As he so often did on the field, LaDainian Tomlinson stole the show.
With a powerful speech calling for “Team America” to be a place for inclusion and opportunity, the great running back of the San Diego Chargers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
The 2017 roster of entrants into the shrine was deeply impressive: fellow running back Terrell Davis; quarterback Kurt Warner; defensive end Jason Taylor; safety Kenny Easley; placekicker Morten Andersen; and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
All spoke eloquently, with bursts of humour and heartwarming stories. But Tomlinson’s words resonated so strongly that he drew several standing ovations not only from the crowd of 13,400, but from his now-fellow Gold Jackets.
“Football is a microcosm of America,” Tomlinson said. “All races, religions and creeds, living, playing, competing side by side. When you’re part of a team, you understand your teammates — their strengths and weaknesses — and work together toward the same goal, to win a championship.
“Let’s not choose to be against one another. Let’s choose to be for one another. … I pray we dedicate ourselves to being the best team we can be, working and living together, representing the highest ideals of mankind. Leading the way for all nations to follow.”
Tomlinson and Taylor were elected in their first year of eligibility. Taylor’s emotional speech during which he had to pause several times to compose himself was another highlight.
A third-round draft pick from Akron — just down the road from the Hall of Fame — Taylor’s 139 1/2 career sacks helped him make the All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He also was the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2007.
“I honestly can’t believe I am here,” said Taylor, who kissed the shaved head atop his bust when it was unveiled. “In 1992 I was at the University of Akron, just 20 miles away. It took 20 years to travel 20 miles to put on this jacket. It was worth every step.”
Better late than never
The longest wait, 24 years, was by Easley, chosen for enshrinement by the seniors committee. The hard-hitting safety for the Seahawks and a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team played only seven seasons and 89 games. But what an impact he made as an intimidator and ballhawk.
The 1981 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Easley was the league’s top overall defender in 1984 when he had a…