It came as no surprise that Brett Favre gave a 37-minute speech at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony – the longest in Hall of Fame history. What made it surprising was that it wasn’t longer. The full expectation was that he was going to thank the guy who guarded the locker room door, the towel guys, the guy who opened the players’ entrance door at Lambeau, etc.
But the Pro Football Hall of Fame had a Minnesota Vikings flavor to it throughout.
When you hear a player give an acceptance speech at the HOF ceremony, it typically starts with an inductee thanking his family – followed up by those who remain an influence on them.
In his acceptance speech, St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace, firmly in the discussion of the greatest offensive tackles of all time, spoke about his influences long before he was deservedly the highest paid offense lineman in NFL history.
The one that resonated with Pace was the standard of excellence Korey Stringer imparted on him when the two were at Ohio State. As a man who literally died doing what he loved, the acknowledgement that he impacted lives was demonstrable.
Tony Dungy took the stage prior to Favre and told a very different story. His was the story of resistance from the NFL to integrate African-American coaches into the game. While it seems like a distant memory to many that the color barrier was a big issue when coaches were hired, Dungy listed off the names of 10 men, asking the audience if they knew the significance of those names.
Those were the 10 African American assistant coaches that were employed in the NFL when Dungy was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a defensive backs coach. It was shocking that, as recently as 30 years ago, not only were the opportunities for black head coaches almost nonexistent, but any coaching jobs at any level was almost impossible to find.
As a trailblazer in his own right, Dungy made a point to thank Dennis Green for his contribution to Dungy’s career and those of other African American coaches. He said he has often thanked Green for his role in his career and wished out loud that he could thank him one more time.
When Favre spoke in front of the Packer-centric crowd, his references to the Vikings were few and far between, but were routinely accompanied with boos from the partisan crowd. Packers fans have forgiven Favre – although many were dismayed to see a Vikings presence in Favre’s Hall of Fame locker – but they will never get over the fact that Favre called Minnesota home for the final two seasons of his career.
This year’s Hall of Fame has a distinct Packers-Colts feel to it – Favre being the headliner and Dungy and Marvin Harrison increasing the Indianapolis version of the Colts into the hallowed hall of legends. It makes sense that the Packers and Colts were to play in the Hall of Fame game, given their representation among the fans attending the Hall of Fame ceremony.
But, at the same time, there was an undercurrent of Minnesota that had its place in the ceremony, despite nobody going into the Hall that was purely identified as being part of the Vikings family. You don’t always have to have players or coaches that spent the majority of their careers with the Vikings to have an impact on the Hall of Fame. You just need players who made an impact on their lives to provide the Vikings inclusion in the ceremony.