One of the great leaders football has seen, Ray Lewis used his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech to call for more enlightened leadership in the United States.
The last of the seven members of the class of 2018 on hand to be enshrined, Lewis eschewed notes and the lectern, instead strolling along the stage and passionately urging his listeners to come together.
“Are you living every day to make this world better?” Lewis asked Saturday night at the end of his 33-minute oratory, often invoking the teachings of Martin Luther King. “Think what we can do if we work together as a country … teaching our nation to love each other again.
“It’s how we react to the challenges in our life that shows our greatness. How do we execute that dream? Who will answer that knock on the door in the middle of the night? And it has to start right now. We need people willing to fight for what is good and what is right.”
Turning to the 140 Hall of Famers on the stage, he told them: “We can go from being legends to building a legacy bigger than football, bigger than sports. Look at what unites us … the answer is simple, love. Hope, faith and love, and the greatest is love.”
Lewis was joined by Randy Moss, Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile and Bobby Beathard as inductees at the hall ceremony.
One of the best linebackers in NFL history, Lewis won two Super Bowls with the Ravens; he often chanted “BALTIMORE!” during his speech.
“Tell me something can’t be done is like pouring lighter fluid on an open flame,” said Lewis, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who won a second Super Bowl for the 2012 season — coming back from a torn triceps — then retired. He was the MVP of the 2001 title game.
“I came back, and boy did I come back,” Lewis said. “When you walk off the last time with that thing, that Lombardi, it’s a confirmation I am living proof of the impossible.”
A first-year nominee, Lewis was selected 26th overall in the 1996 draft — what were other teams thinking? He wasn’t even Baltimore’s first choice: Jonathan Ogden was, and the big tackle made the Hall of Fame in 2013.
His impact was immediate, both on the field, in the locker room, and even in pregame introductions, when his “squirrel dance” fired up fans and teammates alike. He and Ogden even did a short version on the stage.
Lewis was the first player with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career. An eight-time All-Pro and inside linebacker on the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team, he had a franchise-record 2,643 career tackles.
Dawkins also delivered a powerful speech and, as he promised, cried during it.
One of the hardest-hitting and most versatile safeties in NFL history, Dawkins stared at his bust and nodded his approval to the crowd.
“The majority of success I have had has come on the back end of pain,” he said noting he had suicidal thoughts when he battled depression. “On the other side of it, all of a sudden I became better. There’s a purpose for my pain.
“I have grown leaps and bounds because of the things I went through. For those going through this now, there is hope on the other side. Keep moving, keep pushing through.”
Dawkins was the leader of an Eagles defense that made four straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. Voted to the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team and a five-time All-Pro, Dawkins intercepted passes in 15 consecutive seasons and had 37 picks overall. He averaged nearly 100 tackles a year and spotlighted his versatility as the first player in NFL history to get a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch (on a screen pass) in a game, against Houston in 2002.
Urlacher became a record-28th Chicago Bear inducted into the hall. A first-year nominee who filled the tradition of great middle linebackers in the Windy City so brilliantly, Urlacher actually was a safety at New Mexico. Chicago selected him ninth overall in the 2000 draft and immediately converted him to linebacker. He spent two weeks in training camp on the outside, then was moved inside — for 13 spectacular seasons.
“I love everything about football: the friendships, the coaches, the teachers, the challenges, the opportunity to excel. I loved going to work every day for 13 years,” said the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, a season in which Urlacher had 171 tackles.
The five-time All-Pro and member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team even did some work on special teams.
But it was in the heart of the defense where he shone.
“The most coveted position for a defensive player to play is middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears,” said Urlacher, who had to hold back tears several times. “Just think about it. I hope over my 13 seasons I made you Bears fans proud.”
Another first-year nominee, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Moss brought the perfect combination of height, speed, soft hands and agility to Minnesota as the 21st overall draft pick in 1998 after a rocky college career. His 69 receptions, 17 for touchdowns, and 1,313 yards helped the Vikings go 15-1 and earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
That was just the start for the eccentric but always dynamic Moss. When he finally hooked up with an elite quarterback, he caught a record 23 TD passes from Tom Brady in New England’s perfect 2007 regular season.
Moss rubbed the face and top of his bust, then delivered a sermon worthy of any church or synagogue. He paid tribute to his family, to the fans of his five teams, and to his roots in West Virginia — he promised he would return to his hometown of Rand on Sunday to show off his gold jacket.
“To my gold jacket brothers, I vow I will wear it proudly,” Moss said.
One of those Hall of Fame brothers, Terrell Owens , declined to attend. Instead, he held his own celebration at his college in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was shown in a video and his photo was hanging in Tom Benson Stadium. Otherwise, T.O. was MIA.
In a lengthy and humorous speech, Kramer brought the crowd back to the Lombardi Era. A senior committee nominee, Kramer became eligible in 1974 after 11 seasons with the Packers in which he won five NFL championships and two Super Bowls.
“It was an incredible experience to be with him and have him bring you along,” he said about Lombardi, who gave him “approval and belief: powerful, powerful tools.”
Kramer also spent some time placekicking for Green Bay. He made five All-Pro squads, the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team, NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s and the Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team.
Brazile, known as Dr. Doom when he played in all 147 games for the Houston Oilers in his 10-year NFL career, kissed his bust when it was unveiled. He spoke of how he and Walter Payton made history by being selected in the first-round of the same draft from a historically black college.
Also a senior committee nominee, Brazile was drafted sixth overall out of Jackson State, two picks behind his teammate. He made such an immediate pro impact he was the 1975 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and went on to five All-Pro seasons as one of the game’s most versatile linebackers. He was in on a stunning 185 tackles in 1978.
Presented by his father, also named Robert, Brazile made the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team. He retired in 1984 and became a special education teacher.
“When they knocked on my door,” he said of finding out in February he had finally made the hall, “all of my dreams came true. And after all these years, I’m at home.”
Beathard won four Super Bowls as a team executive and drafted four Hall of Famers. His best hire might have been coach Joe Gibbs, who presented Beathard for induction.
A contributor’s committee nominee, Beathard worked for the Chiefs, Falcons, Dolphins, Redskins and Chargers. He won two NFL titles each with Miami, including the perfect 1972 season, and Washington. He also helped Kansas City and San Diego make Super Bowls.