CANTON, Ohio — Being part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 has a special — and painful — meaning for former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young. It’s a touching reminder of his son Colby, who died of cancer on Oct. 11, 2016. Colby’s favorite number, his father said during his induction speech Saturday afternoon at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, was 22 years old.
“In this year, my 10th year of eligibility, I walk into the room as a member of this ’22,” Young said, his voice cracking. “2022. Twenty-two.”
Young’s voice cracked even more as he spoke of the bravery with which his son, diagnosed aged 13 in 2014, handled the news after learning in 2016 that the cancer had spread and that the treatments no longer worked.
It was a powerful moment that had the crowd giving Young a standing ovation.
“Colby sensed where things were headed,” Young said. “He didn’t fear death as much as the dying process. Would it be painful? Would he be remembered?
“Colby…you live in our hearts. …We will always say your name.”
Young’s speech was the most moving moment of the afternoon. Joining Young in the Hall are offensive tackle Tony Boselli, receiver Cliff Branch, safety LeRoy Butler, official Art McNally, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and coach Dick Vermeil.
Young was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-Team All-Pro, and a member of the NFL All-Decade Team in the 1990s. He was also the NFL Returning Player of the Year in 1999 after leading the 49ers with 11 sacks to go along with 20 quarterback pressures in his return from a broken leg.
Boselli was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and an NFL All-Decade Team member in the 1990s before his career was cut short by a shoulder injury. He was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first overall pick in 1995 (second overall) and is the first player in franchise history to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
He summed up that honor with the first four words he said: “Well, that’s amazing.
“…As the first Jacksonville Jaguar to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it is a profound honour.”
Branch, who died Aug. 3, 2019, won three Super Bowls during his 14-year career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler. His sister, Elaine Anderson, spoke on his behalf and said she felt his brother was here in spirit along with two other Raiders Hall of Famers.
“Today is bittersweet because we miss our beloved Clifford and sweet because this is now history,” she said. “I want to tell you that there is a sweet spirit in this place today. Our Clifford, No. 21, would not miss his consecration for nothing. He has been looking forward to this day and 21 sits front and center with Al Davis and John Madden.”
Butler played 12 seasons in Green Bay, won a Super Bowl, and was a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. A member of the NFL All-Decade Team in the 1990s, he is also credited with creating one of the most iconic touchdown celebrations in NFL history: the Lambeau Leap. He battled foot problems as a child — they wore braces or casts and he was sometimes in a wheelchair — to go on to play more games than any defensive back in Green Bay history.
“When you play for the Green Bay Packers, a lot of doors open,” Butler said. “You win a Super Bowl, all doors open. When you’re in the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens.”
McNally is the first official to be inducted into the Hall. He is considered the “father of instant replay” after introducing the replay system to the NFL in 1985, and the league’s command center in Manhattan is named after him.
“That’s the biggest thing I need for an official: to do the job [and] I hope no one even knows you were alive,” McNally said over video. “Make calls the way you should: with a heavy dose of common sense.”
Mills began his professional football career in the USFL before signing with the New Orleans Saints in 1986. Despite being just 5-foot-9, Mills quickly established himself as one of the best league players, winning five Pro Bowls and being named All-Pro. thrice. Mills died of bowel cancer in 2005, two years after his diagnosis. His widow, Melanie Mills, said her husband’s motto “Keep Pounding” – which was adopted by the Carolina Panthers after he signed as a free agent in 1995 – was also something he lived by. outside the field.
“He was more than a great football player,” Melanie Mills said. “He was a father, friend and husband, and a leader who always kept fighting no matter the odds.
“Keep hammering everyone. That’s what Sam would have you do.
Seymour spent eight seasons with the New England Patriots and four with the Oakland Raiders and made seven Pro Bowls and was voted to the All-Pro team three times. He won three Super Bowls and was a member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team.
“I am overwhelmed with 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’m overwhelmed with gratitude today because I didn’t get here alone. None of us did. None of us could have, class of 2022. They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. I couldn’t be in better company than you.”
“It is a privilege to have my name forever linked to yours in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Vermeil, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl and the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title, was named NFL Coach of the Year twice by The Sporting News and once by the ‘Associated Press. The man known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve had the longest speech of the day. He spoke for over 20 minutes and thanked a long list of players, coaches, mentors, friends and family members.
“I just wish I had time to review everyone,” he said.
Vermeil said the only thing that would make him feel better is seeing coaches Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin inducted.
“Believe me, if I deserve it, so do they,” he said.