Bruce Smith Enshrinement speech transcript

Enshrinement Published on : 8/9/2009
Rich Eisen:
One last one to go.  One more left for enshrinement.  Before we mention moving all of these men.  And talking about all the great men.  Tracy Foster who introduced Rod Woodson, a better man than all of us at NFL Network.  Whenever we're on the road and we've got a 30-minute wait for a table.  We say, Rod, go get us that table already, will you?  That's why we're taking Rod to Pittsburgh for the season opener.

Bruce Smith, everybody.  Bruce Smith.  Bruce Smith came into the National Football League with the expectation of being great.  However, even he admits it wasn't until Ted Cottrell became his coach that he was able to raise his game to an even higher level.  Today the man who helped nurture Bruce Smith into one of the game's greatest is here to share in this great moment.
Let's have some fun, let's go.
Bruce Smith is one of the best football players that ever lived.
Time to go to work, time to go to work.
He has outstanding quickness, strength, change of direction, tremendous, tremendously efficient.  Plays with attitude, toughness.
This movie is rated R. Adult language and lots of violence.
I do not consider Bruce a football player.  I consider Bruce a football performer.
The field was his stage.  The bigger the game, the brighter the lights, the better he performed.  And boy did he perform.
Oh, baby!  Oh, baby whew!  The one thing that I'll always admire about Bruce was that he is a goal oriented type player.  So when I saw him back there in 1986, the first year as a defensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills, it was one thing I said.  You know what, you could, you can become an All-Pro.  I said.  But this is what you have to do.  His second year, he had, I believe, 15 sacks.  He did not make the Pro Bowl.

I told him one thing he had to stop doing was dancing.  He would sack the quarterback, and then starts doing these little dances.  I said you really are making people mad.  His third year he did achieve that goal.  First year he made the Pro Bowl.  Then he goes on and makes 11 more Pro Bowls.  Goal oriented player.
Come on now.  Add 'em up.
The thing that is so impressive about Bruce and his career was the longevity.  You come off a 15-year career over 200 sacks.
Bruce Smith has got it.  He's got the record.  199th career sack.  Which is a new NFL record.
200 sacks?  It's very impressive.  The other thing is he would probably have a lot more if it wasn't for Dan Marino and Peyton Manning.  He sacked Dan Marino nine and a half times.  Dan Marino's heart sank.  He had that quick release.
I'm beating his ass around the corner, he's just getting rid of the ball.
Now Bruce had to deal with this man twice a year.  And then Peyton Manning's quick release.  There are four games a year he's not making the sack.  So that 200 sack total is even more impressive now.

 And teams would gear themselves up, and draft in fact how are we going to deal with this man?  How are we going to block him?  Richmond Webb, Miami Dolphins.  Chris Hinton, Indianapolis Colts.  Bruce Armstrong, New England Patriots.  All these guys picked up and drafted to deal with Bruce.

When Bruce's name was called for the Hall of Fame, I was overjoyed.  I knew it was going to happen.  But to happen the first round, what a career he's had.  I was so happy for him because I knew there was something he really wanted.  He had set his goal to get into the Hall of Fame.  And he's joining the rest of these great players.  I look at Bruce Smith as only one.  I thank the all mighty father.  Once Bruce was born, he said I'm only going to make one of these.  There's never going to be another.

 He is without a doubt one in a million.  I don't think there will ever be another one like him.
Ladies and gentlemen, to present Bruce Smith for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, please welcome, Ted Cottrell.

Ted Cottrell:
 He and I are still arguing.  Let me say one thing.  I'm like Rod Woodson.  Our heavenly father is awesome.  He is awesome.  He can take a young man from 911 Flower Street, Chester, Pennsylvania, and allow him to grace this stage tonight.  Through our heavenly father, all things are possible.

Most people don't realize, Bruce was a run defender also.  They tend to think of him as a sacker.  He can sack the quarterback.  But this man had over 1,000 tackles in his run defense.  He was a very stout run defender.  He prided himself in that.  He prided himself in stopping the run.  Because he wanted to be a complete football player.

