CANTON, OH – There were waves of burgundy and gold spilling out of Fawcett Stadium Saturday night.
"I officially declare today Washington Redskins day," Canton Mayor William Heely proudly proclaimed to the thousands of Skins fans in attendance for the 45th Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
Three out of the six 2008 Hall of Fame inductees represented D.C., including Darrell Green and Art Monk as players and Emmitt Thomas, a great cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs, who coached nine years in Washington. As Heely's proclamation stimulated a thunderous roar from the crowd, it would be the first of many booming cheers. For a franchise that has struggled to win much of anything since 1991, this was a day for Skins fans to celebrate their illustrious past. It was Hog Heaven!
The other three NFL greats inducted were Andre Tippett, a dominant linebacker for the New England Patriots in the ‘80s; defensive lineman Fred Dean, a cornerstone on two 49ers Super Bowl Championship teams; and perennial All-Pro offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman from the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos.
The Redskins faithful were very cordial and applauded the other NFL greats, but they were completely upstaged by the former Redskins. Green, one of the NFL's fastest cornerbacks in the history of the league, was presented with his Hall of Fame bust from his son Jared. Green holds the record with 19 consecutive seasons with an interception, and has 54 career interceptions,
"My father always encouraged me to be the best at whatever I do," said Jared Green. "But he always humbled me by saying you're never there. Well, today dad, you're there!"
Green was a first round pick (28th overall) by the Redskins in 1983 and became an instant success. No player in NFL history has worn the same team's uniform longer than Green. He earned seven Pro Bowl appearances and a place on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 90s. He is also a two-time Super Bowl Champion and holds several franchise records for seasons (20), Pro Bowls (7), games played (295), games started (258), interceptions (54), interception returns for touchdowns (6) and longest fumble return for a touchdown (78 yards).
"The Redskins nation sticks together!" Green said to the delight of the crowd. "Can I tell you today at the expense of sounding real self righteous? I belong here! I belong here!"
The ovation for Monk was even louder. When Monk approached the podium to speak, the cheer from the crowd was deafening and lasted almost three minutes. Monk was a major part of three Super Bowl championships in Washington. Monk holds five Redskins records, including most career receptions (888), most receptions in a season (106), most career receiving yards (13,026), and most combined career net yards (12,358).
"The reality of getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame didn't really hit me until a couple of days ago as there was an overwhelming sense of ‘is this really going to happen?' And even more so as I stepped up on this stage," said Monk as he addressed the rabid Skins fans. "Just seeing the magnitude of all this and all of you, I appreciate your support."
Thomas is the thirteenth Chiefs player elected to the Hall of Fame and he played for the Chiefs from 1966 to 1978. He owns the Chiefs' all-time interception record with 58, which places him ninth on pro football's all-time list.
"My personal road to Canton is very simple. I love playing football," said Thomas. "I never wanted to cheat the fans, my organization, my teammates or my coaches by not giving my best at all times."
In keeping with the Redskin spirit, Thomas said it was special to go into the Hall with two players he coached. "Two of these young men are very special to me. As you know I had the pleasure of coaching Art and Darrell in my days with the Redskins. I broke in with the Redskins in ‘86 and I worked with the receivers under Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs."
"And in ‘87, for the next eight years, I worked with Darrell on the defensive side. Both of these men overcame my coaching and have had successful careers and I'd like to say 'great job, guys!'," as he turned back to Monk and Green with a broad smile.
The most entertaining speech came from non-Redskins player, Fred Dean. The former Chargers and 49ers defensive linemen paused in the middle of his speech with his note cards in his hands. He then looked back to his chair. "What I did, I went off and left my glasses and I can't see my words," said Dean as the stadium filled with laughter.
Opponents did no laughing when they had to face Dean during his career. His role as an impact player became apparent very early in his career. As a rookie with the Chargers in 1975, Dean recorded seven sacks, 93 tackles, and four fumble recoveries. His quickness, speed, and strength made him one of the leagues most feared pass rushers during his 141-game career. His sack total neared 100 in his career and he was named to four Pro Bowls and was selected All-Pro twice.
Dean said his toughness and discipline came from church. "Being raised up in that church by mom and dad, being disciplined through their actions. Some people would consider it abuse," he said as he glanced up from his note cards and the crowd began to chuckle again. "But I called it unconditional love."
Dean was drafted by the Chargers as a linebacker, but Dean said he liked getting down and dirty in the trenches. "I didn't want to play linebacker; I wanted to be a defensive end," he said. "You know, when you get used to it, you get used to getting down in the dirt, getting your clothes dirty and wallowing a little bit. It makes everything come out right when you can stand up out of the mud and feel comfortable.
"So I said to myself, ‘Hmm, I like the dirt.' And if I can beat somebody in this dirt, it's going to be a good thing," he said to more laughter.
Amidst the burgundy and gold, there was still number 56 Red, White and Blue jerseys scattered around the stadium. The throwback New England Patriots jerseys are of course the same Tippett wore when he terrorized AFC East Quarterbacks for 11 seasons in the 80's and early 90s.
From 1984 to 1988, Tippett was one of the most feared outside linebackers in the game. He is a member of the NFL's 1980s all-decade team. Tippett holds the Patriots' franchise record with 100 career sacks. He also owns the top three single-season sack performances in Patriots history (18.5 in 1984, 16.5 in 1985 and 12.5 in 1987). He ranked seventh on the all-time sacks list, and third among linebackers, at the time of his retirement following the 1993 season. Over his career, Tippett recorded 100 sacks in 151 games, and averaged more than a half a sack a game. The mark currently ranks fourth in NFL history among linebackers.
The lasting image from Tippett's speech will be the image of his mother, Francis Tippett, standing in the middle of the crowd, rocking back and forth and hugging herself as the tears streamed down her cheeks.
"My journey here has been a long one," said Tippett. "And it hasn't always been easy along the way … What can I say about my mom? Thank you for teaching me perseverance. Life wasn't easy for us moving from Birmingham, Alabama to Newark, New Jersey, with not much more than the clothes on our back. Through my mother I learned to be accountable for my actions and understand the consequences of those actions. And with that you better believe my mom... she made me appreciate, understanding what's right and what's wrong. She ruled with love and a whole lot of discipline. Mom, I love you and thank you for that."
Zimmerman played offensive tackle for the Vikings from 1986 to 1992 and for the Broncos from 1993 to 1997. He was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was an All-Pro selection eight times. He played in 169 consecutive games and a total of 184 games during his career.
"Being an offensive lineman requires its own special qualities," said Zimmerman. "And this is why there's such a unique bond among us. We are an inconspicuous group who defend our quarterbacks as if they were our mothers. We open holes for our running backs. Our job is to make the team's stars shine. The O-line position is a cohesive unit, a collection of individuals. If one member of the unit fails, we all fail."
Zimmerman certainly did not fail. In Minnesota, he anchored an offensive line that helped the Vikings lead the NFC in rushing in 1991. In Denver, with Zimmerman blocking, the Broncos recorded their most successful offensive output in franchise history. The Broncos led the AFC in total combined yards in 1995 and also led the NFL in that category in 1996 and 1997. The team also led the league in rushing in 1996.
"Offensive linemen conform to the herd principle," said Zimmerman, who helped the Broncos win Super Bowl XXXII. "It's difficult for me to stand up here alone getting this incredible honor. There should be a stage full of guys up here standing here receiving this honor with me."
Hail to the Redskins proud past and to the six new Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees.
(Archived information and stats from the Pro Football Hall of Fame was used in this story.)
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local New England media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin here.