CANTON, Ohio -- On another memorable Saturday night in the birthplace of pro football, seven more players swelled to 287 the number enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One night after receiving their gold jackets in an event televised by the NFL Network for the first time, linebacker Derrick Brooks, punter Ray Guy, defensive end Claude Humphrey, tackle Walter Jones, wide receiver Andre Reed, defensive end Michael Strahan and cornerback/safety Aeneas Williams saw for the first time the busts that will join the 280 others in pro football immortality.
This group of players participated in 55 Pro Bowls, the most of any Hall of Fame class, and played a total of 98 seasons and 1,443 games.
Reed played 234 games in 16 seasons, 15 with the Buffalo Bills and his final one with the Washington Redskins. When he retired, Reed's 951 receptions ranked third all-time. He holds Bills records for receptions (941), yards (13,095) and 100-yard receiving games (36).
In many ways, this was a night and weekend for Buffalo. The crowd was filled with Bills fans, and the loudest roars came when Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was introduced and then when Reed went to the podium. At the Friday dinner, Kelly, who is battling cancer, also received a warm welcome.
Reed said his pro career took off when "the K-Gun (offense) came out of nowhere. It was clear that 12 (Kelly's number) plus 83 (Reed's number) equals six. I'm honored to call you (Kelly) my teammate, my friend, my family member and now a fellow Hall of Famer."
He also recalled how former Bills receiver Jerry Butler once told him, "If you play this game the right way, you can play it a long time."
Brooks played all 14 of his seasons (1995-2008) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and never missed a game. Elected to 11 Pro Bowls, Brooks was also named to the 2000s All-Decade Team and was league defensive player of the year in 2002.
"There is no higher place to go in this game," Brooks said. While thanking many, he ended by talking about being a "servant leader by practicing patience, kindness, commitment and humility."
For the last, he said, "My mother (Geraldine Brooks-Mitchell) taught to never, never be in a position to toot your own horn, because humility as I once learned is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less."
Finally, he thanked his stepfather, A.J. Mitchell, "for whipping me in front of my fifth-grade class to get my life together. Because as I think about it, if you didn't love me enough to whip me, no telling where I was going to be."
Humphrey, a senior candidate, played 14 seasons (1968-81) with the Atlanta Falcons (11) and Philadelphia Eagles (three). He accumulated 122 sacks, including 14.5 for the Eagles in 1980, when they lost to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV.
Most expected his comments to be relatively short, but Humphrey was funny and poignant.
He opened by saying, "They told me that I only had 10 minutes up here, but let me start off by telling you I've waited almost 30 years to get to this podium, so don't rush me, guys. I'm going to be here for a few minutes."
He actually was there for nearly 30 minutes, which was longer than Michael Irvin's 26:20 speech in 2007.
Humphrey managed to somewhat embarrass the youngest of his three daughters, Chandra Cheyenne, when he laughingly said, "My baby girl, she came purely by accident. My wife and I, we knew where babies came from. But it was such an enjoyable experience."
Guy, the first punter ever selected in the first round of the draft (1973), also became the first punter elected to the Hall of Fame. Also a senior candidate, he played 14 seasons (1973-86) with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and played in seven Pro Bowls.
He thanked a group of former NFL punters organized by Bryan Barker who all came to Canton to honor him.
"I was elated this afternoon to be around them, sitting with them and just talking with them about punters in the NFL."
He later said, "Back in January, a lady came up to me at a banquet that I had in Augusta, Ga., for my Ray Guy Award that I give out and she told me that the biblical meaning of the number 8 on my jersey meant 'A new beginning.'
"If that's true, then I'd like my enshrinement and No. 8 to represent a new beginning for punters into the Hall of Fame. It's been long, long overdue, but the Hall of Fame has a complete team. Punters are a very important part of the team, regardless how many times they step onto the field. It only takes one play to change the outcome of a game. So, punter keep faith. You are an important part of every game."
Jones played 12 seasons (1997-2008) at left tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, and was said to have allowed only nine sacks in his entire career. He played in nine Pro Bowls and was named to the 2000s All-Decade Team.
Jones said none of his greatness would have happened without coach Pierre McIntosh at Aliceville (Ala.) High School. An "oversized ninth-grader," Jones said McIntosh approached him and asked if he'd ever played football or considered playing.
"Which I hadn't," he said. "He immediately took me to the field. Afterwards, I said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'I think you're a million dollars walking around broke.' Coach, you saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. You pushed me and believed in me. You came along at a perfect time in my life. You taught me discipline and work ethic. Your motto: Better is possible and good is not enough. Everything I learned from you in high school, I used in my pro career. I hope (I) made (you) proud."
Strahan played 15 seasons and totaled 141.5 career sacks. He led the NFL in sacks twice, including the 2001 season when he established the existing record of 22.5 sacks and was a unanimous selection as NFL defensive player of the year.
He said, "I'm an improbable Hall of Famer; I'm an improbable football player. Life is about lessons. I was a momma's boy."
But he went to Houston to learn from his uncle Arthur, and then he said, "The improbable happened. I got a scholarship to Texas Southern. And the coaches there taught me that I could be a momma's boy at home, but there I had to grow up.
"And then the improbable happened again. I was drafted by the New York freaking Giants. Then, my final season, it was improbable that we would win the Super Bowl. We couldn't beat an 18-0 team (Patriots). It was improbable, but it wasn't impossible ... Life is about improbability. And anything is possible."
He summed it all up by saying, "This has been the best weekend of my life."
Williams' 14 seasons followed a college career at Southern University, where he walked on before his junior season. Playing 10 seasons with the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals and four with the St. Louis Rams, Williams had 55 interceptions, nine of which he returned for touchdowns. He also scored three other defensive touchdowns, including a then-record 104-yard fumble return in 2000. Williams still holds the NFL record for interceptions in four consecutive playoff games. He also was voted to the Pro Bowl as both a cornerback and safety.
Exhibiting his ability as a pastor, Williams spoke strongly and exhorted the crowd at the end of his talk.
When he talked about reading a clipping that said he wasn't fast enough to play in the NFL, Williams went out and improved his speed. He said, "Some people spend their whole life trying to prove people wrong. The goal is not to prove people wrong. The goal is to reach your potential."
Throughout the speech, Williams said "to begin with the end in mind and to die empty" -- the latter emphasizing the idea of being the best you can be.
"I've already written my obituary," Williams said. "Don't be scared. If I would ask you, 'Where can you find the most talent?' don't tell me Fort Knox. Don't tell me money. Don't tell me a house. I tell you where we can find the most wealth: It's in the cemetery. Because most people go to the grave full instead of empty.
"You see, Hall of Famers, we die empty. See, we left it on the field. To the current players, it's your turn. Your career right now is like wet cement. My cement is already dry; so are ours. We've put our handprints on it. It's your turn. You do what you're supposed to do because God has given you a blessing."
He had each side of the crowd alternate saying those stirring words: Begin with the end in mind; die empty.
That's the true measure of Aeneas Williams: He can talk about dying and have it be an inspiration.