His preparation during the week was impeccable.  After the games, about 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning, coaching staff, we're just beginning to read film from the previous day.  Watch the tape.  There's a knock on my door.  It's him.  Can't sleep.  I got to get going.  So, we give him tapes from the previous game.  And then he wanted to get tapes of the upcoming opponent to begin his study.  The man's preparation was fantastic.

Now there was a drawback to this.  Now on Wednesday when the rest of the defensive line would get together now we're going through the game plan, he's getting bored.  He wants me to get my meeting over.  And I'm like whoa, whoa, whoa.  Bruce, I've got a job to do here.  I'm trying to feed my family.  And so he'll sit back, and let me go forward.  And then all of a sudden outcomes this, come on, Ted.  Come on, Ted.  And I said, Bruce, I got a job to do.  You let me finish and shut up. 

Okay, but come on, Ted.  It was all fun.  His preparation was unbelievable. 

Now Art Shell, a pretty good offensive tackle himself, when he was the head coach of the Raiders, he paid Bruce one of the highest compliments that could be paid.  He said, I am not going to let my left offensive tackle single block through Smith.  I'm going to put two people on on him on every play.  The rest of the Buffalo Bill players would have to beat me.  But Bruce Smith will not do it.  That's quite a compliment. 

Sometimes he had two on every play, sometimes three, to handle Bruce. 

Now, Darryl Talley, D.T., another great Buffalo Bill player.  D.T., are you here?  I know you're here.  Where's D.T.?  Okay.  There's D.T.  I've got to tell this quick story. 

Bruce and D.T., Darryl, they worked very well together.  But there was a certain stunt, defense technique called -- it would be Darryl would call a pinch stunt.  Where Bruce had to go down to the inside from his outside lineman.  Well, Bruce didn't like to do this.  He said what you putting me down there for?  But it would work.  We'd plan it, and Darryl in certain sets, offensive sets would come up.  And Darryl would call it. 

Well, Bruce wouldn't execute it.  And so they would come off the field, and they'd get to arguing.  And Darryl would say to Bruce, I know you heard me make that call.  Bruce would say I didn't hear you.  I didn't hear you.  I didn't hear you.  And Darryl said I know you heard that call.  And the next time I call, you better get your butt down inside.  Oh, they'd get to arguing.  And Bruce would be like oh, you know, just make it louder.  And Darryl said I'm not going to make it louder.  You heard me.  Get your butt inside. 

Then sometimes on our defensive huddles on the sideline we'd get Coach Thurman Thomas.  You know.  He'd come over.  Thurman's about this tall.  Come over, oh, y'all better get going.  Come on, play better.  I look at them, get your butt out of here.  So, we'd have a lot of fun.  Bruce's conditioning regimen was unbelievable.  When I first met him, he was over 300 pounds.  I think like 305 to be exact.  But, he sculptured his body into a hardened figure around 264 pounds, and that's where he played most of his career. 

And it wasn't during the season, it was during the offseason.  He invested in stair master, and I was at his house one day.  And he showed it to me.  He put his ear phones in, and get going on that thing.  He was in incredible, incredible condition.  And that helped contribute to his longevity in the league. 

Now, he enjoyed and loved his teammates.  And he knew what their contribution and all phases meant to the success of the Buffalo Bills.  Now his teammates, I see some of them.  I've seen some, I've seen Andre.  Would you guys just stand up right quick.  All Bruce's teammates, get up.  Come on, come on.  He loved these guys.  Had a great time with them.  He knew what all phases meant to them.  The special teams led by Steve Tasker.  I see Steve over there. 

The offense, led by Jim Kelly.  Jim.  Future Hall of Famer, Andre Reed.  Hall of Famer James Lofton.  Coach, Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas; and Kent Hull, I think I saw Kent.  Kent.  Will Wolford, Will.  Right there.  Howard Ballard, tight end Pete Metzelaars.  A host of other offensive guys.  And his defensive teammates.  Darryl, Biscuit Cornelius Bennett, Phil Hansen, Leon Sills, Art Still, Nate Odomes, Henry Jones, Leonard Smith, and Mark Kelso.  He loved playing with these guys.  Bruce also loved his family.  He loves his family. 

