposing, more feared, more disruptive than White, who earned 13 Pro Bowl nods and was the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 198 when he retired after the 2000 season. White was a member of the NFL’s all-decade team in both the 1980s and 1990s, as well as part of the league’s 75th anniversary all-time team.
White’s made his presence felt on every stop along his career. After earning All-America honors at the University of Tennessee, he made his mark in the USFL with the Memphis Showboats. From there, it was onto seven monstrous seasons in Philadelphia.
From 1985 to 1992, White was the heart and soul of a relentless Eagles defense that was nothing short of stifling. Incredibly, White recorded 124 sacks in 121 games with the Eagles. But then-Eagles owner Norman Braman let White become the NFL’s first free agent in the winter of 1993.
Few people would have thought White would land in Green Bay, at the time a moribund franchise. Perhaps nobody was more surprised than Sara White.
She recalled the recruiting process, when Green Bay executives including general manager Ron Wolf and head coach Mike Holmgren were trying to convince White to come to Green Bay.
“Reggie said, ‘I think I might go to the Packers,’” Sara recalled. “And I said, ‘Where?’
“But that was the best thing that ever happened to us.”
Sure enough, White signed with Green Bay and vowed to help restore the team to its previous glory. Four years later, White and Brett Favre led the Packers to a Super Bowl XXXI win over the New England Patriots.
Finally reaching the ultimate game of his sport, White grabbed the opportunity by the throat. He set a Super Bowl record with three sacks in the Packers’ victory.
Still, it was inevitable that White induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be more about Reggie White the man than Reggie White the football player.
“Rather than being remembered for the records he broke, the games he won, the quarterbacks he sacked, Reggie will always be remembered as the man he was,” said Jeremy. “He was a compassionate father, a loving husband, a selfless friend and a loyal teammate. I knew that he would be an inspiration to countless people who want to make their dreams a reality, no matter what their dreams might be.
“Reggie got to the top because he was determined to do what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a preacher and he wanted to be a football player ever since he was 10 years old. I would say that he has done great in both areas.”
Reggie White passed away Dec. 26, 2004, a week after his 43rd birthday. But to say his legacy lives on is an understatement. As Sara White noted, some people think he’s still alive because of all the positive work that has been done through charities and foundations that bear his name.
“He lived a full life,” she said. “He lived 43 years and he’s done so many things that people have not done in 70 years.”
And that goes for his work on the field as well.