Canton, Ohio – Being a part of the 2022 class in the Professional Football Hall of Fame holds special – and painful – meaning for former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Bryant Young. It’s an emotional reminder of his son Colby, who died of cancer on October 11, 2016. During his introductory address on Saturday afternoon at Tom Benson Hall of Fame, Colby’s favorite number was 22, his father said during his introductory speech on Saturday afternoon.
“In this tenth year of my eligibility, I entered the hall as a member of the 22nd,” Young said in a broken voice. “2022. Twenty-two.”
Young’s voice broke even more when he spoke about how brave his son, who was diagnosed at the age of 13 in 2014, had to deal with the news after he was told in 2016 that the cancer had spread and that treatments were no longer working.
It was a powerful moment that prompted the crowd to nominate Young with a standing ovation.
“Colby felt where things were going,” Young said. “He didn’t fear death as much as he did. Will it be painful? Will he be remembered?”
“Colby…lives in our hearts…we will always speak your name.”
Young’s speech was the most poignant moment of the afternoon. Joining Young in the hall are offensive tackle Tony Boselli, receiver Cliff Branch, safety Leroy Butler, Art McNally official, linebacker Sam Mills, linebacker Richard Seymour and coach Dick Vermeil.
Young was a four-time professional, a two-time All-Pro team debut and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1990s. He was also the 1999 NFL Player of the Year after leading the 49ers with 11 sacks to go along with 20 quarterback pressures on his comeback from a broken leg.
A five-time professional player, Boselli was a three-time professional player and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1990s before his career was interrupted by a shoulder injury. He was the first pick in Jacksonville Jaguars history in 1995 (second overall) and is the first player in franchise history to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
He summed up this honor in his first four words: “Well, that’s great.
“…as the first Jacksonville Jaguar to be welcomed as a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, it is a great honor.”
Branch, who died on August 3, 2019, won three Super Bowls in his 14-year career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. He was the first All-Pro team three times and four times Pro Bowler. His sister, Elaine Anderson, spoke on his behalf and said she felt like her brother was here in spirit with the other two Raiders Hall of Famers.
“Today is bittersweet because we miss our sweetheart Clifford and Latifa because she is now a thing of the past,” she said. “I want to tell you that there is a sweet spirit in this place today. Clifford, ranked No. 21, won’t miss his honor for nothing. He was yearning for the day and sitting 21 front and center with Al Davis and John Madden.”
Butler played 12 seasons in Green Bay, won the Super Bowl and was a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. He was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the ’90s and is also credited with creating one of the most iconic touchdown festivities in NFL history: the Lambeau Leap. He battled through foot problems as a child – they wore an orthosis or cast and was sometimes confined to a wheelchair – going on to play more games than any defensive player in Green Bay history.
“When you play with the Green Bay Packers, you open a lot of doors,” Butler said. “You win the Super Bowl, all the doors open. When you make the Hall of Fame, you unlock football heaven.”
McNally is the first official to enter the hall. He is considered the “father of instant replay” after the reboot system was introduced in the NFL in 1985, and the Manhattan Command Center is named after him.
“This is the greatest thing I need for an administrator: do the job [and] “I hope no one knows you’re still alive,” McNally said via video. “Makes calls the right way as they should be: with a big dose of common sense.”
Mills started his professional football career in the NFL before signing with the New Orleans Saints in 1986. Despite being only 5ft 9ft tall, Mills quickly established himself as one of the league’s top players, as He made five Pro Bowls and earned his first Pro title. three times. Mills died of bowel cancer in 2005, two years after his diagnosis. His widow, Melanie Mills, said her husband’s motto “Keep the Bombing” — adopted by the Carolina Panthers after he signed as a free agent in 1995 — was something he lived off the field as well.
“He was more than just a great footballer,” Melanie Mills said. “He was a father, friend, husband, and leader who always kept ticking over the odds no matter the odds.
“Keep hitting, everyone. That’s what Sam wants you to do.”
Seymour spent eight seasons with the New England Patriots and four seasons with the Oakland Raiders. He has made seven Pro Bowls and has been voted for the All-Pro Team three times. He won three Super Bowls and was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 2000s.
“I am steeped in humility today, not because of what this moment says about me, but what this moment says about us and what we can do together,” Seymour said. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude today that I didn’t come here on my own. Neither of us did. None of us could get, class 2022. They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. I can’t be in better company than you.”
“It is an honor to have my name forever associated with your name in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Vermeil, who has led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl and the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl, was named the NFL Coach of the Year twice by Sports News and once by the Associated Press. The man known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve had the longest speech of the day. Talk for over 20 minutes and thank the long list of players, coaches, mentors, friends and family members.
“I wish I had time to review everyone,” he said.
Vermeil said the only thing that would make him feel better was seeing coaches Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin.
“Believe me,” he said, “if I deserve it, then deserve it.”