 Where are they?  Right there.  Little mom, Carmen, Austin George, sister Linda.  He loves you guys.  And they mean the world to him.  Mom, she's so proud.  Look at her.  She's right there. 

He also loved his community.  He had a lost charitable contributions to the Buffalo community.  And also his hometown of Norfolk and that Virginia Beach area. 

Now I want to tell you one story about it, too, right quick.  On parade, the Booker T.  Washington High School band from Norfolk, Virginia.  They're marching in the parade.  But before the parade even began, Bruce went down and addressed the band.  Also took a picture with them. 

But he wanted to do that.  That was important to him to go back and say something to that high school band.  Those kids come all the way from Virginia to play for him. 

And that parade.  There was a sign, two signs.  And both of them read the same thing.  They're from Buffalo Bill fans.  And the signs read, Bruce Smith, simply the best.  Both signs. 

Now Bruce's career was 19 years.  19 years.  That's a long time to play at a contact and collision position in the NFL.  But, 15 of those years were played in front of the best and the loudest fans in the NFL, the Buffalo Bill fans.  So Bills fans, now's the time that we've all been waiting for.  Now's the time.  Let's get this noise level up in here.  Come on now.  You know how to do it.  Come on.  You know how to do this.  Show the world.  Come on fans, you're the loudest fans.  There's no other group like you.  Get it going. 

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the best Buffalo Bill player ever, the best player ever coached, my friend, he's become one of my best friends, he's like a son to me, Bruce Smith. 

Bruce Smith:
This certainly feels like a home game.  Thank you, Ted.  My God, where has the time gone.  As vividly as yesterday I can remember arriving in Buffalo with Andre Reed for my first mini camp in 1985.  At the first practice in the middle of May, we noticed dark clouds off at a distance.  And within minutes, it began to rain, hail, and snow.  After 30 minutes of downpour, the sun began to shine and I thought, what in the hell have I gotten myself into? 

I had never seen weather so extreme before in the month of May.  And yet the irony of it was it actually mirrored the gamut of emotions that I was experiencing at that time.  As a young man of 21, I felt the fear and trepidation of embarking upon new territory.  I also felt the weight and expectation that comes along with being the number one draft pick.  And yet at the same time, I was thrilled and excited about the prospects of what my new career in the NFL might hold. 

Now I've come full circle.  By the grace of God, I stand before you today, humble and honored because this induction into the Hall of Fame marks my passage into pro football's immortality.  I can't imagine a more fitting time than on this weekend.  When the doors of the hall are finally open for Mr. Ralph Wilson. 

As an early pioneer, Mr. Wilson's contributions were pivotal in the league's ultimate success.  As fans and players, we're all indebted to Mr.   Wilson.  There couldn't be a more deserving enshrinee.  Also the rest of the members of 2009.  The presence that have served to remind me of what an honor this truly is.  This is a service on behalf of our nation's youth that will ensure that your legacy lives on. 

As an African-American kid growing up in the 1960s and '70s in Virginia, I learned early that my parents had many challenges and struggles that they had to overcome.  But commitment and strong work ethic, my parents persevered.  Together they made a solid and stable home. 

My father, George, was a God-fearing man, who believed in family and education.  He was strong and courageous, and I aspired to be like him.  He didn't tell me what it means to be a man.  He showed me by example.  I treasure the countless hours I spent with my father hunting in North Carolina and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay, because I knew I was important to my father, I understood my significance in the world.  And in the spring of 2000, my beloved father passed away, but his spirit dwells within me always. 

My mother was a capable woman who was equally strong.  She worked long and serious hours.  Though my mother worked outside the of the home, her responsibilities on the home front were never neglected.  She still managed to come home every evening and prepare a home cooked meal for us. 

With all that she had to do, she was never too tired to nurture and encourage or guidance guide us with her down home Christian values.  Her ability to balance work and home so harmoniously is a testament to who she is as a woman. 

My sister, Linda, is a kind and loving and generous woman.  She and I are ten years apart.  But despite our age difference, she was never above spending quality time with her little brother.  I always knew I could confide and depend on her.  I hope that I am as good an uncle to her sons, Kevin and Robert, as she was a sister to me. 

My older brother, George, is a strong and caring man with a great sense of humor, we spent our youth together playing basketball and ping pong.  Known as King George in the 757 because he is a 6'9" DJ,  I credit him with my appreciation for all kinds of music.  George, I am fortunate, indeed, to have you as a brother. 

Though it appears that I stand here alone accepting an honor for an individual achievement, nothing could be further from the truth.  I feel the presence of men like Cal Davidson and Zeke Avery, my high school football and basketball coach, whose tutelage and dedication helped to mold me in those critical teenage years.  In the beginning, I had no desire to play football because my first love was basketball.  My agility and speed on the court convinced my coaches and friends like Andre that I would be stellar in football. 

After much duress, I surrendered and decided to give it a try.  After the first practice I had coaches scouring the inner city field for broken bottles and debris that could potentially harm us.  The temperature was hot.  It was in the mid 90s.  The humidity was high, and the training was rigorous.  The first day was a nightmare, the second day I quit. 

Cal called my house on that day and spoke with my father.  After the conversation my father came and asked me, ‘son, why weren't you at practice today?  Are you sick?  Is something wrong?’  I answered ‘no, sir.  Football is just too hard.  It's too hot, and it's too painful.  My father gave me a look that I never will forget.  And in this baritone voice he said, son, whatever you do in life, don't ever quit.’ 

My father's words resonated with me.  And in that moment, I decided to commit myself to every endeavor.  That was one of the defining moments of my life.  With us today are a group of high school kids from my alma mater, Booker T.  Washington High School.  I have the pleasure of serving them with my late brother-in-law, Everett Layton.  A coach, a mentor, and dedicated his life to leveling the playing field for young people who start out life with a disadvantage. 

As you share this experience with me today, I want you and the kids at home watching to be encouraged inspired, and certain in the knowledge that greatness is within your reach. 

You may sometimes feel discouraged by the challenges you face, but never give up.  The journey may be difficult, but press on in the face of adversity.  Have faith in your capabilities.  Set your goals high, and then work diligently, diligently to achieve them.  Keep your heads head high, and above all, trust in God.  Because all things are possible to those who believe. 

During my senior year of high school I received scholarship offers all across the nation in both basketball and football.  But at 6'3", 260 pounds, it seemed as if my destiny was already etched out for me.  I decided to pursue a scholarship in football.  When I was recruited by Virginia Tech, Coach Bill came to visit me.  And at that time the Hokies were not known as the football powerhouse that they are today. 

But Coach Bill left a lasting impression on me when he said, ‘if you come to Tech, you will receive an excellent education.  And if you can play, they will find you.’ 

Coach, you were right.  In 1985, the Buffalo Bills selected me as the number one pick in the NFL draft. 

I'd like to thank my agent Brig Owens for successfully navigating my transition from tech to the NFL.  Representing Virginia Tech today, President Steiger, Coach Frank Beamer, Coach Billy Hite, and other Tech officials.  Thank you for your leadership and commitment to making Virginia Tech one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country.  Go Hokies.  While attending Virginia Tech, I had a chance to meet a fellow student named Carmen.  The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was the one for me.  I was drawn to her by her beauty and intelligence and class.  This God-fearing woman became my wife and the mother of my child. 

The morals and values that were instilled in her by her parents, have led her to leave an honorable life.  She is charitable, faithful, trustworthy and honest.  She's an excellent mother, a gracious hostess, and an exceptional cook.  Thank you for your love, support and understanding you've given over the course of our 19-year marriage.  I am so blessed to have you as my life's companion. 

Alston, my son.  The unconditional love that I have in my heart is like nothing I've ever experienced before.  I still remember you as a cute little toddler that would jump into my arms after a long day at practice.  And now you're a handsome young man.  I am so proud of the respectful, empathetic human being that you've become.  The path that you will follow in life is yet unknown.  But I know this for sure, that your courage, intelligence, and strength in character will be your guiding compass. 

The crowning achievement in my career in terms of statistics occurred when I broke the NFL All-Time sack record while playing for the Washington Redskins.  This record of 200 sacks sets the benchmarks for all aspiring pass rushers.  To Dan Snyder, I will forever treasure the special relationship that you and I forged when you extended the opportunity for me to play for the Washington Redskins, I am honored by your presence here today.  I feel privileged to have the opportunity to play for a team with such a rich heritage.  I also want to thank my talented team of doctors who helped me to sustain my 19-year career.  Dr. Andrews, Dr. Yochum, and my dear friend Dr. Richard Steadman who is in attendance today. 

I'd also like to thank Leigh Steinberg for his handling of my contractual affairs with such skill.  In the NFL history, the sum total of my career will forever be defined by the 15 years that I spent playing for the Buffalo Bills. 

And what a ride it was.  Four consecutive AFC championships.  The no-huddle offense.  The greatest come back in NFL history.  And record-breaking attendance set by the greatest fans in the NFL. 

That was the golden era, but our beginnings were more humble.  In 1985 we suffered through a 2-14 season.  The team failed to improve until 1986 when Mr.   Wilson decided to hire Marv Levy as head coach.  In his efforts to restructure the team, Mr.   Wilson also hired Bill Polian as the new general managers.  These two would work in concert to orchestrate one of the greatest teams in NFL history. 

Darryl Talley and I were on defense.  Jim Kelly and Andre Reed were on offense.  And Steve Tasker was in place other special teams.  Then Cornelius Bennett, Nate Odomes and Thurman Thomas were added to the roster, and the nucleus of our team was formed. 

By 1988, we made it to the playoffs and would go on to be fierce competitors in the postseason for the next seven consecutive seasons. 

I and my fellow Bills fans should pay homage to the legendary coaches and teammates who made our success possible.  To Marv Levy, my mentor and friend.  Your strength and grace as a leader is unparalleled.  To Ted Cottrell, my defensive line coach, thank you for making me a well-rounded player and true student of the game.  Darryl Talley, my patient friend, who endured horrors of my sleep apnea for ten years as my roommate. 

You are the most unselfish player on our team.  You never hesitated to sacrifice your own personal statistics for the overall good of the of team, and I thank you. 

Andre Reed, we share the second spot, and all of sports history.  One day you will be at this podium accepting this great honor.  Jim Kelly, the offensive general with the machine gun arm and the linebacker mentality.  You are the quintessential quarterback.  As much as I admire you as a player, I admire you more as a man. 

Thurman Thomas, known to his teammates as Squatty, you undoubtedly are the most complete running back of our era.  My life would be a little less bright if I didn't have you to laugh and joke with.  P.S.  I hid your helmet. 

Cornelius Bennett, aka, Biscuit.  I've never seen a linebacker so large run with such ease and speed.  It was a joy having you as a bookend for all those years. 

We had so many talented players and employees in our organization that I would be remiss if I failed to call the names out.  Hall of Famer James Hoff.  Future Hall of Famer Reuben Brown, Phil Hansen, Ted Washington, John Butler, Chris Moore, Kent Hull, Will Wolford, Thomas Smith, Henry Jones, Jim Richter, Steve Christie, Scott Norwood, Dr. Weiss, Ed Borowski, Dr. Moe's, Hojo, Woody, Scott Berchtold, Jerry Ferrand, Rock Corrie, Wade Phillips, Rusty Jones, and the late Elijah Pitts. 

In closing, once again, I'd like to thank you the fans, Mark Gaughan of the Hall of Fame voting committee, and the Hall of Fame voting committee as a whole.  I wish to express my love and appreciation to my family and friends who journeyed to Canton to share with me this special moment. 

If there were anything that I could share or report that I've learned over the course of my career, it would simply be one's value in life is not determined by accolades or worldly success.  One's worth as human beings resides in our willingness to gladly extend ourselves in service to our fellow man.  It is in this greater spirit of humanity that I shall carry forward. 

Good night, and God bless you all.